Young and Hungry

Chicago Transplant Endorses Chicago-Style Pizza at Penn Quarter’s District of Pi

Finally! Real Chicago-style pizza in D.C. We're talking about the "true deep-dish sauce-on-top" style of pie—not the buttery, thick-crusted stuff you find at Armand's Chicago Pizzeria and Uno's Chicago Grill.

That's according to Eli Lehrer, vice president of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Lehrer visits the new District of Pi in Penn Quarter where he finds "an acceptable true-Chicago style Deep Dish pie: thick zesty-tomato sauce, lots of course toppings and a cornmeal/flour crust."

According to Lehrer, fellow Windy City ex-pats tend to agree with that assessment: "In fact, I first learned about District of Pi from mass e-mails fellow Chicago transplants who e-mailed me unsolicited."

Like any good wonk, the deep-dish aficionado then delves into the economics of the situation:

Because they are much thicker than ordinary pizzas, they take much longer to cook. Even with a fully professional-grade oven, start-to-finish cook times for a large pie can top a half hour. This, combined with the messiness of the product, makes it a lot harder to sell for delivery and takeout. Nobody wants to wait an hour or more for food delivery. This cuts out a piece — the delivery/takeout business that's the mainstay of other pizza places. (In fact, Pizza Hut sold a version of a Chicago-style product for a few years but killed it when it began to emphasize delivery.) In fact, most Chicago-style pizza places in Chicago emphasize a dine-in experience. If you can bring in a lot of people night after night, this can work but, unless your product is super-popular, long prep time means that people occupy tables for much longer even though many will spend less than $10 a piece on the pizza "entrée." In Chicago and South Florida, most places deal with this this by catering to families who aren't going to spend a lot anyway: kiddie menus and crayons are common. But this, of course, scares away the young professionals and seniors who tend to have the most disposable income. In many markets with heavy competition, a low-spending, low-table-turnover, market for a quirky, unhealthy product just isn't enough to keep a pizza place alive.

District of Pi, appears to have hit on a different formula. It offers a huge beer list — 24 selections on draught — small one-person appetizers that add up quickly, and very tempting mixologist-written cocktail list. In short, while it's not unfriendly to families — they have high-chairs and it's noisy enough that my loud four-year-old didn't bother anyone — the target seems to be the younger professional. Will this succeed where others failed? Hard to know. But keeping it in business will certainly keep me happy — and, sure, expand my waistline a bit.

Photo by ninjapoodles/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

  • Muckraker

    I've enjoyed their pies from the truck and am now really looking fwd to the restaurant.

  • Jane

    The restaurant is outstanding. I've loved both the Chicago-style and thin crust pizzas. Good chicken wings, too.

    My only complaint is that they are out of a LOT of beers. They have replacements, but every time I've been they've been out of at least 2 of their draft beers. It's tolerable because the beers they have are so good, but still.

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  • sam walton

    Sorry, I was born and raised in Chicago, and this pizza doesn't even come close. It is like taking an asian to a chinese carryout.

  • Palatine Pete

    Sorry, as a Chicagoan I have to say we don't call it "pie." Not a Chicago term at all. It's deep dish, not pie.

  • monkeyrotica

    So Asians aren't supposed to enjoy Kung Pao Chicken? My god, I've been doing it wrong all these years!

    And agreed, this isn't a pie. It's a casserole.