The first time I had real deep dish pizza, it was proper Chicago-style in a wood-paneled old school politician’s lunchtime saloon on Lakeshore Drive where one pie came traditionally topped with just cheese, meat and tomato sauce and the other arrived with a gourmet flair topped with tender octopus. This was at least a decade before the octopus craze of today yet I fearlessly bit into a tentacle eager to get at the rest of the aromatic slice. I was only able to stomach a half piece of each pie as they stood about four inches high. My tongue was indelibly scarred by the burn of scorching hot cheese too good for cool down time and the perfect ratio of meat to sauce to a sturdy, yet perfectly inwardly wet and gooey cornmeal crust.
I gave up searching for anything better – (why mess with perfection?) – that is until I met the Cute Gardener and decided to join him on the hunt for a real (or as close to it as we could get) deep dish in Los Angeles. We spent a year seeking out viable places and finally came up with a mere two.
The first was Hollywood Pies. It was during one of our early dates when I knew I had hit soul mate eureka with this man who would attempt trekking with me on foot through the downtown freeway maze searching for an elusive in the middle of nowhere place to get a pizza. When we discovered the location, it was unfortunately closed and it took us a year to finally rediscover that a new storefront had opened on the Westside. We went and bore the brunt of a tiny dining space with a walk up ordering counter, nonchalant serving staff, visible wall insects and an hour’s wait time to try the pies. A true neighborhood joint, it was obvious that other patrons were from the 3-mile delivery radius as they came in toting their own wine bottles after smartly calling way ahead for their orders. Other than being overly garlic-ridden, the pizzas were actually good but nothing compared to my first Chicago foray. Our other option, Masa in Echo Park, was also good even though equally strange, housed in a half Asian-half Italian decorated restaurant that could double as grandmother’s living room. The pizzas there had nicely sturdy crusts, lots of tomato and a sausage patty that I loved but the CG thought was weird. Still far from the bliss originally found in Chicago.
Considering those were our only two options and knowing that we were still hankering for a version that would satisfy our nostalgic longings for the classic and elusive Midwestern dish, the CG did what he does best: compiled all the notes from his brain that included the best parts of what we had tried mixed with the best pie of his deep dish fantasies and concocted one of his own for us at home.
The homemade version, weighing at least five pounds in its cast iron vessel, became my favorite yet. It had the three ingredients that are a must for a deep dish: a coarse and crunchy corn meal crust, sauce on the top and a bevy of Italian sausage as the meat. It also had beautiful sprigs of oregano from the garden as well as plenty of fresh plucked and chopped tomatoes. Little slivers of red onions, pliant mushrooms and black olives lent depth to the overall flavor profile. The layering was strategic so that every bite of vegetable was brought in with cheese and topped off with a tomato tang –all carried along on a crust that was good enough to eat alone and crisp enough to want to dip into a glass of red wine once the toppings were gone.
Until an authentic deep-dish place stakes claim to a Los Angeles home, I am content knowing I’ve got quite the pizza chef of my own.