Category: Chicago-style

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza At Lou Malnati’s River North

I was provided with lunch at the Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria to facilitate my review. All thoughts are 100% honest and my own.

Welcome back to the fifth part of my six-part series about traveling to Chicago with the North Iowa Bloggers and the Clear Lake Chamber. This post is about that iconic Chicago food known as deep dish pizza.

This trip also marked my sixth visit to Chicagoland. Upon my first visit to Chicago with my family in grade school, our relatives advised us to order deep dish pizza at Gino’s East. Not just any Gino,s either, but the Gino’s East location on Well’s Street. For a suburban, Twin Cities kid, Chicago deep dish pizza tasted utterly fascinating. We were intrigued by our sausage pizza which came with an entire layer of sausage, and its rich, yellow crust.

Lou Malnati’s invited us to enjoy a meal during our trip, so we stopped by their River North location for an early lunch after touring the Skydeck glass ledges (I wrote about my experience here). I asked my cousin, a Chicago resident, about his thoughts on Lou Malnati’s and replied that out of the big Chicago deep dish chains, he prefers Lou’s.


A hostess led us upstairs to a large table in a corner nook and our server Jason greeted us warmly. He was obviously a seasoned employee who knew the menu inside and out and kept up with our banter. After examining the menu, we chose our own deep dish pizzas in the “personal” size and one group member added the Trio of Dips With Pizza Chips appetizer to share. Since so many of us ordered a side salad, Jason recommended a family-sized house salad instead.


I had planned to order my own side salad and felt apprehensive about sharing because I wanted to eat a lot of salad and not feel bad about taking too much. We’ve all been in those situations where someone asks us to share or split something and you oblige even though you totally want to eat your own. Eating enough fruits and vegetables on trips is challenging. When I’m away from home, I realize how off-balanced my body feels when I don’t eat as many vegetables as I do from cooking my own meals.

Jason was right. The large house salad was huge and provided more than enough for all eight people. I even went back for seconds. He brought us ramekins of four salad dressings including red wine vinaigrette, creamy lemon garlic, gorgonzola and ranch. The group’s favorite was the creamy lemon garlic which they sell by the bottle. I thought the red wine vinaigrette was especially well-balanced.


The trio of dips included spinach artichoke dip, hummus topped with giardiniera, and roasted garlic.


I wanted to leave room for the pizza, so I just took a small taste of each dip. If I hadn’t anticipated a plane ride later that day, I would have polished off the roasted garlic. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it tasted like pure, roasted garlic puree.

My pizza arrived topped with pepperoni and hot giardiniera (spicy pickled vegetable relish). This turned out to be my ideal combination. I wish I could order pepperoni and giardiniera pizzas everywhere. The giardiniera had a pleasant heat and was super chunky with carrots, celery, and olives. I liked how the pickled vegetables helped to cut the richness from the cheese and provided some textural contrast.


In writing this post, I learned that Gino’s pizza crust does not actually get its golden hue from cornmeal, but yellow food coloring and corn oil. Lou Malnati’s advertises a signature Buttercrust. Some Lou’s prepares some of their pizza combinations on Buttercrusts, you can upgrade their regular deep dish to a Buttercrust for $0.75.

In 2004, Eater Chicago wrote a feature on Lou Malnati’s and interviewed Lou Malnati’s son Marc Malnati. Malnati shares how their recipe for dough has remained the same 42 years. Each batch of Buttercrust is fermented for 48-hours and really does contain butter. Other interesting facts I learned from this Eater feature is that the restaurant makes the sausage from lean pork without fennel (since Malnati feels fennel is overpowering), and sends staff to California each year to personally approve which tomato harvests will be picked and canned.


Donna ordered a gluten-free personal-sized pizza with a sausage crust (Lou Malnati’s also offers gluten-free thin crusts). Like Gino’s East, Lou Malnati’s sausage is above average. It’s the complete opposite of those sausage pellets we find so often on cheap pizzas. While I enjoyed the flavor of this gluten-free pizza, I don’t think I could eat more than once slice during a meal.

gluten free pizza

Photo courtesy of Beth at It’s Just Life.

All in all, Lou Malnati’s serves a craveable deep dish pizza in a crust that tastes lighter and more crisp than it appears. I also learned that spicy giardiniera is my ideal pizza topping, which is inconvenient given that I’ve never seen it offered anywhere that I’ve lived. Spicy giardiniera looks like it’s easy to prepare, so I’ll have to whip up a batch before I make my next batch of pizzas at home. Lou Malnati’s did provide us with a gift certificate, but I examined the prices and found them to be reasonable. My personal pizza with two toppings costs about $9 before tax and tip and provided enough for a leftover slice. The family house salad costs $10.85 and fed our group of eight with leftovers.

Touristy or not, Chicago deep dish pizza is delicious. We can’t find it in North Iowa, so I’m looking forward to trying Laura’s recipe for deep dish which is flecked with cornmeal.  On this weekday, the restaurant was packed with local business people and tourists, alike.

Thank you Lou Malnati’s for treating us to lunch & a cookie pizza and to Jason for providing excellent service to our big, loud, enthusiastic group. 

Pull Tab Fail, Drink Raffle Win, & Italian-Style Beef at Dempsey’s Public House.

Every bar in North Dakota wants to feed my newfound pull tab fascination.

Jake reminds me that pull tabs existed in the Twin Cities, despite the fact that I don’t remember them.

Here, many hunch over small baskets of pull tabs, chasing drinks around the bar.  Once, Jake’s coworkers entertained us with stories of winning thousands of dollars from pull tabs.  More than once.  So, I marched over to the pull tab seller and tried to buy a single pull tab with loose change.  The man gave me a strange look and made me exchange my coins for a dollar bill.  I bought one pull tab, garnering stranger looks from our friends.

My Casino Fails
I rarely heard the word casino growing up.  My parents uttered alcohol even more rarely and let’s not  even delve into the one and only time I brought home a six-pack of Berry Weiss during my first summer break, after turning 21.

Once, I stopped at the newly built Diamond Joe’s casino on the way back to college located in Waverly, IA.  Short story even shorter, I was shocked when the casino employee told me I could not actually insert pennies into penny slots.  I had no idea how to operate the slot machines, lost five dollars, got mad, and left.  More recently, we celebrated a family birthday at Mystic Lake casino.  When I gained back the  twenty dollars I had lost, Jake wrestled me away from Kitty Glitter.

Oh, and once I won two dollars from a scratch and win ticket during a May term spent in San Bernardino, CA.

This pretty much concludes my gambling experiences.

Dempsey’s Public House
226 Broadway
Fargo, ND 58102

On a Saturday night, we headed to Dempsey’s to order the Italian-style beef sandwiches Jake had enjoyed, earlier, at Bertrosa’s Chicago Cafe.  Though Bertrosa’s is only open 11 a.m. – 5p.m. on weekdays, their food is available at Dempsey’s on evenings and weekends.

Once we were seated, I indulged in a few pull tabs and won nothing.

Except pull tabs.

Since it was Saturday happy hour at Dempsey’s, we were each given a ticket for a chance to win a free drink.

We started by trying Bertrosa’s beer cheese soup.  Normally, I enjoy beer cheese soup for it’s obvious cheese factor, though I usually find it bland and gloppy.  A fellow foodie told me she thought it was the best beer cheese soup she had ever tasted.  I enthusiastically concur.

Like all other beer cheese soups, Bertrosa’s was garishly Cheez Whiz colored.  However, it’s texture actually struck me as soup, rather than gel.  The soup packed a mischievous kick of heat, sweetness from beer, and depth from herbs (albeit, they appeared to be dried herbs).  I’m going to stop here and stop trying to justify my love for this guilty pleasure, cheese soup.

When Jake and I road tripped to Chicago a couple of years ago, we enjoyed sopping wet beef sandwiches with spicy peppers.

Jake ordered Bertrosa’s regular Italian-style beef sandwich, while I ordered mine with horseradish.  We both ordered the sandwiches with hot pickled peppers.

While we waited, the bartender call out Jake’s ticket number and we won a free drink of our choice.  A free White Russian softened my pull tab disappointment.

The menu did not list an option to dunk one’s sandwich in au jus, and the bun arrived dry.  The bread was my least favorite component of the sandwich, as it seemed a little dry and its texture was reminiscent of spongy Olive Garden bread sticks.

The beef was moist and tender and I have no idea if it was homemade or sliced deli meat.

The sauteed onions and peppers were a nice touch, regardless of authenticity.  If offered sauteed onion and peppers, I will always say “yes.”

My favorite components of the sandwich, by a long stretch, were the hot pickled peppers and horseradish sauce.  Bertrosa’s not only topped the sandwich with plenty of peppers, but included an extra cup.

Though the horseradish sauce looked creamy, it actually tasted light, instead of mayonnaisey, and packed lots of nasal-burning bite.  Jake remembered his sandwich was moister and possibly dipped during his weekday visit to Bertrosa’s, itself.  So if you visit Dempsey’s and want your sandwich wet, ask if dipping is an option.

We had more than enough food and packed much of it for home, but Jake really wanted me to taste the Chicago-style hot dog.

I’ve managed to have never eaten a Chicago dog during several trips to Chicago, but Jake has and enjoyed Bertrosa’s.  The bun was much softer than the beef sandwich’s, and included plenty of sweet, fluorescent green relish, tomato, mustard, celery salt, and more hot peppers.

As we ate our meal, customers randomly dropped their uncalled drink tickets on our booth as they left the restaurant.  By the end of our visit, we had amassed a large pile of tickets and won four drinks in a row.  At first, we discreetly gifted the first two drinks to the most solitary and lonely individuals at the bar.  Drink three went to whoever hollered the loudest.  And by drink four, it was waitress’s choice.  On the way out the door, we also passed the drink tickets to another set of lucky patrons.

Our evening at Dempsey’s was a lot of fun.  This particular Saturday dinner hour was rather subdued and the friendly staff literally showered us with free drinks.  I would enthusiastically return to Dempsey’s for Saturday happy hour drink raffle, the best beer cheese soup ever, and affordable, spicy, Chicago-style food.  I feel an automatic fondness grow for any establishment that serves food spicy enough to make me sweat, pull tab victory or not.

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