75th Birthday of Chicago-Style Pizza!

Deep-dish pizza is distinctly Chicago.  Seventy-five years ago today, this culinary delight was introduced to the public.  That was the day Pizzeria Uno opened.

The story goes that two Chicago guys, Ric Riccardo and Ike Sewell, wanted to start a Mexican restaurant.  But after they tried preparing some Mexican food, they reasoned that the Windy City wasn’t ready for such exotic cuisine.  Pizza would be a better choice.

In the 1940s Italian cooking wasn’t considered mainstream American.  But it did have loyal followers, and their numbers were growing.  To put it in 2018 terms, think of it this way—Riccardo and Sewell planned to open an Ethiopian restaurant, then decided to go with Thai food.

They found a site in the basement of an old townhouse at Ohio and Wabash, across from Medinah Temple.  The neighborhood was they known as Tower Town.  It was trendy but low-rent.  That fit the concept for Pizzeria Uno.

Pizza had been around the city’s Italian cafes for decades.  It was served in tiny wedges, and mainly used as an appetizer.  Even on a full pie the crust was wafer-thin.

The pizza at Pizzeria Uno was going to be different—cooked in a deep dish, with a thick crust and heaps of cheese.  Who came up with this innovative style?  Riccardo?  Sewell?  Their chef, Rudy Malnati?  The debate goes on.

So on a wartime Friday evening in December, Pizzeria Uno opened with little fanfare.  Business was slow at first.  Gradually, Chicago-style pizza caught on.  By 1955, people were lining up outside in the cold, waiting to get in.

The Ohio Street cafe had no room to expand, so a satellite location began operating a block north on Wabash.  Naturally, it was named Pizzeria Due.  And though both places claimed to be using the same recipe, real Chicagoans knew that Uno pizzas had more cheese, while Due went heavier on the tomatoes.

Meanwhile, rival pizza palaces were springing up all around Chicago.  Other cities launched their own versions of deep-dish.  By 1980, when Pizzeria Uno finally began franchising, many of the copycats were already well-established.

Today you can order a Chicago-style pizza in such unlikely places as Wichita, Kansas. (Though according to my son Nick, you probably shouldn’t.)  Yet if you have a sense of history—and don’t mind waiting in line—you can still go to the place where it was invented, in the basement of the townhouse at Ohio and Wabash.


4 Responses to “75th Birthday of Chicago-Style Pizza!”

  1. 1 Kirk Mellish December 3, 2018 at 5:49 am

    I grew up in Chicago but never knew deep dish pizza was even a thing, let alone a thing Chicago was “known” for until I moved to Atlanta in my 20s and people talked about it. All I had ever known was thin crust pizza cut in squares.

  2. 2 exquisitecorpse2016 December 3, 2018 at 8:41 am


  3. 3 Meg December 4, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    You have captured a nice bit of street comedy, with that man checking out the passing woman. Bravo!

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