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Breaking up with Due’s

July 30th, 2007 9 comments

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.

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Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue

May 27th, 2007 2 comments

Earlier last week I made a bit of a road trip to see a few Morrissey shows, one of those shows was in Kansas City. I have a few very good friends in that town, and every time I go there can be assured of at least two things – that I’ll be in impeccable company, and that I will eat very well.

This last trip was no exception. I’ve known my pal Kevin since 1991 – we met at Mizzou, and have been friends since. Kev is from KC and I can always count on him to expose me to a local eatery that leaves me wondering: “Could this get any better?” Kansas City is the absolute and utterly undisputed epicenter of the barbecue universe – many places try to emulate it, but fail miserably. I was in a bbq place in Florida that had just recently opened a few years ago, and the owner was walking around asking people how they liked everything. He was pretty confident in his product, and asked me if I’d had better – I told him I’ve been to Kansas City, and he said “well, that’s a completely different deal – they invented barbecue.”

Kev asked me if I’d ever been to Arthur Bryant’s, a bbq establishment in Kansas City that’s been clogging peoples arteries since the 1920’s, and I said no. He went on to explain that the line outside this establishment goes out the door and around the building, especially when the Cardinals are in town for inter-league play. On the way to AB, Kev was painting a beautiful picture of what we were about to consume: “My favorite is the pork and beef combo sandwich. It’s an insane amount of meat – enough for two or three meals, served between two little pieces of bread. The bread doesn’t stand a chance.” He then went on to extol the virtues of Arthur Bryant’s original sauce: “The original sauce in my opinion is a very acquired taste – Scott (another very good pal from KC with an unexplainable and insatiable ketchup fetish) doesn’t like it as it’s not similar enough to ketchup. The sauce is difficult to explain – it’s not spicy, and not sweet either.”

Kev went out on a bit of a limb taking me to Arthur Bryant’s – he’s taken me to other KC barbecue places in the past, and he always tells me that the place we’re going is good – but this time, he said this was his favorite KC barbecue joint. That doesn’t sound like a very big deal, but it places an incredible amount of pressure on Kevin – if the establishment isn’t up to snuff, it will reflect personally on him.

We finally get there – two fat guys getting out of a MINI was a quite funny sight indeed, and we walked in. The smell was absolutely perfect – smoked meat and sauce. The entry was lined with photos of famous people who’ve gone in to clog their arteries – from celebrities to presidents. Kev ordered his usual, I got a rack of ribs and a pound of smoked beef. We sit down at the table and Kev looks a little nervous. As he explains the different sauces (original, rich & spicy, sweet heat) he again warns me that the original sauce is an acquired taste, and very tepidly watches me as I take the first bite of smoked beef doused in the original sauce. With one bite, I tell Kev that the taste has been acquired. Kev makes a big exhale, and all is well. It was the best bbq combo I’d ever had – the sauce tailed off wonderfully, like a good wine. The beef was just about perfect, with lots of smoke flavor. According to AB’s website, they use a combination of Hickory and Oak, and the brick smoker is in full view of patrons which is a nice touch. If you’re ever in KC I’d highly recommend it, I give the place 5 stars.

It was a great night – consuming large quantities of smoked meat with my pal Kevin, and a Morrissey show. With all that food sitting in my stomach the all night drive back to Chicago after the Moz show was a bit difficult, but at least I wasn’t hungry. I’ll hopefully be exposing Kev to some Chicago pizza in much the same way this summer to pay him back for the KC bbq experience.

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