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Pizza, Chicago Style

A group eating deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno, Chicago

It’s National Deep Dish Pizza Day! Where will you be ordering from tonight?

Modern pizza is reputed to have started in Naples in 1889 when Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita,” with tomato, mozzarella, and basil replicating the colors of the Italian flag, for King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Italy. From there, pizza spread across the world. Some late-nineteenth-century Chicago bakeries served pizza, in sheets or in small rolls. Early Italian families served pizza on Taylor Street and the Near South Side.

Chicago-style pizza first appeared in fall 1943 with the opening of Pizzeria Uno. Many GIs had been introduced to pizza as they moved up the coast of Italy, and several Chicagoans anticipated that they would want more when they returned home. Restaurateur and bon vivant Ric Riccardo became partners with Ike Sewell, a liquor salesman, and Sewell’s wife, Florence, who had high-society connections in Chicago, in the new venture. Pizzeria Uno was located a few blocks from the well-known Riccardo’s on Wabash Avenue at Ohio Street. Lou Malnati, Riccardo’s associate manager, was brought over to help run the new establishment.

The Chicago style of pizza was marked by three characteristics: (1) enormous amounts of cheese and a thick, sweet pastry shell crust; (2) very high oven temperatures (600°F) while baking, with plentiful amounts of cornmeal sprinkled in the pan to help insulate the bread; and (3) very long cooking times (fifty to sixty minutes for a medium-sized pie). Such long cooking times allowed patrons time to consume many bottles of Chianti and Lambrusco while waiting.

Newspapers and visitors gave the new restaurant and its new pizza their enthusiastic support. Bolstered by the success of Uno, Sewell opened Pizzeria Due a few blocks away, and Chicago-style pizzerias spread throughout Chicago and the United States.

See more images of Chicagoans enjoying pizza.

Touring Chicago’s Culinary History

Trace the city’s evolution from meatpacking capital to foodie paradise. Our Google Arts & Culture exhibit Touring Chicago’s Culinary History features a selection of menus from our extensive historical collection. From the establishment of the first fine dining restaurant in 1835 to the recent contributions to world cuisine, learn about the origins of Chicago’s status as one of the top food cities of the world.

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago's Stories
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