First a word of warning: the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is not for Chicago pizza purists. If you adhere to a strictly deep-dish diet while in the Windy City, head uptown to Geno’s or Pizzeria Due. However, if you are open to experiencing pizza in a whole new form, in a place that has been perfecting their art for nearly 40 years, read on. Situated on a historic brownstone street in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago (and across the street from the site of Al Capone’s 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre), the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company has been serving up a focused menu of pizza pot pies, grinders, and salads since 1972.
If you often find yourself overwhelmed by the phone book-length menus found at an increasing number of restaurants, you will likely find comfort in the simplicity of the CPOGC menu. If ordering pizza, you have four questions to answer: (1) are you hungry (order half pound) or super hungry (1 pound), (2) are you a traditionalist (order white crust) or on the whole-grain train (order wheat crust)?, (3) are you a carnivore (order the meat sauce) or unexplainably opposed to sausage made from prime Boston butts (order no meat sauce)?, and (4) do you believe that fungi are meant to be eaten (order with whole, “door-knob-sized” mushrooms) or best left in the forest (order minus the ‘shrooms)? The pot pie has been described simply as “pizza in a bowl”; however, the concept can be hard to grasp until the server returns to the table, industrial oven mitt in hand. Essentially, a ceramic bowl is filled with an abundant amount of cheese and homemade sauce (which is more akin to spaghetti than pizza sauce), topped with triple-raised Sicilian dough, and then placed in the oven to bake. The server artfully flips the bowl over, and what magically appears is a form that is cognitively consistent with the idea of what a pizza should be.
If you’re not quite ready for pizza pot pie, choose from one of several varieties of “oven grinders” (salami, ham, meatball, sausage) built upon crusty loaves of Italian bread. And you can attempt to balance out the copious amounts of cheese with one of several salad options. There is nothing particularly special about the Chef’s Salad—an ample amount of iceberg lettuce topped with the standard array of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. —but somehow the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps it is due to the homemade Sweet and Sour Poppyseed and Creamy Garlic dressings that are as good individually as they are in combination.
The aisles are small, the lighting dim, and the booths made of unyielding pine, yet all of these elements work together to create a cozy, cellar-style ambience. Bring cash (they don’t take credit cards) and be prepared to wait for a table during peak hours, but rest assured that the CPOGC will be a superlative and unique stop on the Chicago pizza trail.