Chicago deep dish pizza coming to Tacoma area – Chi Town Pizza opening in 2022
Chicago deep dish pizza lovers, prepare yourselves for Chi Town Pizza. The restaurant specializing in Chicago-style deep dish pizza will open in Spanaway in 2022. It also will serve Chicago favorites such as Chicago hot dogs and Italian beefs.
The 6,000 square-feet restaurant at 15619 Pacific Ave. comes from a longtime pro who built a career teaching others how to make Chicago-style deep dish and a local businessman known for creating fun spaces.
Meet: Larry Stein and Donny Miller.
The unlikely duo met through Stein’s son, who is the best friend of Miller’s lawyer. Stein is a pizza guru who developed a recipe and manual that has helped open Chicago-style pizza restaurants from Iowa to Seoul. He also owned Chicago deep dish pizza restaurants.
Miller is a longtime Tacoma-area businessman who has owned and operated everything from internet toy companies to Airbnb properties to arcades. He also worked as a bar and restaurant consultant and has a background in opening restaurants.
Because of his deep experience running businesses in the area, Miller was keenly aware of the lack of Chicago-style food in Pierce County. He saw an opportunity to bring a kind of pizza that is missing from our culinary landscape here.
And Chi Town Pizza was born.
THE KING OF CHICAGO PIZZA – IN IOWA?
Stein is Miller’s chief food architect and guru of all-things Chicago food. Stein grew up in Chicago. While he was on the exec team of Penn Life insurance, his company moved him from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa in the 1970s. He missed food from home something fierce.
“My friends from Chicago kept telling me, ‘you need to open a pizza restaurant because there’s nothing in Des Moines, Iowa like that,’” said Stein, who now lives in Everett with his kids and is retired after nearly a half century focused on Chicago deep dish, his version of which he refers to as “deep pan.”
“I decided as a part-time investment, I’d open a place right by Drake University. Des Moines is home to Drake University and half the kids there were from Chicago,” said Stein.
He opened the restaurant in 1975 with Mark Zingerman. Friends told the pair they were an unlikely duo, so they borrowed the restaurant name from a popular television show at the time and coined it “Felix and Oscar’s.” The restaurant grew to three locations, but has since shrunk to one.
It’s now owned by Tom Morgan, who told me he started his restaurant career at Felix and Oscar’s as a busboy in 1977.
The recipes today are similar to when Stein ran the restaurant, said Morgan. He’s tweaked an ingredient here and there and expanded to include a wide variety of sandwiches and pastas, but at its core, it’s a popular destination for deep-dish Chicago pizza (and he serves Chicago thin-crust, too).
At Felix and Oscar’s “they still use the same pans we used,” said Stein, who is very particular about his pizza pans.
Those pans have to be circular. They have to be steel. And they have to be properly seasoned.
“You absolutely have to cook Chicago pizza in blackened steel pans. They can’t be aluminum. They have to be steel or the crust won’t be right. We got ours from American Metal Craft, which is a famous company in the Chicago suburbs. It used to take almost 30 to 40 minutes to cook the pizza using the ovens when I first started, but with these new ovens, you can do that in less. The ovens are called CTX and they’re from Middleby Marshall. It cooks a pan pizza in 10 or 12 minutes.”
HALLMARKS OF A DEEP DISH PIZZA
Chicago-style deep dish pizzas have hallmarks unlike other styles of pizza. Not only does its size and thickness make it an unusual pizza style, but the order of ingredients are different.
The pizza is built on a thick layer of dough and has a heft to it. What shows up at your table looks more like a glorious crusty casserole, not a fold-and-eat New York slice.
Sauce is usually a final layer, not the starter layer in the order of ingredients. Chicago deep dish pizzas are built with a thick layer of cheese plopped right onto the crust, which is why the cheese pull is so, so gooey and satisfying from every slice. Ingredients such as sausage, pepperoni and peppers are nestled in the middle layer. That’s how Stein builds his.
Stein’s formula uses olive oil – a lot of olive oil – in the pan to get that signature buttery edge. His sauce used to top the pie is bright red tomato sauce that’s much thicker than a typical pizza sauce, and Stein says his pizzas are always topped with crushed tomatoes and a sprinkle of parmesan and oregano. (Although at Felix and Oscar’s, diners can order their pizza “cheese topper” style, with an extra layer of cheese).
“If you want to compare our deep dish to anything, it would be closest to Geno’s East,” said Morgan, current owner of Stein’s Felix and Oscar’s. Stein added that fans of Uno or Lou Malnati’s will find familiarity in his pies.
“Deep pan pizza is a knife-and-fork pizza. It’s not a pick-up pizza like New York. Most adults will only eat two pieces, maybe three. It’s very filling,” said Stein.
Side note: Chicago has many other styles of pizza that are lesser known, but still terrific. There’s thin-crust style that’s cut into squares and sometimes called “tavern pizza.” There’s also stuffed pizza, which is like a cousin to deep dish with an extra layer of dough. And there’s also Pequod’s Pizza with its own style of pan pizza with a distinctive caramelized crust made from a cheesy edge. And the list goes on, and on. If you’re from Chicago, feel free to reach out about your favorite style of Chicago pizza. I’ll enjoy your smack talk.
A note: Around here on my watch, we’ve never had a Chicago pizza spot that builds its pizza in the order of ingredients or style described by Stein above, although local pizza joints Katie Downs and Aversano’s do offer deep dish.
ORDERING ADVICE AT CHI TOWN PIZZA
Morgan had this advice for a first-time visit to a deep dish joint, “Order small. Order less than you think you can eat.”
At Chi Town Pizza, they’ll have pizzas in 7-inch individuals, 10-inch smalls, 12-inch mediums and 14-inch larges. For reference, the mediums have six slices and the larges have eight. Two pieces is about the max most people can eat. Remember: These portions are huge.
CHICAGO DOGS AND ITALIAN BEEFS
“We’re going to offer a somewhat limited menu. The main item will be a Chicago deep pan, but we’ll also have Chicago dogs and Italians,” said Stein.
Chicago-inspired dogs are fairly easy to find around here – from The Red Hot to Patty’s Burgers to Shake Shake Shake. The old Hometown Dogs food truck made an excellent version and so did Tommy Chicago, the food truck, but both are gone now.
We once had a restaurant called Chicago Hot Dogs & Beefs, which Dave Rasmussen opened in Graham in 2013 and closed not long after. I still think about the restaurant’s Italian beefs (they topped theirs with giardiniera) – and their perfect Chicago dogs.
Like the hot dogs at the old Chicago Hot Dogs & Beefs in Graham, the dogs at Chi Town Pizza will be dragged through the garden: Built with jumbo all-beef Viennas tucked into poppyseed buns with the requisite neon green Vienna relish, sport peppers, yellow mustard, chopped onions, tomatoes, a pickle spear and topped with a dash of celery salt.
And their Italian beefs. They sound a little like the ones I miss from Graham’s Chicago Hot Dogs & Beefs. Italian beefs have been hard to find here in my 20 years of restaurant watching in these parts. JJ Fish and Chicken, the fried fish restaurant in Lakewood, is the only restaurant I know with Italian beefs and their version is serviceable.
When done right, an Italian beef is a satisfying, soul enriching sandwich heavy on beefy-juicy flavor. Typically the base is a sturdy French roll layered with thinly-shaved beef. What makes the sandwich so coveted is the dip it takes in herb-and-garlic spiked au jus (sort of like the Beef on Weck at Cooper’s in Tacoma if you’ve had their version of that New York sandwich).
At Chi Town Pizza, Stein recommends the beefs be ordered wet style, rather than full dipped and saturated, although they can be made full dipped or served “dry” and with the dip on the side. Their version will be made with peppers. To find out how else they make the sandwich, you’ll have to pay a visit.
And desserts. You won’t want to miss the desserts. Stein has a few surprises planned.
THE HOME FOR CHI TOWN PIZZA
The restaurant is opening in a former Herfy’s, and was the Dragon Buffet before that. The 6,000 square feet space will house at least 125 seats, but it also will have a full bar – and a stage that will host comedy shows, music and karaoke.
“I want it to be a family fun place. It’s beautiful in here. We want to make it fun and for people to have a good time. I want to make sure music is going and we have a comedy night,” said Miller, who outfitted the space in a Chicago-style black-and-white motif.
Will the restaurant have Chicago-style cocktails? Miller said he’s not ruling it out.
Fun fact: Miller has never had Chicago-style deep dish pizza in Chicago. “I was going to fly out to Chicago to try them,” said Miller. “I don’t know anything about Chicago and I’m relying on Larry to teach me it all.”
An opening date is still up in the air because Miller is having trouble sourcing parts and kitchen equipment, but he anticipates an opening by March, if he’s lucky and everything is delivered in time.
CHI TOWN PIZZA
Where: 15619 Pacific Ave., Tacoma