CHICAGO - In downtown Chicago, not far from the Billy Goat Tavern of Saturday Night Live fame, you'll find Mother Hubbard's. It's technically a sports bar, but it doubles as an unofficial arm of the city's visitors bureau.
The beer there is served cold and quick, but that's just a pretense for delivering the establishment's best off-menu item: information. While enjoying a Goose Island Honker's Ale, I asked the bartender which deep dish pizza joint I ought to try. That seemingly simple question resulted in her calling over several waitresses, at which point they debated the finer points of Chicago-style pie for my benefit.
After a long argument about the merits of Giordano's vs. rival Gino's East, it was decided that I had better get up off the bar stool at that very moment and decide for myself. They armed me with directions (both places are close to each other and not far from Mother Hubbard's) and wished me well.
I did as I was told and walked over to Giordano's first. Inside, the place was packed and antiseptic and touristy, which are three things that make me recoil. I left and headed to Gino's East to see if the vibe was better.
Gino's was also packed and touristy, but the walls were covered with graffiti - the owners encourage diners to scribble messages and pictures while they wait - and the hosts looked like they could be in a carnival sideshow. One of them had those giant plug things the hipsters like to wear in their earlobes. The other had a cast on his arm that was decorated with some off-color sayings that wouldn't be appropriate to reprint here.
For some reason, the sideshow scene made me comfortable and I stayed. After waiting a long while for something to open up, I grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered a personal pizza with sausage. It took about an hour for the food to come out. The bartender told me that's normal, and that it would be worth the wait.
He was right. The crust was heavy and buttery, the meat well-seasoned, the cheese thick and gooey, the sauce tangy. It all worked well together, and I immediately understood why the ladies at Mother Hubbard's urged me to head off and indulge. I wish they had told me to bring a pillow, though; after eating two of the impossibly thick slices, I was immobilized and drowsy.
If you're ever in Chicago, I recommend trying the deep dish when you have six hours to kill and you're looking to lapse into a food coma.