If you want authentic East Coast pizza with an Italian zing, Pizza Chicago is the place to go. The key: Call first to order. The signature deep-dish pan pizza, cooked in a cast-iron skillet, takes an hour to prepare.
But Sam “Zazz” Hansen, professional chef at the south Tempe location, said it’s well worth the wait. “We make everything to order, so it does take more time,” she said. “It’s definitely worth waiting for.”
The restaurant’s deep-dish pie has a cornmeal crust and is baked in an old-fashioned cast-iron pan. The toppings go underneath the cheese, with the sauce layered on top.
“The only reference I can think of is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when they pull the pizza from the box and all the cheese comes stringing out,” she said. “It literally does that when you cut into it.”
The owner, Jim Stryker, lived in Chicago for the majority of his life, Hansen said, and brings a large influence from Italy, where is family originated.
“There’s really a heavy Italian background,” Hansen said. “And, Chicago has its own flavor and style, so when it comes together, especially with his family’s influence, it evolved into the old family recipes we are using.”
Hansen, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Scottsdale, said she met Stryker through her cousin who worked at the restaurant when it opened.
With Stryker’s old family recipes, Hansen said there’s no comparison to their pizza and pastas.
“We make everything here, in house, including all the dough, sausage and bread for sandwiches,” she said. “We grate or own cheese, and we don’t get anything out of a can.”
Stryker, who moved to Arizona from Chicago, brought with him the original Chicago sandwich he said was created at his grandfather’s grocery in Elmwood Park.
According to Hansen, the pizza at other local restaurants doesn’t compare to Stryker’s recipes.
“It’s hard to eat other pizza after working here for so long,” she said.
Now, Tempe families are being drawn to the restaurant for pizza with a family tradition.
“We want families from around the neighborhood to come and enjoy authentic food,” Hansen said. “I love how small it is; it’s like our little family.”
This summer, Pizza Chicago made additions to its menu, she said.
“New menus went out a few months ago. We’ve been sending them out to different areas,” she said.
“The pastas are new, as well as the cold soups. We have our first cold sandwich, Salami and Cheese, with all ingredients imported, except for the bread that I make in-house.”
Pizza Chicago is on the southeast corner of Elliot and Rural roads in south Tempe.