During the great pizza war of 2013, Marc Malnati flew to New York to break bread -- well, a Lou Malnati's cheesy deep-dish pizza -- with "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart, who had ripped Chicago-style pizza. Malnati, owner of the famed pizza chain that has spread across our suburbs as thickly as mozzarella over buttercrust, scored a decisive victory by persuading the powerful TV heavyweight to declare a truce in the pizza war, apologize, and sheepishly concede that his Lou Malnati's pizza was "very tasty."
And all seemed right with the world.
Until this week, when stunned Daily Herald food editor Deb Pankey breaks the news of a new pizza salvo. The Daily Meal, an East Coast-based website devoted to "All Things Food & Drink," released its list of the "101 Best Pizzas in America 2014" -- and not a single Chicago pizza made the top 30.
"I'm surprised," says Laurie Sorman, a Hoffman Estates mom who ducks into the Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in Elk Grove Village to buy a deep-dish cheese pizza for her daughter Bethany's 16th birthday dinner on Wednesday.
The Daily Meal crowned Malnati's as the 61st-best pizza in America, finishing behind pizzas from every borough of New York; Phoenix; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Boston; Portland; Atlanta; Providence, Rhode Island; Stamford, Connecticut; Robinsville and Orange, New Jersey; St. Paul, Minnesota; Seattle; Austin, Texas; Delray Beach, Florida; two pizzas in Atlanta and five in New Haven, Connecticut.
"This list is clearly skewed towards East- and West-Coast pizza places and leaves out at least 10 fabulous famous (and rightly so) Chicago pizza joints like Old World Pizza, Giordano's, Edwardo's and has Lou Malnati's ranked in the 60s! BLASPHEMY!" reads one online comment.
It would be difficult for Sorman to believe that New Haven serves up five pizzas more delectable than a Malnati's deep-dish.
"The kids love it. We all love it," Sorman says of Malnati's. She and her husband, John, used to bring Bethany and her older sisters Melanie, 19, and Courtney, 24, to a Lou Malnati's restaurant when they were little. The pizza remains a staple for special occasions.
"We always get it on New Year's Eve, and we get a heart-shaped pizza on Valentine's Day," Sorman says.
None of which matters to the folks at The Daily Meal. For the second year in a row, Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven won the title. Pequod's Pizza, with locations in Chicago and Morton Grove, was the highest-ranked Chicago pizza, and it barely made the Top 40 by claiming the 39th spot. Couldn't the top Chicago judge on the panel sway the vote?
"I was a judge with very, very limited power," says judge Jon Porter, who grew up in Elmhurst, lives in Oak Park, and shows off great local pizza through his Chicago Pizza Tour business. His tours cover the gamut from deep-dish to thin crust, and Neapolitan to South Side bar pizzas.
"We are a city that embraces all forms of pizza. We can get a pretty good New Haven pizza slice here right across from a deep-dish place," Porter says. "I just absolutely love Chicago pizza. It's my go-to."
Porter says he still has a place in his heart for Q's Restaurant and Pizzeria in Hillside.
"Pizza is one of those things where you relate to the one you first fell in love with," Porter says. "That's what makes pizza such a good conversation topic. People have opinions."
The Daily Meal can keep its pizza opinions. We'll keep our Chicago pizzas.