Earth Day 1990. I stood on the quad of Illinois State University and watched the band I booked, Sounds Under the Stairs, perform for the Earth Day celebration at ISU. I watched them for a few minutes and walked back to my dorm, feeling a twinge of sadness as my car was packed and ready-to-go. I was leaving my beloved campus, en route for a new life in Colorado.
I didn’t realize my sad goodbyes to friends and familiarity meant that I would be entering a food desert. Well, not literally, but for a girl raised on specific Chicago only foods, it was a quest for that certain something — that combination of foods and spices that could only be found back home.
I managed the disappointment. Of course, I could handle it. I followed the Cubs for years. I was used to anticipation followed by profound loss. Then out of sheer luck, I found my oasis. Chicago Style Beef and Dogs. Located at 6680 W Colfax Ave, Lakewood, Colorado. Chicago’s offers a Chicago Style Hot Dog so authentic, you can feel the Lake Effect. The perfect storm of poppy seed bun, pickle, onions, tomatoes, celery salt and of course, glowing relish and mustard.
I was expecting my son and had a craving for a Peeps Hot Dog from Arlington Heights so bad that I thought I would implode. Luckily, I stumbled on this establishment and my son, now 13, is regarded as part of the family. Chicago Style Beef and Dogs saved my soul from a damnation of impersonators. Like dating, it was hit and miss for years until I found the one.
Pizza was a different story. I tried Old Chicago’s. Well, no. Doughy, chewy; the Chicago 7 was okay. But something was missing. The dough felt too sexy. The beer too trendy. What I really wanted was a carved up booth in a questionable part of town and a can of Old Style.
Finally, a friend of mine from Chicago told me about the Bar Car on 819 Colorado Blvd in Denver. She raved about the pizza, saying it was just like home. I doubted her sincerity. It seemed improbable. I asked her in a way that one would ask a very important question, almost in a whisper.
“Don’t mess with my head. Is it real?”
“Yes! You’ve got to try it!” she promised emphatically. I felt like she was giving me a lead on a fake Fendi or some weight loss medication with added benefits.
I liked the Facebook page and discovered that a second location was going to open. I waited them out. I drove by the Bar Car and stalked it. I read reviews. Still, I did not go in. My heart had been broken too many times for me to take a chance. Dull, lifeless crust, tasteless sauce and fake cheese. I’ve had enough heartbreak. You see, I love food. I’m a curvy girl. I love food and booze. I hate aerobics. If you see me running, you better start running too. My body is testament to my quest. I used to have a borderline eating disorder in the desire to be thin and loved. Then I fell in love and discovered cheese. Life is good.
But still, no decent pizza. Finally, in late December, in a lover’s embrace straight out of the movies, Denver Deep Dish, the sister restaurant to the Bar Car finally opened. It’s like the brother of my ex-lover finally came of age. I grabbed my clan and went in, eyes wide, hopeful and anxious.
The restaurant is industrial, almost plain to a fault but I’m not here for the bling. I want the food. They could serve authentic Chicago style pizza out of the back of a van for all I cared. We scanned the menu and decided on one medium meat lovers deep dish and one small goat cheese, bacon and red onion one. I didn’t care about the bill. I wanted one traditional pie and one hipster fancy pie.
After an agonizing wait, the pies arrived. What was described to me by Jason, the owner was a blend of Gino’s East corn meal crust and Lou Malanti‘s sauce. It was a marriage that included some really great sex and here it was, hot and ready, waiting for my discriminating palate. The pie placed on our serving stand with a small thud. It was perfection. I served the first slices to my guys and took the coveted first bite. I felt the rough edge of the crust on my fingers and I delicately lifted the first slice to my lips, the smell of cheese, sauce and spices teasing my senses.
And as if I were released from food desert prison, my first bite rendered me in tears. Finally, Chicago style deep dish, real, not some fake imitation is here. And yes, they serve Old Style. They were out at the moment, but it will be waiting for me upon my return. My son eagerly ate five pieces of pizza on his own, his eyes glowing. My husband was very pleased but he’s from Ohio. They have rivers that catch on fire.
I cut my pizza with a fork and at that moment I was back home, feeling the wind off the lake and hearing the roar and shake of the El train above my head. With Dunkin Donuts, Denver Deep Dish, Chicago Style Beef and Dogs and a good gyro joint on Colfax, I can say with legitimacy now that I really do go home to visit family.
That and some Fanny May candy.
For impeccable service, amazing food and some decent cocktails, please visit:
Denver Deep Dish Pizza :
1200 W. 38th Ave.
Denver, CO, 80211
[Images: Denver Deep Dish Facebook]
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