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The First Thin-Crust-A-Thon, Scores, Recap and Pics

The First Thin-Crust-A-Thon, Scores, Recap and Pics
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  • The First Thin-Crust-A-Thon, Scores, Recap and Pics

    Post #1 - June 12th, 2005, 8:45 pm
    Post #1 - June 12th, 2005, 8:45 pm Post #1 - June 12th, 2005, 8:45 pm
    The first LTH Thin-Crust-A-Thon was marked by some good pizzas, excellent company, interesting debates, and enthusiastic and enjoyable company. I hope this is the first of many.

    One of the friendly debates of the day centered on the merits of quantitative ratings in general. Do we really need to numerically grade these pizzas and their components? VI fell in the "yes" camp, longing for a comprehensive, broad-based rating system, while Aaron Deacon felt that scoring and grading didn't offer him much in the way of utility or enjoyment. I fall somewhere between the two of them. I don't find much utility in un-scientific quantification, and it certainly doesn't heighten my enjoyment of the food, but it's fun and I think it ties the whole day together. For me, it's like the toy in the Happy Meal.

    So, without further ado, I will present some scores followed by a recap punctuated by photos and quotes from the score-sheets.

    If I had to pick one overall winner of the day it was Candlelite, winning the coveted "Overall Pizza" category with a 7.2 average and winning or coming in second in every other category. That being said, most of the scoring for everything was in the fair-to-middle range across the board. The only real standouts were the ambiance at Marie's with an 8.2 average and the garlicky sausage at Lou's with a 7.8 average (a full point ahead of 2nd place). Marie's was a distant last in the cheese category with a 5.7, and their overall score was hurt in general by this, coming in last in the overall category. Pretty much everything else fell in the 6 range.

    Generally, when you look at the scores, either we all agreed that a specific category was "just ok" or it was a love-it-or-hate-it category. There was very little that everyone, in unison, hated or loved. I checked the scores for wild inaccuracies by throwing out the highest and lowest, just to see if the rankings changed at all, and not a single one did.

    If you're interested in the full numeric breakdown, PM me and I'll send you my spreadsheet. (But I can't imagine why you'd need it).

    Now, the non-technical recap.

    Caponie's
    We started the day at Caponie's with a small margherita and a large half-cheese-half-sausage (our standard for the day). No one really loved the basic thin crust complaining about "bready" or "puffy" dough that "didn't obtain anything from the oven". "Average" was a word that was thrown around quite a bit. On the other hand, the margherita is served on a much thinner crust and the crowd was significantly happier with this pizza's "better cheese" and "crispier crust". Aaron discovered that the extra thin crust is available with any pizza upon request, just ask for "extra thin".

    Image
    Caponie's thin crust pie

    Image
    Caponie's margherita

    Overall, Caponie's held up the middle for the day with at least one rater stating that there was "nothing to make me come back". Personally, I really enjoyed the margherita and I was surprised by the crisp bottom to their puffy thin crust. I thought it was a darn good pizza place overall.

    Marie's
    Marie's was killed by a few different factors. Many said the crust could've been much crispier. Some complained of excessive saltiness, others complained of excessive greasiness. A lone soul said the pizza had "lotsa flavor". The throwback atmosphere was loved by most, but I'm not sure there are many clamoring to return. I know that the pools of grease on the pizza will keep me and the Petit Pois away in the future. I'm certainly not opposed to having a drink or two there, and enjoying their decades-old flair.

    Image
    Marie's signage

    Lou Malnati's
    Lou's was probably the most polarizing of the day. Even the knock-em-dead sausage had one detractor. The crust was "weird" for some who didn't like the cornmeal aspect. The sauce had a very strong raw tomato flavor, and a couple of us hypothesized that it was due to the fact that it's normally baked on top of the deep-dish pies and finishes cooking in the oven. Most everyone pointed out the strong garlic flavor of the sausage.

    Image
    Our waiter at Lou's serves up the pie

    Candlelite
    Another love-it-or-hate-it place, but the "hate-its" didn't hate it as much as the others. The crispy crust was loved my many, but a couple found it "raw tasting". This is generally true, and the secret at Candlelite is to order it extra-crispy, which I did for our mushroom-onion-jalapeno side-dish pie. At least one rater found the pizza bland, but I think everyone was buoyed by the garlic fries which were a nice cap to the day.

    Image
    A garlic lover presents the garlic fries

    Image
    Candlelite's statistically victorious pizza...

    Image
    ...which may have been skewed by my selfish inclusion of my favorite.

    Overall, the day was a success, even if a few people didn't find any pizza to truly love. Nothing was horrible or inedible, and after all, even a mediocre pizza is still a good meal. :)

    There was also some success in logistics. Aaron and I discussed how 12 people and 4 places seems to be a good number in terms of time, space, and amount of food. We moved seamlessly from place to place with no major hiccups. We managed to have 4 sit-down meals, 7 pizzas, and one stop for espresso, in about 5 hours.

    The real success today came in the experience rather than the tasting. We may have been a small crowd, but we were plucky; debating the merits of culinary motivation, Chicago pizza history, and never shying away from the pies in front of us. Even when the littlest chowhoundita made a statement I've never heard a child say ("Do I have to have any more pizza?"), we pressed on for more and more.

    It was a true pleasure to have the company (and boundless energy) of the VI family, Aaron Deacon, GAF, gp60004 (glad to meet you!), and my partner in crime, Le Petit Pois.

    Image
    A happy table

    Best,
    Michael / EC

    Caponie's
    3350 N Harlem
    773-804-9024

    Marie's
    4127 W Lawrence
    773-725-1812

    Lou Malnati's
    (many locations)
    6649 N Lincoln
    Lincolnwood
    www.loumalnatis.com
    847-673-0803

    Candlelite
    7452 N Western
    773-465-0087
  • Post #2 - June 12th, 2005, 9:21 pm
    Post #2 - June 12th, 2005, 9:21 pm Post #2 - June 12th, 2005, 9:21 pm
    Very nice report (and pictures) Michael. Thanks also for organizing the event. It was long over-due.

    I'm VERY glad I finally made it to Candlelite and Maries, two places high on my short list. I too enjoyed the eating and the vigorous day.

    after all, even a mediocre pizza is still a good meal. :)


    Yes, I agree with that, but I got to also say, today also severly tested my faith in Chicago pizza.

    While I want numeric ratings, I actually (especially as the day proceeded) had a hard time giving them. Essentially, I was finding myself unable to calibrate what was good. And partially (or totally) it was because I found that I just did not eat any pizza today that I'd call good. Everything was flawed (and some flawed a lot...)

    With Caponies, I found the crust, as EC said too puffy. It was also extraordinarily bland. The wood burning oven seemed to have no affect on the crust.* Two places, Maries and Candlelite, offer millemeter thick crusts, yet oddly enough both crusts tasted under-cooked. I agree that the "extra-crisp" crust at Candlelite was better, but not by a lot. The other place, Lou Malnati's, has a dough some call cookie like. To me, it was airy yet brittle. I called it a less good version of Masi's Italian cornbread--kinda same flavor and texture just less so.

    Sorry to be such a downer, but that's how I tasted them. For the record, the Condiment Queen pretty much agreed this assessment.

    Rob

    *One ray of hope I have is that I've had much better pies at Caponies. We speculated that perhaps it was too early and the oven was not properly heated/tuned.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #3 - June 12th, 2005, 10:42 pm
    Post #3 - June 12th, 2005, 10:42 pm Post #3 - June 12th, 2005, 10:42 pm
    Vital Information wrote:
    after all, even a mediocre pizza is still a good meal. :)


    Yes, I agree with that, but I got to also say, today also severly tested my faith in Chicago pizza.


    I would agree with VI, but that I had pretty little faith in Chicago thin crust to begin with. I still can enjoy it, and I enjoyed my day very much, but nothing that we tasted today was what I would call "great pizza."

    The most significant thing I learned from the day did not occur to me until I arrived home--a half cheese/half sausage pizza tasting may not be the best way for me to identify the most enjoyable pizza. At the three places we ordered something in addition to the standard, I liked the other pizza better--the margherita at Caponie's, the pepperoni at Lou Malnati's, and the eatchicago special, jalapenos, onions, and mushrooms at Candlelite.

    Caponie's

    I actually liked the breadiness/puffiness of Caponie's regular thin crust. What I did not like was that the bread in the crust had less flavor than the bread on the table. It also did not pick up the flavor of the fire as much as I would have liked. The place plays heavily on the mob theme, which should keep Antonius off-premises for the forseeable future.

    The sausage at Caponie's was my least favorite--crisp rather than chewy.

    Marie's

    This was my favorite going in, and it emerged as such. Yes, it is very greasy and very salty, but for what it is, I liked it. I should note that I was the only member of the party to order a beer here, which I think is a very nice accompaniment to what can be fairly characterized as tavern pizza. I think a cold, light American lager is a very nice foil to the snackish pizza. And the old school, big chandelier, ethced mirror ambience is a huge plus for me, and one of the things that most keeps me returning.

    Lou Malnati's

    They're definitely doing their own thing at Lou Malnati's, and I give them credit for that. There's something enjoyable about there pizza, but I doubt I'd return. I eat it, for sure, but I don't think I would choose it. The butter cookie, cornmeal crust is interesting but strange. Most noticeably of the four the "short crust" which some use to define Chicago-style thin. It very much reminds me of Home Run Inn frozen pizza, which I think is pretty good for a frozen pizza, but is a bit odd nonetheless.

    I think eatchicago may have taken my comments about Malnati's sausage the wrong way. I think it's a fine sausage, but I prefer mine with a good fennel presence that was absent here.

    Candlelite

    This was the only place unfamiliar to me going in. The sausage/cheese combo, I thought, was clearly in the same genre as Marie's, but less salty and less greasy. While that was apparently a plus for most, for me it lessened the virtue of pairing well with beer and became a fairly bland pie. It also helped reinforce my main point of revelation from the tasting. A water cracker-like crust, when topped by marginal sauce, standard pizza-processed cheese, and average sausage, is not my favorite type of crust. With those toppings, I prefer the breadier Caponie's type.

    However, the jalapeno/mushroom/onion combo worked nicely on the cracker crust--which also, it should be noted, was ordered "extra crispy" on this pie.

    Our home cooked pizzas typically have a cracker crust (and better cheese and sauce), but the toppings are considerably more to my taste than the standard pizza joint sauce/cheese/sausage combo, and thus leads me to believe that on this style of crust, a strong, flavorful topping combination really makes the pie.

    The other thing I found myself wondering, after these four tastings, is how useful a category "Chicago-style thin crust" or "Chicago-style flat pizza" really is. Of the four we tasted, Candlelite and Marie's clearly, to me, belong in the same genre. But Caponie's and Lou Malnati's were quite different. Vito & Nick's falls into the Candlelite/Marie's branch, Lou's (as I said) reminds me of Home Run Inn (though based on the frozen pizza product rather than the restaurant, and Caponie's struck me as more similar to Piece than any of the others we tried today.

    There is yet another style, served at such places as La Roma on Irving Park, La Villa on Pulaski, and Pete's on Western that has the short crust, but less butter than Malnati's and no cornmeal, and is not so cracker-thin as the tavern-style pies (as I would call Candlelite, Marie's, and Vito & Nick's)--this style really encapsulates the mediocrity I've found in Chicago thin crust, and, tellingly, none were included on this north/northwest side tasting.

    A related, but slightly tangential, note on Chicago pizza...

    In Ed Levine's pizza roundtable a couple months back, he was roundly dismissive of Chicago pizza. Perhaps his most compelling point was about the lack of tradition of the "pie man" among the Chicago pizza scene.

    The question that emerged from his line of argument, to me, is this: Do we have or know of anyone dedicated to producing good pizza here?

    We know of Robert Adams at Honey 1. The pitmaster is, here, a well-known trope. During the various beef tastings, even at places that didn't fare so well in the tasting (like Roma's), tasters have encountered a number of beefmen who care about their beef, who are willing (or sometimes not so) to talk about their recipe, their roasting times, their spice mixtures, and precisely what artistry goes into making their beef what it is, making it special, and, at least in their minds, separating it from the pack.

    As far as I know, there are no such pizza makers here. I'm not saying I know that far. And I'm in no position of authority to argue that such pizza makers exist elsewhere (though I suspect they do). I'm not even arguing that such a pizza maker is a prerequisite to a good pie (though I suspect it helps). I've liked plenty of pizzas with no such artisan behind the wheel.

    But I find it a fascinating question, nonetheless, and I would love to find a pizza maker here who devotes as much care to his or her product as Robert Adams does to his BBQ.

    Thanks in any event, are due to eatchicago, for organizing the tasting, and the other attendees for abetting such an enjoyable afternoon.

    Cheers,

    Aaron

    [As an aside to the "pie man" question, kafein posted an old Trib article by Phil Vettel that suggested such a figure, a woman that worked, I believe, at Uno's or Due's, but I can't seem to locate it]
  • Post #4 - June 12th, 2005, 10:51 pm
    Post #4 - June 12th, 2005, 10:51 pm Post #4 - June 12th, 2005, 10:51 pm
    Yes...overall it was good. No true "gotta go back" pizza for me but I think I'll give candlelite another shot. The garlic fries were quite good.
  • Post #5 - June 12th, 2005, 11:05 pm
    Post #5 - June 12th, 2005, 11:05 pm Post #5 - June 12th, 2005, 11:05 pm
    Aside from all the other comments, what impressed me was how distinctly different were these four cheese and sausage thin crust pizzas. One might imagine (as I find with hot dogs) that pizza might taste just like pizza, but these four - even though they all fit in the average to somewhat above average range - are in no way interchangable, unmistakable one for another.

    I enjoyed the crust of Caponie's Margharita Pizza - for me that was the best crust of the day - and probably the best pizza of the day, but it was not matched by their cheese/sausage pizza.

    As we were driving from one to another, we passed numerous "unknown" pizzerias (at least to me and to discussions on this list) - and I could not help but wonder whether the perfect Chicago pizza was hiding behind one of those doors.
  • Post #6 - June 13th, 2005, 7:31 am
    Post #6 - June 13th, 2005, 7:31 am Post #6 - June 13th, 2005, 7:31 am
    Since a lot of people had crust complaints (not only because of Lou's cornmeal crust), I wonder if a Sunday afternoon on a hot Spring/Summer day is the best time to test a pizza. It's highly likely that we had some of the first pizzas of the day at Caponie's and Candlelite. I'm sure their ovens were hot enough, but had the cooking surface (stone?) inside the oven retained enough heat to produce a pleasing crust?

    For me, all the crusts were just fine.

    Now that I've had the night to let it all sink in, I don't think there was one place where I really disliked the pizza. Caponie's margherita was memorable. Marie's would have been truly excellent, if not for the grease level. Lou's was, as always, one of my favorite foods in this city (though I prefer the deep-dish sausage or "pork frisbee".) Finally, Candlelite always delivers for me. I'm looking at that jalapeno photo less than 15 hours later and my mouth is watering.

    Petit Pois asked me what would cause Marie's pizza to be delivered hot from the oven with pools of oil on top. Do they use cheap cheese that separates quickly under heat? Do they add oil to the top? Every pizza is going to have some level of oil on top of the cheese, but Marie's stood out to be significantly more than all the others.

    One other point about Marie's. On a previous visit, we rememberd the sausage to have a strong, almost severe, fennel flavor. During yesterday's visit there was almost no fennel taste at all. I didn't ask the owner, but it makes me wonder if Marie's has either recently changed sausage providers/recipies or if they simply buy what's available.

    Either way, everything else about Marie's was pleasing. I'm personally not opposed to having a beer and a pizza there. It's crispy, flavorful, and satisfying. But I know that Petit Pois won't be joining me. (I wonder how an "easy cheese" pie would taste?)

    Best,
    Michael / EC
  • Post #7 - June 14th, 2005, 4:19 pm
    Post #7 - June 14th, 2005, 4:19 pm Post #7 - June 14th, 2005, 4:19 pm
    Aaron Deacon wrote:In Ed Levine's pizza roundtable a couple months back, he was roundly dismissive of Chicago pizza. Perhaps his most compelling point was about the lack of tradition of the "pie man" among the Chicago pizza scene.

    The question that emerged from his line of argument, to me, is this: Do we have or know of anyone dedicated to producing good pizza here?

    We know of Robert Adams at Honey 1. The pitmaster is, here, a well-known trope. During the various beef tastings, even at places that didn't fare so well in the tasting (like Roma's), tasters have encountered a number of beefmen who care about their beef, who are willing (or sometimes not so) to talk about their recipe, their roasting times, their spice mixtures, and precisely what artistry goes into making their beef what it is, making it special, and, at least in their minds, separating it from the pack.

    As far as I know, there are no such pizza makers here. I'm not saying I know that far. And I'm in no position of authority to argue that such pizza makers exist elsewhere (though I suspect they do). I'm not even arguing that such a pizza maker is a prerequisite to a good pie (though I suspect it helps).


    On the subject of thin-crust, here's an article. Note, by the way, what it says about "pie." (Note: the link sometimes seems to bring up the article and sometimes the "check our archive" page. Keep trying.)
  • Post #8 - July 27th, 2006, 1:18 pm
    Post #8 - July 27th, 2006, 1:18 pm Post #8 - July 27th, 2006, 1:18 pm
    Sorry for bumping this thread, but I could have sworn that one of the LTH-approved thin-crust pizza places was in the Loop, and I can't find mention of it anywhere. What am I thinking of?
  • Post #9 - July 27th, 2006, 1:27 pm
    Post #9 - July 27th, 2006, 1:27 pm Post #9 - July 27th, 2006, 1:27 pm
    ndgbucktown wrote:Sorry for bumping this thread, but I could have sworn that one of the LTH-approved thin-crust pizza places was in the Loop, and I can't find mention of it anywhere. What am I thinking of?


    You might be thinking of Pizano's
    http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=28274

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #10 - July 27th, 2006, 1:33 pm
    Post #10 - July 27th, 2006, 1:33 pm Post #10 - July 27th, 2006, 1:33 pm
    I was! Thanks!

    I realized half a minute ago that I'd read about the place in this article:

    http://www.gapersblock.com/detour/revie ... ves_pizza/

    but I think my brain lumps all food information into the "LTH" folder.
  • Post #11 - July 28th, 2006, 7:31 pm
    Post #11 - July 28th, 2006, 7:31 pm Post #11 - July 28th, 2006, 7:31 pm
    Palermos Pizza
    3751 W. 63rd Street
    Chicago, IL
    (773)585-5002

    You won't be disappointed. This is The best thin crust with an amazing sweet sauce! This location is the original, NOT the one in Oak Lawn
  • Post #12 - July 28th, 2006, 9:17 pm
    Post #12 - July 28th, 2006, 9:17 pm Post #12 - July 28th, 2006, 9:17 pm
    I didn't see Fox's Beverly Pub mentioned. Has anyone tried their pizza? I grew up on it so maybe I'm sheltered from the pizza mentioned above. I will get out there and try all of them.
    Fox's Beverly Pub
    9958 S. Western
    Chicago, IL 60655
  • Post #13 - July 29th, 2006, 6:58 am
    Post #13 - July 29th, 2006, 6:58 am Post #13 - July 29th, 2006, 6:58 am
    i just had one of the best thin crust italian sausage pizza's i have ever had last night at Washington Gardens in Highwood........such a friendly authentic little place with the nicest people serving you......so worth the drive....but they are only open for dinner from 5 to 10.......

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