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Waistbands beware

You’ll find the city’s best deep-dish pizza—and calories—at Pie Town Pizza

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The real thing—a Chicago-style hot dog.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

Transplants love to bring their native comfort foods with them, as witnessed by the proliferation of restaurants in this Valley from places such as Hawaii and Chicago. I can say that in general, most of them are shadowy approximations of the originals, Xeroxed Xerox copies without a soul, poseurs with faded flavors, made with dodgy ingredients.

But then, sometimes, someone magically gets it right. That’s the case at the new Pie Town Pizza, which allowed even a determined thick-crust-pizza-hater like your humble reporter to come away from a meal here reasonably happy. This modest storefront by an Albertson’s in a Henderson strip mall has real brick walls plastered with murals of famous Chicagoans like Oprah Winfrey and Richie Daley, and the best deep dish in the county.

Thing is, I might not be so rhapsodic about this place were it not for the raft of other Chicago foods they serve here: Vienna beef products, Green River soda and Merk’s, an unctuous hot cheese sauce that you glom onto a pile of fries. More than any other people I have met here, Chicagoans love their home cooking. Cubs fans, you’ve found a home.

Let me start by telling you about my favorite thing served here. That would be the Italian beef sandwich, a huge thing piled into a giant, crusty roll imported from Gonella Bread, a Chicago bakery.

All other components of this sandwich, the thinly sliced meat, the au jus sauce (which you will get in a plastic cup should you order it dry as opposed to wet), and the Pepcid AC-inducing gut-bomb giardiniera (that’s pickled sweet peppers, carrots and jalapenos, diced small, to you, pally) come from Vienna Beef. You also get dill pickle slices and a humongous portion of fries. It’ll be 50 cents extra for the Merk’s cheddar.

The Details

Restaurant Guide
Pie Town Pizza
2833 N. Green Valley Parkway, Henderson. 244-2246.
Open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Suggested dishes: Italian beef sandwich, $7.50; Chicago dog, $3.75; thin-crust pizza, $10 for a 12-inch, $12.50 for a 16-inch; deep dish pizza, from $10 not including toppings.

Vienna Beef is also the purveyor of what cognoscenti consider the top Chicago dog, as well as Polish sausage. Order a classic Chicago-style hot dog with all the trimmings, and that is exactly what you’ll get: poppy-seed bun, celery salt, pickle spear, sport peppers and the other more mundane stuff, namely mustard, relish and tomato. Pay a little more for either the dog or Polish, and you can have it charred, namely blackened into a wizened cylinder of protein. These versions may be hardcore for some tastes, but natives love ’em.

Of course, most of the customers are here for pizza, so pizza it shall be. I began timidly here, ordering a thin-crust cheese and onion pizza that came fresh and hot from the oven. I love sausage, but I was with a friend from Chicago who disdains the stuff, so I had to be content without any.

The pizza was terrific, mostly because of the crust, which comes from a recipe adapted from one of Chicago’s big three, Lou Malinotti’s. (The other two are Pizzeria Uno and Gino’s East.) This is tasty, crunchy and yielding, slightly blackened on the bottom from a light corn flour dusting. Even the water used in the crust is trucked in from Chicago, or so I’ve heard. Hey, that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

And my Chicago friends will back them up. The pie has whole-milk mozzarella and a lot of chunky tomato in the marinara. The good, loose sausage meat is from a company in Chicago as well, and I can also recommend the thick-sliced pepperoni, which I like better if the boys cooking the pizza put it on top, as opposed to underneath, the layer of cheese.

After several visits here, I mustered up the courage to order a deep dish, which looks a bit like the German pancake served at another Chicago food institution, Walker Brothers of Wilmette. The pie stands a few inches tall, thanks to the outer edges, which curl up and form a moat around it. I found myself gobbling up all these crusty edges, and leaving part of the good stuff in the middle. Basically, the deep dish comes in 9-, 12- and 14-inch sizes. I’d say the 9 makes a perfect lunch for two, if accompanied by, say, one of the house salads.

That could be the Italian Chef, a chef’s salad made with salami, ham and provolone, or the pleasant but otherwise undistinguished house Caesar. There are other eating options here that you can order at your peril. One is something called pepperoni pizza puff, one of the only things the restaurant gets pre-made. It’s a slab of deep-fried bread stuffed with diced pepperoni in a rich tomato sauce, pure kid food. I found it unspeakable.

There are also Eli’s Cheesecakes, also from the Windy City, individual slices in wedges, served wrapped in plastic. The cheesecakes come in Original, Strawberry and Chocolate Chip, and prove that while Chicago is a great food city, every food town has a blind spot.

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