A few months ago I went out drinking with SethZ, AaronD and a few other hounds. All in all it was a fun night, but something dreadful did happen that night. Constant harping by two foodies I trust, Seth and Aaron, from totally different backgrounds, on the state of Chicago pizza, has caused me to reassess my feelings toward Chicago pizza. I could dismiss Seth before as typical East coast bias, but Aaron, from Nebraska. Geez. Did Chicago pizza really suck?
I thought not. Then I went out and had some just god awful pizza from Spizzico in Elmwood Park
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). I could dismiss that as just a poor example. Until I showed up at Vito and Nick's on the SW side. A lot of people have held this out as the ultimate example of Chicago thin crust pizza. Since I trusted greatly the opinions of the people who expoused Vito and Nicks, even before visiting, I thought I had an extra weapon in my arsenal in supporting Chicago pizza. I figured if I loved Chicago pizza and had not even tried the best, then I stood on firm ground.
Yikes, Vito and Nicks, while good enough, was not great, and not a standard bearer. It reminded me a lot of Fox's on S. Western, and perhaps there is a particular school of Chicago pizza from the SW side. It is a school that is thin and crisp without being flakey or biscuity, but I found both V&N and Fox to be marred by excessive cornmeal and the overall flavors just too muted. ReneG has called V&N balanced, I found it a little too balanced, meaning a bit too bland. My faith grew weaker.
Like the Vicar stopping by for a bit of sherry, Grand Slam pizza has arrived to reinforce my faith [ed. that's one awful mixed methaphor
]. Grand Slam has been down the street from me for the whole time I've been in Oak Park. It did not assert much pull on me. The exterior is drab, and combined with the name, just said average pizza to me. Unlike nearly every other local pizza joint, Grand Slam did no apparant marketing. No fliers on the door handle. No coupons in the local paper. They kept to themselves, I to mine. (Of course, in retrospect, the lack of marketing seems highly appealing, so word of mouth.) My nose led me to Grand Slam, my nose and Vito.
A few weeks ago a Starbucks opened up on North Avenue, and the VI family has used its arrival as the occasional excuse for a stroll. And we strolled right past Grand Slam. And a blast of garlic and yeast pulled us right in. Where I found Vito. Now, Vito was not at that moment clad, Hammondesque in sleeveless T, black shoes and sock garters, but I believe that earlier in the day, when no one was looking and he was pounding out the dough, that's exactly how he looked. And I am sure Sinatra or Martin would be playing in the distance. In a world of exemplars, signifiers, hidden signals, Freud and endless pizza argumements, I knew this would be special pizza. We orderd that night.
I am not sure Grand Slam is the best in Chicago. It is so good because is is probably not the best. I'd rather it just be plain good. Reminds me that one in Chicago can get, within less than an hour of a phone call, very satisfying and enjoyable pizza. The distiguishing feature of Grand Slam is crust that is bread. It tastes just like really good bread. Except at the raised edges, it is not especially crisp or brittle. Neither is it excessively chewy or jaw stretching. It is not too flaky as Seth might complain, and is blissfully free from too much corn meal dust. The toppings are strong enough to make this pizza not bread though. Great neighborhood pizza.
Menu, phone number and coupons can be found here: