The Most Surprising Thing About Deep Dish Pizza? It’s Not That Deep.

In 1978, a few months after Marc Malnati got out of college, his father, Lou, died of cancer at just 47 years old. Marc, then in his 20s, took on a more active role in the family business, picking up where his father left off. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria had just three outposts at the time. Now, there are more than 50 locations in Chicagoland alone.

If you grew up in Chicago, then it’s likely that you’ve had a Malnati pie or some form of deep dish from one of the other big names: Pizzeria Uno, Gino’s East, Pequod’s. Though deep dish lovers may be guilty of what the Chicago food reporter Steve Dolinsky called Pizza I Grew Up Eating Syndrome — the bias toward the pie of one’s childhood — there does seem to be a local consensus that, in the least, deep dish is a high-sided carriage of crust holding mozzarella, tomatoes and other fillings.

When it comes to toppings, Mr. Malnati said, sausage, considered most classic, beats out pepperoni in Chicago.Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times
The deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s has a surprisingly thin, flaky crust that straddles pizza and pie dough.Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times

The Malnati dough is yeastier and bubblier than most and thus imbued with the aged flavor of long-proofed pizza, while other crusts tend to be thicker and can taste sweeter, almost biscuity. Mr. Malnati’s flaky crust straddles pizza and pie dough with a pop-star wink. Layered with cheese, meat and tomatoes, in that order, the pizza is as tall as a modest quiche and appropriately saucy. It is separate from its cousin, Detroit-style pan pizza, and not necessarily, though sometimes (like the versions you may find at Giordano’s, another Chicago pizza institution), stuffed.

Understandably, deep dish pizza has confused many. Jon Stewart called it “tomato soup in a bread bowl.” (Mr. Malnati took issue with this and even went on “The Daily Show” to correct Mr. Stewart.) The Times Food columnist J. Kenji López-Alt considers it a casserole, which is not incorrect since deep dish was first developed to be a more filling, meal-appropriate menu item than its counterpart, thin-crust tavern-style pizza (which Chicagoans just call pizza).

To consider deep dish pizza is to consider Chicago. Waiting in long lines at beloved spots with a group of friends is part of the deep dish experience, even if the meal is often reserved for special occasions, family parties and corporate outings. It’s the city’s most famous but arguably most misunderstood culinary mascot; to understand it, you have to meet the team of players that make up its world of styles. And if you really want to know the original version, you have to bake one at home.

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