Chicago Pizza

Pizza. Arguably America’s favorite food. There is a really funny quote about pizza that says when pizza is good, it’s great – but when its bad it’s still pretty darn good. In a 2015 survey by gluten-free crust purveyor Smart Flour Foods and the Center for Generational Kinetics, more than 6 million adults said they would give up sex for a year before they’d stop eating pizza. Hahah – wow.

Pizza History

Pizza gained popularity in the late 1940s after US troops stationed in Italy brought the concept back to the States. Over the last 70+ years pizza has taken on many different looks and feels courtesy of different regions of the USA creating their version of the pizza. Today the pizza industry in the United States is an estimated $37B – yes, that is a B, as in Billions.

Regardless of where you are eating your pizza there are some general differences between American pizza and traditional Italian pizza. The most notable difference is the ingredients use to make the dough. In the US we use fat in our dough – typically a vegetable oil or shortening (in some cases olive oil). The amount of oil or shortening will vary depending on the style of pizza. For instance a New York Style pizza will use a very little amount of oil while a thick-crust Chicago Deep Dish pizza will use quite a bit. Another difference is the actual flour that we use here. Often times the dough will have a high gluten level – think of a dough that would be used to make a bagel. The high gluten percentage allows the pizza dough to be stretched to the max creating an uber thin crust.

Chicago Style Pizza

Giordano's

Giordano’s

Believe it or not Chicago has 3 distinct styles of pizza. Chicago Deep Dish is by far the most popular. You’ve probably had the other two and may not have known you were even eating a Chicago-style pizza. The other two styles are Chicago Stuffed and Chicago Thin Crust.

Chicago Deep Dish has a bit of a controversial beginning in that no one really knows for certain who or where the pizza came from – for certain. The most common theory is that Pizzeria Uno in 1943 invented the pizza. Whether or not that is in fact the truth is not important – the stuff is good regardless.

Kind of exactly how the name sounds the biggest difference with the Chicago Deep Dish pizza is the depth of the crust. The pizza is baked in a high-wall steel pan, similar to how you would bake a cake. The crust itself isn’t very thick but there is a “wall” of crust along the outer edge. The pan is almost always lined with an oil that gives the bottom and side crusts a “fried” effect making it crispy. It’s common to order your pizza “well done” or “extra crispy” when getting deep dish.

The layering of the remaining ingredients is a bit unique as well. Often times the first layer to be put onto of the bottom crust is the cheese – most common is mozzarella. The next set of ingredients are the toppings that you have ordered and finally the sauce is poured over as the last layer.

For those ordering to-go or delivery you might end up with an uncut pie. Don’t worry though, this was intentional. The pizza is specifically left uncut to prevent the juices from seeping into the crust and creating a soggy pizza. You don’t want that.

Chicago Stuffed Pizza is the deep dish pizza’s stunt double. It’s very easy to mistake the stuffed pizza for the deep dish pizza.

These pizzas were invented in the 1970’s by a couple of pizza chains that began tweaking their recipes and styles of the deep dish pizza. Inspired by a traditional Italian Easter pie the pizza chefs created the Chicago Stuffed pizza.

The easiest way to think about the difference is this:

  1. The ingredient layer is more dense than traditional deep dish pizza
  2. On top of the tomato sauce (which is the last layer of deep dish pizza) is another layer of dough that is pressed (or connected to) the side crust. Creating a sort of pie. And just like pies the cooks will poke holes in the top layer of dough to allow the pizza to steam and prevent an unfortunately explosion in the kitchen!

You would think that would be really easy to identify, right? The stuffed pizza has a top layer of dough, the deep dish pizza has a top layer of sauce. Not so fast. More times than not pizza sauce is ladled over the top layer of crust and making it nearly impossible for the amateur to tell the difference.

Chicago Thin Crust doesn’t get the attention of the deep dish or stuffed pizza, but please – do not overlook this version. As the name implies the crust on this pizza is quite thin but is strong. And by strong we mean that it can hold quite the amount of topping without “bending” and there is a crunch when you bite into the pizza. This is much different than the popular New York style pizza which has flimsy dough and it curled in your hand and eaten like a taco. The cut of the pizza – in squares – is a also a giveaway you’re eating Chicago Thin Crust and not a version of New York which is served in large triangles.

Where to eat Chicago Pizza?

This is the hardest part, trying to help someone figure out where to eat their pizza. Fortunately you really can’t go wrong no matter where you go. If you can eat at all the places then by all means do so!

Lou Malnati’s (deep dish)

Pequod’s Pizzeria (deep dish)

Gino’s East (deep dish)

Pizzeria Uno (deep dish)

Giordano’s (stuffed)

Rosati’s (thin crust)

Pizano’s Pizza (thin crust)

The Art of Pizza (deep dish)

What places did we miss that should be included on this list?

20 Free Things to do in Chicago

Keeping with the spirit of our business and our desire to help everyone enjoy Chicago on the tightest of budgets we’ve compiled a list of the 20 best free things to do in Chicago.

#1 goes to … Visit Navy Pier – tough to beat the action at Navy Pier during the summer. It’s a real special treat if you’re there for the 4th of July too, great fireworks show.

2. Take a walking tour – Yup, a shameless plug. But really – they’re awesome. Check out our calendar and reserve your spot today.

3. Chicago Cultural Center – One of the first cultural centers in the nation is home to the largest Tiffany glass dome and rotating art exhibits – all free of charge.

4. Millennium Park – your visit to Chicago is not complete unless you visit The Bean and Crown Fountain – both located within a hop, skip and a jump of each other in Millennium Park.

5. Buckingham Fountain – Where are our Married with Children fans? No? Ok… Well, still – definitely worth a visit during the summer when the fountains are on. (April – October, 8am – 11pm daily)

6. Chicago Botanic Gardens – the gardens are located just outside the city. Entrance is free, but parking is not. We’re not entirely sure if this should even be on our list. It is stunningly beautiful though.

7. Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art – This is another tricky one. Technically this is a pay-what-your-want museum. The suggested admission fee is $12 for an adult but they will not turn anyone away.

8. Arcade – Yes, you have read that right. There are a handful of bars popping up across the city that allow you to play your favorite games, like NBA Jam, for free. Headquarters Beercade in Lakeview is one of them.

9. Visit a Chicago brewery. Both Lagunitas and Revolution offer free tours.

10. Take advantage of Chicago’s 18 miles of lake front trail. Ride a bike, walk, jog, people watch, segway (probably not free) or rollerblade. Just take advantage of the trail!

11. Lincoln Park Conservatory – Love love love this place. Their rotating show room is awesome as is their fern garden. Don’t forget that the Lincoln Park Conservatory is only the 2nd largest in Chicago behind the Garfield Park Conservatory which is also free.

12. Harold Washington Library – it’s gigantic, has wi-fi and is a great spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city while your still in the city.

13. Movies in Millennium Park – Every Tuesday beginning June 21 you can catch a flick in Millennium Park. Here is the full line up of what’s playing.

14. National Museum of Mexican Art – The museum has over 9,000 pieces making it on of the largest collections of Mexican art in the country.

15. Maggie Daley Park – Visit Chicago’s version of Alice in Wonderland and unleash your inner child.

16. The Rookery Building – The lobby of this building has the only Frank Lloyd Wright design in the Loop. Do not miss this if that’s your type of thing.

17. Lincoln Park Zoo – the largest urban zoo in America. Home to more than 200 different species and over 1,000 animals.

18. Jane Adams Hull-House Museum – Dedicated to the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.

19. The Underground Pedway – sure, it’s not really a match for Minneapolis’ covered walkways, but the Chicago version is kind of cool if you have a chance to dip below the surface.

20. John Hancock Observation Deck – save yourself the $20 or so to go to the deck and instead head to the Signature Lounge located on the 96th floor. It’s free and you can enjoy a cocktail up there!

What did we miss? Let us know your favorite free thing to do in Chicago.

The Best Chicago Museums

There are no shortages of museums in Chicago. According to Trip Advisor there are 98 of them in fact. Locals who have spent their entire lives in Chicago will probably never make it to even half of them. So how the heck can you narrow the best museums? Our museum experts have picked the best museum from a handful of categories.

Chicago Art Museums

We’ll start with the easiest category. Hands down, the best art museum in the Windy City is the Art Institute of Chicago. To be honest, it is one of the best in the world. Trip Advisor has repeatedly lavished awards on it, such as Best Museum, and a Top Ten Traveler’s Choice Award. It is clear to see why. The museum features permanent collections that include the world’s masters, such as Monet, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Manet, and Rembrandt, just to name a few. “American Gothic” makes its home here, and from ancient to contemporary, practically every school is represented. The Thorne Rooms are one unique feature of the Institute that entice both young and old. Perfectly to scale, these miniature rooms each reflect a different time period. Together, the Rooms constitute a dollhouse that is like no other. An interesting note, Illinois author Marianne Malone has written best-selling children’s fiction based on the Thorne Rooms. If you have little ones, have them read the book before their visit.

Runner up: And if for some reason you can’t get to the Art Institute, try the Museum of Contemporary Art. It too, is fantastic, and free tours are given daily. And we like free.

Websitehttp://www.artic.edu

Hours: Open daily 10:30am–5:00pm, Thursdays until 8:00pm

Cost: $25 adults, $19 students or seniors, FREE for Children under 14 and Illinois residents on Thursdays

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Science Museums

Source: Shedd Aquarium

Source: Shedd Aquarium

If you’re a science lover, Chicago has much to offer in the way of museums. A place that really wows is the Shedd Aquarium. One of the largest inland aquariums in the world, the Shedd has over 30,000 animals—fresh water, marine, and even terrestrial. That means that in addition to getting an up-close view of sharks, sea lions, and octopi, you’ll also see some animals that dwell on the ground, like monkeys, frogs, and iguanas. The Aquarium offers all kinds of tours, from basic admission to small group “behind the scene” tours that are phenomenal. You’ll see where expert veterinarians and trainers care for our aquatic friends. And what care it is—the freshest of seafood from all over the world comes to Chicago to be served in the finest restaurants… and at the Shedd. But you can’t get it at the cafeteria. It’s for the aquarium’s permanent residents! You can however, enjoy some of Chicago’s finest Jazz here. Every Wednesday (begins June 22) in the summer “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” features popular Jazz artists, dinner, and cocktails on their spacious veranda, plus a great view of the fireworks that start at dusk. Before it gets dark though, take in the awesome architectural show that is the outside of the Shedd Aquarium.

Runner up: Another great science museum is in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, so if you are more for physics and trains than dolphins and coral, visit the Museum of Science & Industry instead – or heck, visit both!

Websitehttp://www.sheddaquarium.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, Weekends open until 6:00pm

Cost: There are so many ticketing options (group size, what do you want to see, buy in advance). The cheapest option starts at $37.95 for adults and $28.95 for children by purchasing tickets online.

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago History Museums

Sharing a campus with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium is the Field Museum of Natural History. It is another Windy City Gem. You’ll marvel at colossal “Sue”, prominently displayed on its main floor. She is the most well-preserved and complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered. The children’s area, where the little ones can excavate finds of their own is a big draw. Through the museum’s partnership with University of Chicago Paleontologist Paul Sereno (once voted one of the world’s most beautiful people by People Magazine) the dinosaur exhibits are as fun as they are educational. The Museum frequently hosts temporary exhibits (a recent one on Haitian Voodoo was a real crowd-pleaser) that are as interesting as their permanent offerings. The Museum building itself is extraordinary—it is often rented for large affairs due to its beauty. Come in the warm months and you can have a lovely picnic on the adjoining lawn, fly a kite, or watch as children roll down the small hills at the front of the building.

Runner up: If you’re interested in cultural as opposed to natural history, you may want to visit the Chicago History Museum. Though it is quite a bit smaller, it’s chockfull of interesting facts on America’s Second City.

Websitehttps://www.fieldmuseum.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, except Christmas day. Last admission is 4pm.

Cost:  Adults $38, students & seniors $32, Children (3-11) $26

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Children’s Museums

Source: Chicago Children's Museum

Source: Chicago Children’s Museum

As if Navy Pier weren’t enough of a playground, with its huge ferris wheel, funhouse, and stage, the Chicago Children’s Museum is housed on its second through fourth floors. While you might wish to take the stairs, tykes usually prefer to climb up through the burlap-netted maze. A family with young one’s could easily spend the whole day at this museum, which is completely hands-on. It features an extensive water exhibit (be sure to don one of the raincoats provided) as well as a miniature grocery store entirely manned by its short-in-stature visitors. In one room, glass boxes adorn the walls with games and toys of yesteryear that will have parents waxing nostalgic. There are also plenty of child-friendly dining and shopping options on the first floor of the Pier, from sit-down restaurants to McDonalds, and a great ice cream shop. Don’t miss the Build-a-Bear Workshop either.

Runner up: For those who like a less crowded, lower-key experience, The Kohl Children’s Museum in nearby Glenview is equally splendid.

Websitehttp://www.chicagochildrensmuseum.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, Thursdays open until 8:00pm

Cost:  Children & Adults $14, Seniors $13, Children under 1yr old FREE. There are a variety of discounts and specials available. Make sure to visit their Plan your Visit page for details.

Free Chicago Museums

No way we can do this post without mentioning the best free museums in the city.

Chicago is a city whose large and thriving Mexican population is manifested in its food and art. The Pilsen neighborhood is the epicenter of this community. In it lies one of the largest collections of Mexican art in the country, at the National Museum of Mexican Art. With over 9,000 pieces housed in a spacious and modern facility, it’s a shock that this museum is free to the public. Yet since its inception in 1987, the Museum has remained true to its mission of bringing Mexican art and culture to the masses “sin fronteras” (without borders). In addition to the fine art that is part of the collection, you can also see a host of cultural and entertainment events here, from dance performances to speeches. Some say that the gift shop offers such unique and authentic wares that it is an exhibit itself. When you’re finished at the museum, be sure to stay in the neighborhood and enjoy delicious, reasonably priced Mexican food, along with some tequila or a margarita that will having you screaming for “uno mas”!

Runner up: If you can’t make it to the NMMA, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Museum is another outstanding free cultural venue that has the additional benefit of featuring an entombed body!

Websitehttp://www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00am – 5:00pm. Closed Mondays and on major holidays.

Cost:  Free!

Chicago Planetary & Observatory Museums

Source: Adler Planetarium

Source: Adler Planetarium

Ok, maybe we lied earlier – this is probably the easiest category to pick our favorite in because there is really only one!

If you want to stare into space from Chicago, head straight for the Adler Planetarium, where the “star” is the Doane Observatory. Here, the telescope allows viewers to see planets that are trillions of miles away. Visitor’s come to experience this as well as the phenomenal IMAX theater at the planetarium, which also presents some thrilling footage of the universe. Another draw of the Adler Planetarium is its extensive collection. From scientific instruments of historical significance, to paintings, photographs, and books, even the most advanced researchers will not be disappointed. For those who can’t get to the Adler, neighboring Evanston has a formidable competitor. Northwestern University’s Dearborn Observatory has an 18.5 inch refracting telescope that is open to the public.

Websitehttp://www.adlerplanetarium.org

Hours: Open daily 9:30am–4:00pm, weekends open until 4:30pm

Cost:  General admission for adults start at $12 and $8 for children. (Note: these prices do not include any shows which are pretty cool)

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Specialty Museums

The Pullman Museum and Historic District is a designated National Historic Site that is as much a neighborhood as it is a museum. The district on the south side of Chicago features buildings such as the Arcade, the Clock Tower, the Market, and row homes. It is a tribute to Pullman’s influence on American industry, showing how manufacturing generated large and thriving communities. The row homes are actual former residences of people that were employed at the Pullman textile mill and other facilities. Period furniture and architecture is expertly preserved. The library features books on the history of the area and blueprints that were integral to its construction. Visiting this extensive historic site will take all day or more. If you can’t make it down to the south side to experience it, you might want to visit the Museum of Contemporay Photography instead. This is a top-notch specialty museum located right in the loop. Best of all, it’s free!

So there you have it – our curated museum list to help plan your next visit. If you think that we should have included different museums let our guests know by leaving a comment below!