Young and Hungry

Deep Diss: District of Pi’s Chicago Knockoff Just Isn’t Cheesy Enough

As a native Chicagoan (read: pizza snob) I'm always skeptical of anything labeled Chicago-style pizza outside of the Windy City. In my experience, out-of-town deep dish does it wrong in a variety of ways: (a) the sauce is too sweet, (b) the sauce is not on top, and (c) there's not nearly enough cheese.

Maybe this has something to do with healthier lifestyles beyond the 773 area code. We're talking an awful lot of cheese, after all. At Chicago's popular Gino's East, for instance, a large deep dish pie holds at least 10 ounces of cheese—up to 20 ounces if the pie is plain cheese only.

Knowing this, I read Eli Lehrer's endorsement of the deep dish at District of Pi with a sense of doubt. My fellow Chicagoan, a vice president at the Heartland Institute, called it "an acceptable true-Chicago style Deep Dish pie" —which, in my mind, suggests that it barely meets the cheese standard.

I had to see for myself. I dragged along a friend, also a native Chicagoan, to help me gauge the pizza's authenticity.

“After the first bite we’ll know if it’s Chicago-style or just wrong,” my dining companion says as we glance over the menu.

The setting doesn't scream Chicago-style pizzeria. Sure, there is exposed brick. But no checkered tablecloth. No graffiti-lined walls. Actually, this place is a little bit nicer than a Chicago-style pizzeria. Is that a chandelier in the back?

We ordered a large “Kirkwood” ($24), one of the house's “deep-dish specialty pi,” which comes with mozzarella cheese, Italian meatballs, red peppers and basil. About 35 minutes later, it was in front of us. At first glance, it fit the profile perfectly—a thick, golden-brown-crusted pie smothered in a vibrant red, chunky sauce that is, thankfully, on top.

So far, so good. But, as I lifted the pie server, I noticed something awry. Your traditional Chicago pie oozes cheese to the point where it's nearly impossible to pick up with your hands. This one was far too easy to lift.

When I plopped the pizza onto my plate and dug in with my knife and fork, I noticed another discrepancy. The part-flour, part-cornmeal crust was a struggle to cut through. Real deep dish is so battered by the deluge of piping hot cheese that it is soft enough to cut with a spoon.

To be fair, the meat was well-seasoned and nicely complimented the tangy, chunky sauce, which was abundant. Just like the real thing.

The biggest problem, though, was the cheese. Or lack of it. Compared to the veritable sea of cheese I'm used to, this looked like spaghetti and meatballs on flatbread.

I asked the waiter about the restaurant's own standards of cheese distribution. He tells me that District of Pi piles on about five to eight ounces of the stuff per pizza.

Maybe that's good enough for D.C. I, for one, could use about five to eight ounces more.

District of Pi, 910 F St. NW, (202) 393-5494

Photo by Maya Rhodan

  • dbp

    As a former resident of both the Chicagoland area and St. Louis, the home of the original Pi, I have to call bull on your apples to oranges comparison.

    Does District of Pi make any claims to being a Chicago-style deep dish (which you so adroitly describe)? I don't think so. It's something of its own, a pie so delicious it comes with a presidential seal of approval (http://www.pizzatoday.com/Magazines/Year/2012/March/il-pizzaiolo-pi-pizzeria).

    You might as well walk into Pete's in Columbia Heights and pen an article of something awry from your "traditional Chicago pie" you order from their menu.

  • Josh

    Please don't speak for all Chicagoans, Maya. It is definitely not a Gino's East pizza, but it's the closest I've ever found outside of Chicago. By the way, Gino's is in the 312 area code. Maybe you've forgotten :)

  • Monkeyrotica

    Speaking as a monkey, even I know this place isn't trying to be Chicago pizza casserole.

  • H

    This is ridiculous - Pi pizza is San Francisco style! That's what the cornmeal crust is all about! Don't try to make it something it's not trying to imitate - plus it's delicious any way you slice it! (that's a pretty good pun...)

  • V

    Ahh. I'm from Chicagoland, grad school in Saint Louis, and now working in DC. It's funny because I would never think this and I'm surprised you didn't realize Pi is not trying to imitate a Chicago pizzeria when you visited.

    I love Chicago deep dish, but I also love good pizza and a lovely atmosphere. Which is exactly what Pi is, yum. Sorry Maya, wish you dug a little deeper than thinking just about deep dish. You should check it out again to see what Pi is really about

  • BlueSkies

    I can't believe the awful taco I had the other day at Georgetown Cupcake. It was way too sweet, nothing like a taco at all. How dare they call themselves "the best tacos in town"?

  • ChicagoinDC

    Agree with most people who have commented - Pi is clearly St. Louis style (not San Fran style, not sure where that came from) and in fact actively refutes people who try to say it is Chicago style. This explains the crust among other things. I don't think it is nearly as good as Lou's or Gino's or some other small places in Chicagoland, but it is a great pizza and by far the best deep dish you can get in DC period. Also, I think the atmosphere is actually pretty close to a midwest pizza joint. Maybe a DC version of one, but still I always get the back home feel when I walk in.

  • Pat

    First disclosure. I personally know the Pi crew. Second , my bona fixes are that I am from New Haven, home of two of the four top rated pizzaz in the US -Pepe's and Sally's so I do know my pizza and am a bit of a pizza snob myself. You describe Pi as tomatoes and meatballs on flatbread. That crust can't remotely be called flatbread, sorry. It's thick but not too thick, it's addictive, and the cheese provides a layer between the tomato topping and the crust. Expand your horizons -- I did.

  • JM

    This article really needs to be corrected/updated (especially the title). Like almost everyone has pointed out, it's not Chicago style and has never claimed to be. It's St. Louis deep dish, by way of SF.

  • Chris Shott

    The author isn't responding to any claim or advertisement of Chicago-style pizza by the restaurant itself. She clearly states that she's responding to the endorsement of a fellow Chicagoan writing about Pi's "acceptable true-Chicago style Deep Dish pie" for Huffington Post.

  • Johnny

    I dont care what kind of pizza it is. It could be Martian style for all I care. The problem is it doesn't taste good. It's bland as all get out.
    And that the waiter did a whole spiel about how they came here from ST Luis because there was no good deep dish in DC and then proceeded to plop a tasteless disc of foodstuff in front of me that couldn't even compare to our local Armands just made it insulting.
    Some of these restaurant transplants moving to DC to cash in on our disposable income and taste for eating out need to just pack it up and leave town. Just saying.

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  • SearchYourFeelings

    It's hilarious to read people attempting to demonstrate some sort of hard-earned superiority of taste from eating a food that nearly everyone in the U.S. has eaten a thousand times in dozens of locales and configurations. What an amazingly poor attempt at snobbery.

  • pauliewalnuts

    I guess Maya could have ordered EXTRA cheese if she craves it that much?

    Frankly, when anyone walks out of a restaurant unsatisfied, is it the restaurant's fault or the person that walked out without relaying what their needs or desires were?

  • Stler

    Pi pizza is San Francisco style deep dish. Their recipes were purchased from a joint out of San Fran called Little Star. Check their website out http://www.littlestarpizza.com/index.html

  • Cubs Fan

    Best bet for Chicago Pizza in the DC area is actually at Harris Teeter. Most of their DC area locations sell frozen Gino's East pizza that actually heats up quite well at home!

  • Kev29

    More transplant blah blah blah

  • KevinP

    Chicago. St. Louis. San Francisco. Who cares? Who really cares? Can't we all just get along and enjoy the pizza -- and the rather awesome beer selection?

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