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Hated Our List of Chicago’s 25 Best Pizzas? Jeff Ruby Fires Back

Since my list of the top 25 pizzas in Chicago hit newsstands two weeks ago, I’ve been called an idiot in multiple forums—most effectively on these message boards. So I’m answering a few letters and posts from our pizza mailbag. Plus: my ode to the world of Chicago pizza…

 

Scoods, are you out there? This one’s for you. Plus: Jeff Ruby sings!

DINING Since my list of the top 25 pizzas in Chicago hit newsstands two weeks ago, I’ve been called an idiot in multiple forums—most effectively on these message boards. Below, the highlights from our pizza mailbag—and my rebuttals. Also: Check out “64 Lines About 32 Pizzas” (click on the link and scroll down a bit to find it), my ode to the world of Chicago pizza.
 

Q: I can’t believe how few of these pizzas are Chicago-style. Was the judging panel from New York? —KLF
Jeff Ruby: The judging panel was born in Texas, raised in Kansas, and educated in Colorado. I’m basically from everywhere but New York, and I’ve been in Chicago for about 13 years now—roughly 4,800 days. I’ve eaten pizza on about 1,200 of those days. While working on this feature and Everybody Loves Pizza, I sometimes ate as many as three a day. Unless you are this guy, you have not eaten more pizza in Chicago than I have. Why so few Chicago-style places on the list, then? Because Chicago is a big city and I refused to give the local stuff a hometown discount. The goal was to cover the whole landscape, not be a homer.

Q: Where is Giordanos? —SHERRY2
JR: It’s everywhere. But I assume you mean, Why is it not on the list? My most recent trip to Giordano’s was a disaster: I got a lukewarm stuffed sausage pie, ridiculously top-heavy with chalky cheese. In short, Giordano’s is where it belongs: with the tourists, suburbanites, and my wife, who still claims it’s great based on a pizza she had there when she was 12. For once, she’s wrong.

Q: Although I’m happy to see Apart Pizza on this list, you guys missed the boat on the best…Marie’s on Lawrence has the absolute best thin crust in Chicago. —JAYROCK81
JR: Jayrock, you’re right. Marie’s is good. I wanted it to make the list and it almost did. How can you not like a pizzeria where you have to enter through a liquor store and the waitress calls you honey? My pizza there (Marie’s Special: green pepper, onion, sausage, and mushroom) had nice black char marks on the bottom and good balance of toppings, but it was ultimately too greasy to crack the list. Call it number 26 or 27. And Apart may be the most underrated pizzeria in town. No one seems to know how good it is.

Q: While some of these on the list ARE great pizza, it’s soooo typical of Chicago Magazine/Timeout Chicago. Jeff Ruby has probably never ventured into anywhere but the trendiest northside neighborhoods with his Sex and the City girlfriends all the while thinking they’re really digging up some unknown places. —SCOODS
JR: Scoods, how dare you impugn the integrity of the fine Sex and the City franchise! (Not to mention Time Out Chicago, which was minding its own business for once.) You should know that when I take my girlfriends out for a night on the town, Carrie-style, I invariably go for sushi, whereupon I end up eating too many maki rolls and barfing in the alley. A trendy northside alley, of course.

Q: Chicago-style and New York-style are apples and oranges. The truly enlightened like them both. —AUSTINCHICAGO
JR: I’ve always liked you, Austin. It’s never been an either/or thing for me. And while I can understand a rivalry between cities, why take it out on the food? Just hate the people.

Q: This is obviously the opinion of a New Yorker! Where is beggars, homerun Inn…please…and why are the slices not in squares? —ALWAYSACUBFAN
JR: Beggars and Home Run Inn, while both wonderful Chicago stories, were surpassed quality-wise long ago by the rest of the city and suburbs. As for this square-versus-slice thing, it’s really a sticking point for you folks, isn’t it? Tell me, if you order Home Run Inn—a square-cut pizza—and the dude in the kitchen had a brain aneurysm and accidentally cut it into triangles instead of squares, would it somehow taste different?

Q: Gino’s shouldn’t be anywhere near the list unless it’s 1987. —BADPLAID
JR: One of the ideas I tried to hammer home in the magazine feature was that places like Gino’s East rise and fall over the years. There aren’t many pizzerias—in Chicago or anywhere else—that are consistently great over time. Unless one person is doing all the work, there are just too many variables. Right now, Gino’s is making really good pies, with real attention to details and ingredients. But who knows how the place will be in two months? Or tomorrow night, for that matter?

Q: Does it matter?? ANY of these so called “pizzas” would come in dead LAST against any of New Yorks TRUE pizza! Why people in this town think their pizza is so “great” is beyond me? Its more of a great tragedy that the pizza business has been able to scam this entire city! —NYERINMO
JR: NYERINMO, didn’t you hear? I’m supposed to be a New Yorker. By the way, glad to see that your exile to Missouri has not softened your edge. Say hi to Limbaugh for me.

Q: Fox’s on Western in Beverly . . . Pat’s on Lincoln in Lakeview . . . Vito and Nick’s on 84th & Pulaski. Surprisingly, these gems of Chicago are not found on the Sex and the City pizza list compiled by Ms. Jeff Ruby. —SCOODS
JR: Not content to verbally castrate me once, our pal Scoods returns for another round. But must have been watching a Sex and the City marathon on HBO, for he has not forsaken the SATC theme. A lot of people took me to task on Fox’s and Vito and Nick’s. Like Gino’s East, V & N is famously inconsistent, and the pie I had while researching this piece was no better than scores of other South Side party-cut pies. Surprised me too. Pat’s is one of those eternally overrated places that the Scoodses of the world defend to the death for some reason they have probably forgotten. I just don’t get it.

Q: New York pizza is the Harold Miner of the culinary world. —SPICY LOU
JR: I have no idea what this means, but it’s hilarious. Spicy Lou, if you’re talking about the bald former NBAer everyone thought was going to be the next Michael Jordan but instead ended up the next LeRon Ellis, I don’t get it. Are you saying New York pizza never lived up to the hype? That it could jump like a maniac but never bothered to play defense or develop an outside shot? Whatever. See the Austinchicago post above.

Q: Jeff Ruby, where are you from? Iowa? Kansas? You sure don’t know anything about Pizza. —SAMIAM
JR: You got me. And I can’t possibly know anything about British music because I’m not from England. Look, when it comes to pizza, I’m a mutt. Freely admit it. I didn’t grow up on any particular regional pizza style, so I have no pizza prejudices hardened within me, which makes me the perfect person to judge a landscape as vast and varied as Chicago’s. I also recycle, helped an old lady cross the street last week, and save stray unicorns in my spare time.

Q: Really with Great Lake? Maybe their pizza is good, but the staff is the rudest around. Not like Ed Debevics rude, like seriously, genuinely, horribly rude. —DL
JR: Even if this were true—and it may be depending on when you go—what does service have to do with how good the pizza tastes? It’s not like Nick Lessins flicks little specks of bile into his pizza. Though I bet he could make it taste good somehow.

Q: Whenever I see a supposed poll like this one, I have to ask: “What are the objective criteria used as the basis for the poll?” This one seems to be limited to individual taste (pardon the pun) and is therefore rather useless as a guide for “THE BEST PIZZA!” —WATCHPUPPY
JR: Interesting notion. This list did all come down to one man’s opinion. If I lose credibility in your eyes by picking, say, Crust at #4, then yes, I am useless to you. But since when is there anything objective about picking the best pizza? By definition, even when you’ve got a large group of judges, you’re still making subjective judgments. That’s the nature of these lists—and why it’s so easy to hate them. We all love to read them so we can feel superior to the dolts who make the lists. Oh, wait a minute…

Q: I love the suggestion of Chgo Pizza and Oven Grinders, as well as one of MY faves: Leona’s should be on the list as well!
 —DPLOMIN
JR: I went through a serious Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder phase about a decade ago, until I woke up one morning and realized: Once you get past the irresistible conceit (It’s pizza! In a bowl! Pizza pot pie!), there’s not much to the pizza there. It’s pretty standard. And Leona’s, no disrespect intended, is the death of all that is good and nice in the world.

Q: You put Parkers at #24? The same Parkers that specializes in seafood? So to recap, Seafood place makes the top 25, yet Giordano’s and Due’s are left off. —RPIRELLI
JR: Parkers revamped its concept last year and the chef takes his pizza so seriously he actually got VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) certification from the hallowed pizza police in Naples. In Chicago, only Spacca Napoli can also boast that. See here.

Q: Great list if you are looking for great pizza! Unfortunately, many of the commenters here are your typical overweight Chicagoans who grew up on only knowing pizza that was thick blobs of dough covered with mounds cheese that would choke a goat or the cardboard square cut covered with low quality toppings variety. They go for the nostalgia instead of quality. Sure it took Chicago 30 years to catch up to the rest of the world in pizza and now that it’s hear they are scared. Well, don’t be chubsters, go for quality over quantity, get out and try some places on this list! —SOUTHSIDESAMMY
JR: I thought about this one a lot. While the “chubsters” cracks seem particularly uncalled for, the crux of this post rings true. Pride in Chicago pizza is one thing, but closing one’s mind and mouth to other styles is another. It’s not like someone’s gonna make you turn in your Chicago card if you’re caught trying a Neapolitan pizza, or even a New Haven–style one with something particularly un-Chicago like artichoke hearts on it. You can be a Chicagoan and admit that some good food originates from elsewhere in the world. That’s what separates you from New Yorkers.

Q: I can understand why most were omitted, but I don’t get why the original Uno and Due are not on the list. They invented Chicago deep dish and their pizza is still great. —IMSSCOTT
JR: I have had my issues with Uno and Due over the years, but both surprised me on recent visits. They are doing their thing proudly, which is to say often bluntly, which makes for pizzas that are pleasant but unbalanced. Like my old college girlfriend.

Q: C’mon guys, how could a list of 25 possibly omit Palermo’s. The most distinctive feature of their pizza is the sweet sauce, rumored to be the result of importing a particular variety of tomato from Italy. The original on 63rd St is probably best, but the 95h St. location in Oak Lawn is very close. —BRAD NAILER
JR: After Vito & Nick’s (and Luigi’s, which is never as good you want it to be), I got the most heat for omitting Palermo’s. You Palermo’s people, with your mysterious sweet sauce, ripped me a few years back for omitting the place from my book, and I guess I never learned my lesson. My Sex and the City girlfriends and I promise to give the place another try. Do they serve cosmos?

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