TACOMA – For many Chicagoans, their go-to pizza style is a square-cut, thin-crust with sausage scattered underneath a top layer of cheese. At Chi Town Pizza in Tacoma, guests will encounter the other, more famous Chicago pie: deep-dish.
The forthcoming restaurant at 15619 Pacific Ave. South, steps from Spanaway Park, will feature Chicago’s prolific culinary exports, including the iconic pan pizza; Italian beef sandwiches dripping in jus and laced, ideally, with giardiniera; and Vienna beef hot dogs tucked into a poppyseed bun with yellow mustard, pickles spears, tomato slices, crunchy sport peppers, celery salt and neon-green relish.
Speaking as a former Chicagoan, that all sounds about right.
“That’s gonna be my draw – that’s why I’m sticking to just Chicago,” said owner Donald Miller, who has been outfitting the restaurant with modern new conveyor ovens that trim a few minutes off the standard 30-plus-minute cook time, a full bar and lounge, plus plenty of family-friendly seating. Looking ahead, he has also installed a stage in hopes of live music and maybe karaoke.
Miller operates several other businesses in the South Sound, including an animal petting zoo, and has invested in restaurants but never opened one. Neither has he actually indulged in a deep-dish pie in Chicago, though locally there are options: Katie Downs Waterfront Tavern serves a take on deep-dish, while worthy iterations exist at Windy City Pie and West of Chicago Pizza Company in Seattle.
“I wanted to try something different,” Miller told The News Tribune this month.
Fortunately, through his lawyer, he met 81-year-old Larry Stein, a Chicago native who now lives in Everett with his son. As a young investment and insurance professional, Stein moved to Des Moines, Iowa. His wife was family friends with the owners of Gullivers, which closed early this year after more than 55 years in Evanston, home to Northwestern University.
In Iowa, Stein was also close to a university. Friends encouraged him to open a Chicago-style pizzeria, understanding that at the time – in 1975 – deep-dish was nowhere to be found. He obliged, opening Felix & Oscar’s as a side hustle that blossomed into an institution. Now in a bigger location, it continues under the ownership of a longtime employee.
Stein, meanwhile, pursued pan pizza perfection through a consulting business.
Making connections at the annual Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, he estimates that his recipe found its way to around 60 restaurants nationwide and another near-dozen in London, Paris, Tokyo and Seoul. Locally, he worked with Delfino’s in Seattle’s University Village, open since 1993.
“I had no intentions of doing this one because I’m basically retired,” Stein told The News Tribune in a phone call this week. “I went in to talk with Donny [Miller] to see if I could be helpful.”
That conversation morphed into what will likely be his “farewell shot, so you know it’s gotta be good.”
He describes his crust as having a “subtle sweetness” and yellowish hue, thanks in part to caramelized brown sugar in the dough, which will be made fresh daily.
“It’s very similar to an offshoot of Uno’s and Due downtown, Malnati’s and probably Pequod’s,” he said, referencing some of the stalwarts of Chicago pan pizza.
The latter was always my favorite, the crust extra-caramelized with cheese and oil in the black-steel pans. Chain-wise, I preferred Lou Malnati’s.
Fresh mozzarella, Italian sausage nubs, crushed tomatoes on top – key to a deep-dish pie, where the assembly differs from a thin-crust toppings-last approach – Chi Town Pizza will try its darndest to bring a taste of Chicago to Tacoma.
“Everything we’re gonna do at Donny’s place,” said Stein, who will train the staff ahead of a hopeful May opening, “it will be very reminiscent to anybody who’s tasted a true Chicago pan pizza.”
Miller has put a lot of money and effort into the concept and the space, but he insisted, “Our menu is simple.”