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Chicago ‘Pizza City, USA’ tours return Memorial Day weekend

Former ABC7 Chicago reporter Steve Dolinsky, long known as the “Hungry Hound” wants us all to know Chicago pizza is “more than deep dish.”

Steve Dolinsky, also known as James Beard Award-winning food reporter “The Hungry Hound,” enjoys a deep-dish pie at Labriola Chicago in the Gold Coast.
Steve Dolinsky, also known as James Beard Award-winning food reporter “The Hungry Hound,” enjoys a deep-dish pie at Labriola Chicago in the Gold Coast.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

James Beard Award-winning Chicago food critic Steve Dolinsky is out to debunk some of the myths surrounding Chicago-style pizza (the favorite among Chicagoans, for example, is not deep dish — it’s tavern-cut).

His fourth annual “Pizza City, USA” tour, which kicks off Friday, aims to counter misinformation regarding pizza, and expand food palates along the way.

Dolinsky, who spent 17 years as the ABC7 Chicago food reporter known as “The Hungry Hound,” says he trains five “doughcents” to spread the word when it comes to the city’s various styles of pizza.

“[The doughcents] have been with us since day one; nobody has left, and they’re spreading my gospel which is: ‘More than deep dish,’ ” said Dolinsky. “I think we’re more than [deep dish] because let’s face it, when people come to Chicago they stay in a hotel and they go to the nearest pizzeria within walking distance of their hotel. That was the impetus for the tours; let’s go see a place that maybe you haven’t heard of.”

“Pizza City, USA” has four different three-hour tours — Chicago Pizza Bus Tour, Wicker Park/Bucktown Pizza Walk, West Loop Pizza Walk, and Downtown Pizza Walk — featuring eateries such as Lou Malnati’s (1235 W. Randolph St.), Robert’s Pizza & Dough Company (465 N. McClurg Ct.), My Pi Pizza (2010 N. Damen Ave.), and Paulie Gee’s Logan Square (2451 N. Milwaukee Ave.), among others.

The Chicago Pizza Bus Tour kicks off at Gold Coast pizzeria Labriola Chicago, 535 N. Michigan Ave., where tourgoers, including diehard foodies — local, national and international — learn the history and nuances behind several different types of pizza such as deep dish, tavern-cut, artisan, Neapolitan, Roman, New York style, Sicilian and Detroit, at a variety of local eateries.

A slice of pizza is served at Labriola Chicago in the Gold Coast neighborhood.
A slice of pizza is served at Labriola Chicago in the Gold Coast neighborhood.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Dolinsky, whose second book, “The Ultimate Chicago Pizza Guide: A History of Squares & Slices in the Windy City,” is slated for an Oct. 15 publication date, says the tours also show how specific pizza styles are made, along with a presentation from a pizzeria representative who usually gives a speech on the eatery’s history.

“We literally go through the construction of this pizza on the tour,” said Dolinsky. “... Gina Pianetto, third generation owner of Pat’s Pizza, comes down out and talks to the group [about the establishment’s history]. [For example] her grandfather, whose name was Nick, was nicknamed ‘Pat’ until the name stuck; [Gina’s family] had neighbors who were Irish and they had lost a son, and they thought that the son looks like Nick, and so they call Nick ‘Patty.’ That ‘Pat’ stuck forever, so that’s why they call it ‘Pat’s Pizza.’

“[Tour goers] always say: ‘Well, I didn’t know that about the city’ or ‘I didn’t know that about my own city.’ So we try to expose them with some of that.”

“Pizza City, USA” tourgoers check out Robert’s Pizza & Dough Company, located at 465 N. McClurg Ct.
“Pizza City, USA” tourgoers check out Robert’s Pizza & Dough Company, located at 465 N. McClurg Ct.
Steve Dolinsky

Dolinsky, who says he wants to curate a South Side pizza tour, understands why pizza is extremely personal for Chicagoans, and maybe the “Pizza City, USA” tour can show them a pie outside of the one they love the most.

“We’re expanding palates, without a doubt, because we get locals who are like: ‘I grew up on this pizza, and I love it and it’s the best,’ ” said Dolinsky. “... Just because you grew up on a style of pizza, you think it’s the greatest; OK, that’s fine. I understand, but come on a tour, let me take you by the hand. Let me show you a couple of other things that you have in the city that people don’t realize.”

NOTE: Pizza City, USA tours take place through October depending on location:

Chicago Pizza Bus Tour (Labriola Chicago), 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays, $69;

Wicker Park/Bucktown Pizza Walk (My Pi Pizza), 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays (May to October), $49;

West Loop Pizza Walk (Lou Malnati’s), 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays (May to October), $49;

Downtown Pizza Walk (Labriola Chicago), 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Fridays (May to October), $45.

More information on all the tours can be found at pizzacityusa.com.