I’ve been going to Pizzeria Due at the corner of Wabash and Ontario ever since I was a toddler. My parents took me to the original Uno’s and Uno’s down the street annex of Due’s as a kid, and I’ve been going there often since. When I was living away from Chicago, a trip back would have to include a visit to Due’s at 619 N. Wabash, for a sausage and garlic pie. I’ve brought countless friends to the place, touting it as the best example of Chicago’s deep dish pizza art form.
Sure, there are chain Uno’s (Due’s sister pizzeria) all over the country, but they use a chain recipe that might as well be from Pizza Hut. The crust is thick, but it’s wrought with preservatives and other very detectable partially or wholly hydrogenated ingredients that don’t even come close to the pie available at the two original downtown (ok, north of the river, so not technically downtown) locations. The pie at Uno’s and Due’s was a sure thing, unchanged for 40 years. There are certain things in life I could count on in Chicago. Fast driving middle-eastern cabbies, a great time at Wrigley Field no matter the score, a great view from the Hancock observatory on a clear night, and Pizza from Wabash and Ontario. Then something strange started to happen.
The pizza at Due’s has been extremely inconsistent for the past two years or so. I’ve heard new owners took over during that time, and the crust would on occasion be too thick, soggy, burned, or even undercooked. Everytime this sort of thing would occur, I’d always attribute it to an overtly crowded night, or perhaps the pizza chef was having a bad day. But it happened with more frequency, and what started out as counting on a good pie turned into hoping that I wouldn’t get a bad one. A perfect pie there was becoming a rarity, so I actually started cheating on my favorite pizzeria with a place over on Wells, called Lou Malnati’s. It was a bit like getting used to a new girlfriend – exciting but strange, as there were quite a few memories about the old Due’s that kept telling me to stop and go back. But the pies at Malnati’s are so consistently good, I’d go to Lou’s if I wanted pizza. The pie at Lou’s is deep dish but with a thin crust all the way around the pan (the way Due’s used to be before they screwed around with the recipe two years ago), and the crust stays crisp even if you get take out. They never burn it either.
Then last night, we met my cousin and her friend for dinner at Due’s. She got there first, and ordered a medium sausage, a medium spinach, and a small cheese for the kids (at Due’s you have to order when you go in, then wait for your table). We arrive with the kids, and sit down. The waitress comes to the table and says: “let me just make sure your order is correct – I have a medium sausage and spinach pizza, and a small cheese.” I tell her that can’t be right, there is a medium sausage and a medium spinach. She goes away and a manager returns, very apologetic. He says they’ve already put the correct order in, but it will take 40 minutes to bake the pie. They give us a free round of drinks, and come back 40 minutes later with three medium pizzas. One medium sausage, one medium cheese (not a small mind you) and a medium sausage and spinach, not plain spinach as requested. The medium cheese was a problem, as the girls like the small size as the slices are little.
So they royally screw up the order, then screw it up a second time. The pizza was horrible, the crust was slightly burned in places and too thick in others. The crust on the spinach pie was completely waterlogged. And then it finally happened. I then came to a very sad and seemingly permanent realization, that I have to officially break up with Due’s. It was very much like a breakup scene in a movie – all the memories came flashing through my head of all the people with whom I’ve come here to dine. I remember all the talks with the bartender Eddie, and all the hours outside waiting for a table. I fully admit there was cheating in the relationship, but there is always that moment when you actually leave that seems to be the most revealing. It was a very odd moment, one snapshot in time where I realized that something I’ve cherished and cared so much for my entire life is no longer for me.
So eating pizza in Chicago has become new again – trying quite a few places to find the perfect pie. Lou Malnati’s is definitely the front runner, Gino’s East a close second. I’ve even had some success with a place in my neighborhood called Piece, serving thin new haven style pie of all things. It’s very much like Shakespeare’s in Columbia, Mo., which carries with it a bit of nostalgia as well. I might go back to Due’s again to see Eddie and down a Goose Island 312 or two, but I’ll probably avoid the pizza.