“We have eight meals scheduled in Chicago,” I said on the phone with my girlfriend Che. We were in the middle of a discussion about the lack of follow-through with men in L.A., and I was tossing a pearl necklace and a pair of pumps in my suitcase. “Let’s continue this discussion when we’re 2000 miles away from here, and I’ve got a cocktail in my hand.”
“To Chi-town,” Che said.
“To deep dish,” I responded.
The next afternoon, within an hour of landing at O’Hare, Che and I were sliding into a booth at Gino’s East, launching a four-day expedition for our favorite deep dish slice.
Gino’s is a muddy red cave that feels perpetually nocturnal, with a kaleidoscope of graffiti etched over the walls and booths. We immediately order a pair of Goose Island 312s, and upon learning that the deep dish will take 45 minutes to bake, we start with a basket of spinach sticks. They’re battered and fried to a crisp, oozing with a broiling core of spinach and melted mozzarella, and paired with a side of chunky tomato sauce.
“Deep dish is all about the crust, sauce, and cheese,” our waitress at Gino’s explains. We decide that in our experiment, a basic cheese pizza will be our controlled variable. Nevertheless, for variety, we decide we’ll also try an additional topping at each location.
There are two factors to note when ordering deep dish in Chicago. First, a small deep dish pizza divides into four slices and will easily feed two hungry people. Second, you can divide any small pizza into two flavors. At Gino’s we order half cheese, half pepperoni.
The pizza arrives in a cast-iron pan, cheese bubbling through a coat of chunky tomato sauce. The cornmeal crust is hardened and crunchy, even at the bottom of the pan. The mozzarella is sharp and gooey, while the pepperoni is cut into thick, hearty rounds.
“I’m never going back to thin crust,” I tell Che through a mouthful.
“I’m never going back to L.A.,” she responds while reaching for another slice.
“I’ll go back to L.A.,” I say. “But I’m not going back to dating in L.A.”
“What’s going on with the latest flame? Che asks.
“Which one?” I joke. I take a gulp of 312. “He’s another Danny.”
A while back I started dating a guy, Danny. After a handful of noteworthy dates, he made noble efforts to tell me how much he wanted to hang out with me. The problem was, he never actually made any plans to do so. It was a wildly frustrating dance of intentions with lack of follow-up. I never understood the thrill he got out of saying how much he wanted to see me, but never doing anything about it. It’s like cooking a meal from scratch night after night, but never actually eating it. Eventually after a handful of failed attempts to make any solid plans, I stopped responding to Danny, only to have him text me a few months later saying, “What happened with us? We were on such a great track….” I didn’t take the time to explain to Danny. At that point it wasn’t worth it.
“So he’s all talk, no action?” Che said, recalling the Danny era.
“No action…losing traction,” I respond.
The next day, Che and I sit down on a sun-drenched patio at Lou Malnati’s. We order a Goose Island sampler, a loaf of spinach bread, and a half cheese, half sausage deep dish. The pie floats to our table in an aluminum steel pan. It is much neater and denser than Gino’s. The sauce is a bit thinner, more herbal, and the cheese is more compact and less gooey. I prefer the texture of Gino’s crust, and the flavor of their cheese and sauce. Che prefer’s Lou Malnati’s.
“Look at all of these men,” I gesture to Che, indicating the table next to us. There were six guys, about our age.
“Which one are you checking out?” Che asks glancing towards the table.
“I’m checking out ALL of them,” I say. “As in, I’m checking out all of their hands. Look! They’re all married.”
Che looks startled, sits up in her chair, and conspicuously peers at our neighbors.
“They’re so young!” I exclaim. I reach for my Green Line pale ale.
“It’s the midwest. It’s a totally different mentality,” Che explains, also reaching for her beer.
“How is it,” I ask. “That the Dannys in L.A. can’t even get it together to set a date, while there is an entire table of males in their late 20s who have somehow managed to get married?!”
We dig back into our pizza and a few minutes later the men are nearing our table.
“Where you ladies from?” one of them asks.
“California,” Che answers.
“Ah, well we’re all visiting from Toronto,” the blonde states. I shoot Che a glance. Toronto is not the midwest.
“Got time away from the wives, I see,” I joke while toasting them with my beer.
“What are you two up to the rest of the day?” the first one asks.
“An architectural boat tour,” Che responds.
“Educational,” Blondie says.
“Don’t be mistaken, we’re still drinking on the boat,” Che says.
“Well, we’re going to spend the rest of the day bar hopping as well,” says Blondie.
“Well, we’re going to spend the rest of the day bar hopping without married men holding us back,” I say.
They laugh. They tell us to have a nice time. They exit. And we head out to the boat tour, followed by cocktails on the rooftop of theWit hotel, and cocktails at Sable.
The following day, Che and I scoot onto barstools at Uno’s.
“Ladies,” the bartender greets us. He’s a sweet old-timer who looks like he’s spent his whole life behind that counter.
“Bloody mary,” I respond.
“And a 312,” Che adds.
We decide to forgo a fried appetizer and start with a vegetable platter. We leave it untouched. So much for an effort to be healthy. Then we dig into our cheese and spinach deep dish. Under a smattering of pureed tomato sauce, the cheese is wet and messy. In certain areas the crust has softened from the ingredients. While the proportions are right, the pie is a shapeless swamp of ingredients. I forget I’m eating pizza.
“The men here are such gentlemen,” Che says as we reflect on our previous nights out on the town. Chi-Town men bought us drinks, gave up their seats, and handed us their numbers, without asking for anything in return.
“But we know a ton of guys from Chicago, who now live in L.A. And they’re not like that,” I say.
“It’s L.A. The city changes you,” Che remarks.
For the fourth and final pizza, we dine at Giordano’s. We start with a spinach and artichoke dip, which is served lukewarm, and tastes oddly similar to the tub they sell at Von’s. A half cheese, half spinach pizza arrives on a platter and is the most impressive pie in depth and mass. However, the dough, which lacks crunch, overwhelms both the sauce and the cheese. I find myself chewing for an uncomfortably long amount of time.
“This deep dish taste test is like dating,” I tell Che as we shove our slices aside. “You’ve got to try them all before you know what you want.”
“And what you don’t want,” Che agrees.
“I don’t want a man who says ‘no’ more often than he says ‘yes’,” I say.
“I don’t want a man who doesn’t know what he wants,” Che says.
“I don’t want a guy who lacks follow through.”
“I don’t want a guy who doesn’t make me a priority.”
We ditch the pizza and make a run for New Belgium ales at a nearby tavern.
Later that night I find myself unable to sleep for the third night in a row. Finally at 3 am I throw on clothes, my eyeglasses, and hail a cab up to Weiner Circle. I scarf down a hot dog with a table of strangers, who I end up exchanging numbers with, then decided to walk the three miles back to my hotel.
I stroll along Lincoln Park, greeting farmer’s market vendors as they erected white tents in the moonlight. Then I watch as the world morphs from a deep charcoal to a navy blue. On my final stretch down State Street I hear someone shout.
“Good morning,” he yells.
I look across the wide expanse of the street. I can’t tell much from the distance, but he’s a brunette, and he’s carrying a bouquet of flowers.
“I haven’t gone to bed yet. So let’s not call this morning,” I yell back. I continue to walk.
“Can’t sleep?” he asks.
“Not since getting to this city,” I reply.
“Why are you in town?” He continues to walk.
“For a wedding.”
“Yours?” he asks.
“If I were getting married this weekend do you think I’d be walking alone at 5:30 am?” I say sarcastically. A bus and a few cars drive between us. When they pass, I slyly crane my neck and see if he is still walking parallel to me. He is.
“So you’re single?” he shouts.
“I don’t go home with guys I meet on the street, I’ll tell you that much!” I reply.
“Can I give you these flowers?”
“You bought those flowers before you met me,” I yell. ” I think you should give them to whoever they were intended for.”
“What do you got hiding behind those glasses, huh?” he observes from across the street.
“Minus 2.25 in each eye. That’s what,” I state.
We walk in silence for a while.
“Hey,” he shouts. “There’s a cafe one block down. This side of the street. Have breakfast with me.”
“No thank you.”
“Oh, come on. See, right up there? Tempo Cafe? Let’s grab some eggs or pancakes. Aren’t you hungry?”
“I just had a hot dog at 4 am. So no, I’m actually not.”
“Coffee at least?” he asks.
I stop. And squint at him across the street.
“I can’t,” I respond.
“Because I don’t want to have to go to your side of the street,” I say.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
I hesitate. Then I decide to give him the most honest answer I have.
“Because,” I shout. “I’m tired. I’m tired of having to cross the street for someone. I’m tired of all you men asking me to do the work, while you feign effort. I’m tired of having to ASK you to be there for me. I’m tired of having to be the one to reach!”
Well that shut him up. I hear birds chirping arias in the distance. The sky has lightened to a lonely shade of sapphire. He clocks the traffic and runs across the street to me.
“James,” he says while extending his hand.
“Tiffany,” I respond.
“Tiffany, you know what I wish for you?” he starts.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“A man who is going to cross the street for you.”
I remain silent.
“One day,” he says. “You’re going to find a guy who will be the one to reach.”
I nod. James runs back across the street and waves goodbye. I wave back. Then I walk a few more blocks, and crawl into my hotel bed as the day breaks.
Original Gino’s East of Chicago, 162 East Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60611
Lou Malnati’s, Gold Coast, 1120 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60610
Uno, 29 East Ohio, Chicago, IL 60611
Giordano’s Pizza, 730 N. Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611