In 19 years, the East of Chicago Pizza franchise has scattered its doughy delicacies to 90-some locations that stretch from the Midwest to Myrtle Beach. More than authentic, deep-dish, Chicago--style pizza stirs in its kitchens. The hearty Windy City pie homes in on hunger with a sauce-on-top construction and a knife-and-fork imperative. Still, appetites find their way to the loaded subs, boneless wings, and other savory fare on the menu. Fresh salads topped with grilled chicken or sprinkled with cheese balance the indulgence of parmesan poppers, cheezystix, and fold-over pizza sandwiches, leaving patrons more charged up than a robot after its first kiss with a power outlet.
From its humble beginnings in 1959, Little Caesars has stretched its cheesy empire from coast to coast, doling out trademark deep-dish pizzas, sauce-drenched wings, and cheesy bread. In keeping with its history as a forward-looking franchise, Little Caesars has cooked up an iPhone application that highlights popular menu items and shoots out piping-hot pies from the phone's port. The pizza purveyor sends its Love Kitchen, a big-rig pizza kitchen on wheels, across the United States and Canada to fill the bellies of homeless people and disaster victims with its daily kneaded dough and freshly shaved mozzarella.
Armed with only an oven and an old treasure map made of mozzarella cheese, the chefs at Rival’s Pizza bake a long list of pizzeria specialties to a bubbly golden brown. The eatery models its menu after an old-fashioned pizza parlor, but staffers also whip up dough disks in modern 30-inch sizes and make it rain with free sprinklings of parmesan, poppy seeds, crushed red peppers, and cinnamon. Complementing Rival’s main dish are pasta, stromboli, calzones, and a smores dessert pizza with Hershey's chocolate; delivery is available for an extra dollar.
At Dégagé Express, Head Chef Joseph Jacobsen uses techniques learned beside Jacques Pépin and Bobby Flay to transform locally sourced meats and produce—most cultivated within 30 miles of the restaurant—into elegant sandwiches and desserts. These ingredients fill the menu, composing seasonal dishes such as the Missy's Fix sandwich, made with housemade corned beef, apple slaw, thousand-island dressing, and local sauerkraut. Sous Chef Skyler Stanton, meanwhile, cooks soups such as the Train Wreck Chili. A testament to the culinary staff's creativity, croutons flavored with bacon fat and cheese top the restaurant's caesar salad, and housemade hot chocolate and locally baked pies from Schmucker's lend a sweet note, like a banker who underwrites loans with chocolate coins.
Dégagé Express calls the historic Commercial Building home. It is rumored that none other than Abraham Lincoln stayed at the building when it doubled as an inn way back in the early 19th century. Today, Dégagé uses the winsome building to host another cornerstone of the American experience: live jazz music.
The ovens at Mancino's Pizza and Grinderswork work overtime. They cook each day, turning out batches of the restaurant's signature breadsticks, hot meat-and-cheese-covered grinders on freshly baked bread, and, of course, specialty or build-your-own pizzas. The ovens' interiors breathe thermal life into concoctions whose histories stretch far back in time. Their grinders were born?according to Mancino's menu?on the East Coast during World War I, when Italian immigrants served hearty sandwiches to shipyard workers who were grinding off rivets for warships. Near the ovens, cooks cover spaghetti and lasagna in handcrafted marinara sauce using an old family recipe. In addition to hardworking ovens, the restaurant's new location boasts four large-screen TVs and an ice-cream bar to cool down well-heated palates.
Back in 1957 when Marie and Joseph "Jo-Jo" Hashim founded Jo Jo's Original Pizza, they decided to concoct original recipes for their breads, crusts, and housemade sauce. Fifty years later, most of these savory instructions are still in use, guiding chefs as they craft traditional pies as well as Jo Jo's specialty hawaiian and taco pizzas. Run today by Marie and Joseph's descendants, Jo Jo's rounds out its menu with other classic Italian fare, including housemade lasagna, pastas, and subs.