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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pucks, Parades, and Pizza

This was certainly the most anticlimactic overtime, sudden death, Stanley Cup with the winning shot coming from Patrick Kane's (Kaner) on the left wing but no one in Chicago cares how it happened because


49 years later, and the Chicago Blackhawks raise Lord Stanley's Cup in celebration.  Long overdue and for my compadres and I, it was more of a relief than a celebration at first.  Of course there is the jump up and scream, ITS IN ----- ITS OVER ----- STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS ----- but we needed to see that replay before the nerves settled and the celebration could begin, and celebrate this town will!

It's what Chicago does best, as pointed out by my wife earlier this week on Facebook... nothing brings people in Chicago together like Sports Championships and food (mainly pizza).  Friday 6/11 10:30 AM the celebratory ticket tape parade takes off from the intersection of Wacker & Washington.  They will head east down Washington until they get to Michigan Ave and travel north back up until they reach Wacker & Michigan where the rally and ceremony will take place.  Can't help but think of one of my favorite pizzerias just blocks away from that location but that is for another time...

In the midst of all this celebration, the adult beverages, and pizza will be flowing all weekend (with the weekend starting Weds night) and in light of all the contacts I've received lately through my Flickr account about some pizza pictures I have, I feel it is time to give a description of Nancy's Stuffed Pizza.

Normally, I am not a huge fan of Stuffed Pizza.  It is what New Yawwkers & other east coasters tend to stereotype Chicago pizza.  Referred to as "Casseroles not pizza".  However, there are a few places in Chicago that do it good enough to grab my attention and more importantly my orders.  Nancy's is definitely one of them, but before I go into why, let's take a moment to explain what stuffed pizza is and how it differs from the true Chicago deep dish pizza.

Stuffed pizza is really like the deep dishes younger brother that is twice his size.  You see deep dish was created in the early 40's at a pizzeria on the near north side at the corner of Wabash & Ohio which is now known as Pizzeria Uno.  Chicago stuffed pizza got onto the Chicago scene about 30 years later in the early 70's.  Nancy's claims to have been the first while Giordano's makes the same claim.  Chances are they are both right and I am not going to get to the bottom of who opened their doors first and served the deliciousness that is known as stuffed pizza because it doesn't matter.  Both restaurant owners got their pizza roots from the same region of Italy, Turin (Go 2006 Winter Olympics and Stuffed Pizza!).

For Nancy's, it was husband and wife team Nancy & Rocco Palese who made their way over from the Turin region with their 3 children in 1969.  They found work at a local pizza parlor named Guy's Pizza which specialized in serving traditional thin crust pizza.  {Yes, the traditional pizza in Chicago is thin crust, crispy, cracker crunch, tavern style pizza NOT deep dish or stuffed}

So about 2 years after working at Guy's, Nancy & Rocco opened up Nancy's Stuffed and served this

Ok, I think that these pictures help give you an idea of how truly massive this pie is.  I started to talk about the difference between Stuffed and Deep Dish and got off track so lets revisit that.

Stuffed = Crust #1, Cheese, Toppings, Crust #2, Sauce, Parmesan/Romano mix
Deep Dish = Crust (not nearly as thick), Cheese, Toppings, Sauce, Parmesan/Romano Mix

Doesn't seem like it is too much different but trust me it is... I mean a 2nd crust are you insane!  Not only are there 2 crusts in a stuffed pizza, but crust #1 is going to be thicker than the crust on a deep dish because they load the inside of that pizza and you need to contain those ingredients.  Good God see pic above for huge crust reference.  The deep dish your crust is relatively thin, and while the pizza looks similar to the stuffed from above, it is a much lighter version with that bottom crust acting like a pumpkin pie as opposed to the 2 crust apple pie.

Notice the color of that crust, nice golden yellow letting us know that there is some corn products used in the cooking of it, the crust has a great oil taste to it (not butter).  Crust makes me think of high prison walls designed to keep the tomatoes and cheese inside... although from picture #1 above I see quite a bit of cheese has made its way outside the walls!  Speaking of cheese, there is plenty of that fresh melted mozzarella, as well as a very sweet tomato sauce on top.  I am assuming these are vine ripened tomatoes that have more sweetness and less acidity to them but that is just my opinion.  Sometimes I pepper the take out guy at the register with questions like that and he usually doesn't have the answers anyways.  I NEVER get a pizza like this delivered.  If they tell me it will be ready in 35 minutes, I will be there in 25 minutes ready to get it as soon as it comes out of the oven and ask that they do not close the box because I don't need any of that steam and moisture compromise the taste of my pizza.  These are my issues that I have to deal with and let me tell you that there really isn't a solution and if there was I would have invented it already.

Ok, psychotic rambling up there but lets get back on track.  Don't expect to knock back more than a couple of pieces (unless you can really eat and are looking to spend the rest of the day or evening struggling to breathe on the couch).  Really 1 is all you need if you get your stuffed pizza the way I like it, loaded with veggies and sausage.  

In a perfect world my stuffed goes as follows:
Spinach, Sausage, Green Peppers, Onions

Nancy's is one of my favorites because it has not changed in 40 years, yeah so what?  Many places are like that.  True but this is a great one because of the BALANCE of everything within the pie.  You have to appreciate that out of a stuffed pie, the crust is so big, the tomatoes on top are so plenty, the cheese is oozing out the sides, yet somehow the mix of all these cancel each other out and that is what makes it perfect.  Most pizza snobs use the crust as their basis to judge a pizza and while I feel that is an enormously important part, it should not play an overpowering role in rating a pizza.  With these big pies it's all about the balance I mentioned, and I believe that if you take a bite and you can enjoy the totality of it (crust, cheese, toppings, tomatoes) all at the same time then you have a winner!  Of course it needs to taste good in addition to be balanced but do I really have to write about the taste when those pictures are worth a 1000 words?

Question - Why are their little craters on the outside of the crust
Answer - Pockets of air that burst while the dough cooks in the oven

Nancy's has locations throughout Illinois, dabble over the border into Indiana, and did I notice a couple of locations down in Georgia?  Nicely done Peach State, oh and in case you were wondering what happened to the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks in the beginning of this post, well the cup is now 36 lbs and Toews had no problem hoisting it... the equivalent to 6 Nancy's Large Pizzas, maybe I will take a pic of me hoisting 6 stuffed pies!

Nancy's Pizza
3970 N. Elston Ave
Chicago IL