This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
I’m the classic stereotype of the average Italian, and a huge fan of Italian pizza. Just like the U.S., Italy has different styles of pizza depending on the region. The most famous ones are the Neapolitan (small with a thick crust and soft dough) and the Roman (large, crispy and thin-crusted). We have our own celebrity pizza masters, too, like Enzo Coccia for Neapolitan pizza, or Gabriel Bonci and Jacopo Mercuro for the Roman style. I mean, seriously, how could Americans – the people behind Domino’s – compete with that?
But my motto is to always try new things, at least in terms of food. So I went to Hamerica's in Milan, a chain restaurant bringing American cuisine to Italy, to try so-called Chicago “deep-dish pizza”. I know my Neapolitan friends might not speak to me after reading this article, but someone had to do it, right?
Chicago deep-dish pizza takes its name from the type of pan it’s cooked in. Indeed, its main characteristic is its height – it’s as tall as a pie. It also famously has its toppings placed in reverse: Mozzarella at the bottom, vegetables and meat in the middle, and tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes on top. The cheese is at the base so it won’t burn in the oven, since the cooking time is much longer than for a thin pizza (about 20 minutes).
When I think about it, this can only really be defined as pizza because of its ingredients. In fact, it’s more likely a savoury pie cooked in a pan, with a golden crust that looks like buttery shortcrust.
Like many recipes, people fight over who invented Chicago-style pizza. In 16th-century Naples, modern-day pizza had already begun to take shape. Four centuries later, Chicago was an immigration hub for Europeans, including Italians, and more specifically Neapolitans. In 1943, two Neapolitan immigrants, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, opened Pizzeria Uno in Chicago, where they started serving deep-dish pizzas with a crispy crust and reversed ingredients. Now the restaurant has become an international chain under the name of Uno Pizzeria & Grill, with 100 restaurants in the U.S., as well as Qatar, India, and Saudi Arabia.
Sewell and Riccardo claim to be the creators of deep-dish pizza, but Adolpho "Rudy" Malnati, a former employee of Pizzeria Uno and member of one of Chicago’s most famous pizza families, has a different version of the story. Malnati claims he’s the one who invented the recipe together with Riccardo, and that they’d hand out slices on the streets of Chicago to let people try it. According to him, Sewell came into the picture later.
There are no records of Sewell or Riccardo making pizza or even working in kitchens – something that reinforces Malnati’s version. But according to a different source, you could eat pie-like pizzas in Chicago way before that anyway, like at Rosati’s Pizza in 1926.
In any case, it’s almost impossible to tell who invented it. The important thing is, someone did.
I entered Hamerica's and ordered the Hamerica special, which was finalised after four months of trials and 25 different recipes, the staff told me. I have to admit I was sceptical. I expected to go home feeling frustrated, or even disgusted, but when it arrived – piping hot – I was amazed.
The pizza was about ten centimetres high and 15 wide – much smaller than the ones I'd seen on the Internet. From top to bottom, there was pepperoni and tomato sauce, sausage in the middle and then mozzarella. It’s ingredients were similar to popular American pizzas, and to make it complete, it was served with nice thick fries.
The pizza isn't huge, it’s just the right size. And considering I was in a chain specialising in burgers, fries and other U.S. dishes, the immediate taste wasn’t bad: The shortcrust pastry was crunchy in all the right places, the middle was juicy and cheesy, the sausage moist, and the tomato sweet, with a light oregano aftertaste. I didn’t enjoy the pepperoni, really – it wasn’t spicy enough in my opinion.
Whether you’re Italian or not, I suggest you try it. If you’re a purist who’s horrified at the thought of an American pizza, remember pizza was made popular by Italian-Americans, not just Italians. And they also invented carbonara.
That being said, I have to admit I probably won't eat it again, mostly because of the €15.90 (or $17.36) price tag. With half that money I can get a delicious margherita in Milan, which – I’m sorry – still tastes much better.