With summer on the horizon and some recent easing of restrictions on indoor/outdoor dining, pizza lovers can now partake of their favorite food in a whole new dining experience.
Finger Licking Foodie Tours is debuting its self-guided Chicago deep-dish pizza walking tour starting Monday (which also happens to be National Deep-Dish Pizza Day). The brainchild of Chicago-born entrepreneur Donald Contursi, the tour is born of his hugely successful Las Vegas foodie tours, which expose patrons to four three-course dinners at some of Sin City’s most acclaimed restaurants.
But like the Vegas incarnation (Lip Smacking Foodie Tours), the Chicago version — a self-guided endeavor (until pandemic restrictions allow for larger groups and an in-person tour guide) — is more than just food. It’s the chance to spend some quality time with friends and/or family (minimum two people per tour) for an afternoon or evening trek, and it’s about the stories behind some of the city’s most iconic deep-dish pizzas and the pizzamakers.
The two-hour tour (available every day, every half hour) includes stops at three restaurants without the long wait; because it’s a prepaid tour, guests will be seated upon arrival and served within 10 minutes. Each tour stop allows for 35 to 40 minutes to enjoy a small, deep-dish half cheese/half sausage pizza for two (vegetarian versions also available). Drink packages are also available at additional cost. And not to worry, you can take any leftovers with you as you head to the next eatery to sample another pie (a map and voice-over guide on your cell phone will direct you step-by-step to the next location).
“It’s interesting, pepperoni is the most popular flavor of pizza everywhere except Chicago, where sausage reigns supreme,” Contursi said, explaining the half cheese/half sausage option.
The three restaurants in the tour include Gino’s East (162 E. Superior), Pizzeria Uno (29 E. Ohio), and Lou Malnati’s (439 N. Wells). The base price for the tour (without drinks is $65 per person, gratuities included).
“The nice thing is that booking is available throughout the day starting at 11 a.m. all the way to a start time of 6 p.m.,” said Contursi. “So even with that 6 p.m. start you’re finished by 8 p.m. or so.”
Contursi said he came to appreciate each pizza restaurant’s history as he did his final “research” over the course of a recent five-day visit to Chicago.
“Every day of the five days I would go to the pizzerias and meet with the [owners and staff] to soak up their story and the culture,” Contursi said. “While they’re all very competitive, they all respect each other and appreciate each other’s product. ... Lou Malnati’s butter crust, for example, and how they [lay out] the sausage along the circumference of the pizza, is amazing,” he said. “The Gino’s East crust is exceptional. It has this cornmeal flavor and texture but it’s not cornmeal. It’s a proprietary crust [laughs], that’s all they would tell me.”
So why do Chicagoans love their deep dish pizza?
“For us, I think it all starts with that flaky, buttery crust,” said Marc Malnati, owner of his namesake pizzeria celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “It melts in your mouth but has the proper amount of crunch. So you satisfy the crunch seekers and the buttery seekers.”
Malnati says his company still uses “the same little dairy” in Wisconsin for cheese (the name is a secret) that it has used for over 40 years, and it dispatches “tomato testers” to California each August to a specific grower to oversee the harvest, canning and shipping of “the perfect tomato” used year-round in every Malnati’s location to create sauce. The sausage is sourced locally, but like the cheese and tomatoes, everything is proprietary.
“To be part of this foodie tour — as much as we are a restaurant, we are part of the fabric of the city of Chicago. So it’s important to us to explain this mainstay, this iconic Chicago product, to folks on the tour,” Malnati said.
For more information on the Chicago deep-dish pizza tour or to book a tour, visit fingerlickingfoodietours.com.