I joined Jonathan Porter, owner-operator of Chicago Pizza Tours, and fourteen other people on a snowy Saturday to traipse through the city and experience the pizza scene.
There are over 2,000 independent pizza operators in Chicagoland, but we only hit four selected spots on the tour. How to choose from among the multitude? Porter likes to mix of popular favorites and unknown neighborhood places. This gets people into different areas of the city and highlights the different pizza styles available throughout, but also to give people plenty of time to digest slices between stops. Trust me, you need the time.
The tour started with two slices from Pizano’s Pizza (61 East Madison St.). As we ate our thin crust and thick crust pizza, Porter gave us background on where we are in the city and why it was chosen by the owners. More information on the type of sauce used, how the pans are seasoned, and even where sausage is purchased was shared as we wolfed down our food.
We then piled on the bus, called Dough Force One, and headed to Apart Pizza Company (5624 N Broadway St.). Here we had the opportunity to make and sample our own pizzas. We even received a quick lesson in how to stretch dough:
Coalfire Pizza (1321 West Grand Ave.) was our third stop on the tour. The classic margarita pizzas we were served took less than two minutes to fire in their intense, 800 degree coal-fired oven. The pizza bottoms are dusted with charred spots, what Porter refers to as “burnt bits of awesome”, that gave the crust its distinctive texture and garnered raves from everyone who tried it. We also had the opportunity to stand in front of the oven and from a low angle, observe the coal smoke swirling inside the dome.
The tour finished at Gino’s East (633 North Wells St.) with thick slices of their pan pizza. The crust here is has more cornmeal and the sauce is sweeter than some like, but it’s a classic Chicago spot. Again, Porter shared the development of the pizza recipe, details about how the operation was started, and how the booths were moved from the original location. Thoughtfully, he also provided paint pens so we could add our own graffiti to the Gino’s East decor.
The tour changes, rotating between eight different pizza joints. You could probably set aside a day and hit a few of these places on your own, but then you’d miss Porter’s detailed behind-the-scenes information including baking methods and types of ovens, the experience of making your own pizza on the tour, and the convenience of having everything ready for you as you walk in the door. For $60 per person, it’s a really good deal.
If you have any doubts about whether you should hit the tour, I’ll leave you with Jonathan’s pitch. Listen and then make your reservations today!
I took the tour as a guest of Chicago Pizza Tours.