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A pizza style contest: New York vs. Chicago

A couple of weekends ago, one of my friends told me she could bet money on the fact that a pizza debate would arise between me and a mutual friend from New York during any given conversation.

This is true.

I’m not sure when the argument began, but being from Chicago, I find myself in many discussions with people at Miami that involve the words “Chicago pizza” and “New York style is better.” Everyone always wants to argue, and I can’t just back down — Chicago pizza takes so much heat and someone has to defend it.

This, however, can be tough to do when Jon Stewart’s well-known opinions have circulated in a video condemning Chicago pizza, but I try my best. 

Yet on a recent trip to New York, I figured I ought to give their pizza another chance, to try once and for all to end an argument I previously believed had a clear winner.

Before we delve into my decision, let’s look at our contestants. 

First up, in no particular order, we have Chicago style. Obviously, there are many different places to try, but my favorites are Lou Malnati’s and Gino’s East. The crust is thick, and to many outside the city, apparently the order is backwards — cheese first, sauce and ingredients second. 

Call it a “casserole” if you wish, but most people don’t blink an eye when asked to wait the 30 to 45 minutes it takes for one of these pies to cook. It’s a filling meal, with a crunchy crust balanced out by plenty of ingredients and sauce, and frankly, it’s worth the wait.

Next up is New York style, which is basically as thin as the paper plate it’s served on, big as the state itself and usually pretty greasy. Arrival time is five minutes or less if you choose a place with a walk-up counter. 

The latter option rarely held my attention because I didn’t understand the appeal. What was so interesting about paper-thin pizza? 

But since I was there, and pizza is a quick meal option, I had to find out. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had New York style before, but any previous experience was definitely biased. 

So, there I was, walking up to the counter, looking at a line of pizzas fully believing that Chicago style would always have my heart. I ordered a slice of pepperoni and watched as the person behind the counter took the slice and placed it in the pizza oven. Within five minutes, I had my slice of pizza (on a paper plate, of course), on a plastic tray, accompanied by a cup of soda. 

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At first, it was a little difficult to determine how to eat such a slice. Back home, usually, a knife and fork are required, but here, I was on my own. In the end, I just decided to pick up the slice, fold it and hope for the best.

I was shocked. 

The slice itself was piping hot, the crust perfectly crunchy. Sure, it was thin, and it barely fits on the plate, but surprisingly, I was full. The venue itself was quite small, but the employees were very kind and I found myself reconsidering the winner of this perpetual pizza debate.

Obviously, the people of New York are proud of their pizza — it’s a staple of the state, and it’s just one of those things you have to try. 

I stopped by the same pizza place a second time, and that time, there wasn’t a slice of pepperoni to be found. In a kind gesture so atypical of the city (well, according to the stereotypes anyhow), the employee offered to make me a slice of pepperoni right there and then. Such service.

At first, it seemed like such a contest would be simple with a clear-cut winner, but it wasn’t. Though the contestants share a name and ingredients, they’re different in numerous ways, and all I can settle on deciding is that perhaps the winner is dependent on scenery.

I say New York style wins when the backdrop involves skyscrapers, swanky shops, pretzels and taxis, and Chicago style wins if we trade pretzels for popcorn and hot dogs. 

To be clear, I’ll never mock Chicago pizza the way Mr. Stewart does because, in a word, he’s wrong, but I gave New York style a chance, and I’ve decided that there is, indeed, a time and place for it.