Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. --The Mgmt.
But President-Elect Appears to Favor St. Louis Pizzeria
Italian Fiesta Pizzeria
1400 East 47th Street, Chicago IL 60653 (map); 773-684-2222 to order; 773-924-5339 to reach restaurant
Getting There: Metra to 47th Street or 6 Jackson Park Express bus to 47th Street and Lake Park
Pizza Style: Tavern-cut thin crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Greasy thin-crust pizza
Price: $19.70 for a large pizza with one
When reports started trickling out in July that Barack Obama's favorite pizzeria was Italian Fiesta Pizzeria, I took it a little personally. By that time, I had already given time and money to his campaign, and despite my cynical nature, I had already had so many glasses of Obama Kool-Aid that my former neighbor and state representative could do no wrong in my eyes even as he surprised me by voting for FISA and shown cowardice political pragmatism on gay marriage. But now came reports that he favored pizzas from Italian Fiesta Pizzeria, which I knew served far from top-notch pizza.
Italian Fiesta has been in the South Shore neighborhood on Chicago's south side since 1951. Even as the neighborhood changed dramatically (read: blacks moved in and whites ran away), Italian Fiesta stuck around, eventually adding locations in Hyde Park and a couple of southern and southwestern suburbs. Michele Obama grew up in South Shore and, presumably, she gets the credit for introducing it to the president-elect.
After the jump, find out whose pizza Barack Obama really craves. [He] "wouldn't shut up about my pizza," the joint's owner said.
The Hyde Park location that the Obamas patronize is a small restaurant in a strip mall that does not offer a dine-in option. Those who choose to go pick up their pizzas are advised to call at least 45 minutes before they arrive, despite there being no possible way it takes even half that amount of time to cook one of Italian Fiesta's thin-crust pies.
Another quirk of the ordering process is that the phone number used to place the order is not to the restaurant itself, but to a general number where the person answering asks not only takes the order but also asks which location the order should go to.
The restaurant consists of a waiting area that's about 10 feet by 20 feet and a large kitchen area visible through a small bulletproof glass window, where about a dozen people were busy making and packing pizzas. There were a couple of signs on the wall in the waiting-ordering area that caught my eye. One warns that there may be a long wait for pizza, and the other explains the refund policy: No refunds, only exchanges, and if a customer wants to make an exchange, they have to bring in the uneaten portion of their pizza.
I picked up my sausage pizza and headed to the car to open the box. Inside was a steaming thin-crust pizza with a noticeable amount of oregano and grease sitting on top. The buttery crust is thicker than traditional Chicago thin crust, but still pretty thin. The homemade sauce was well seasoned and was generously applied around the outer part of the pizza, but the middle pieces could have used a bit more. The sausage seemed to be fairly low quality, but it had some flavor and was well-represented on the pizza.
I was ready to write off Italian Fiesta after a couple of pieces, but when I got home about half an hour later, I ate some more. By that time, the grease had largely soaked back into the pizza, which resulted in a vastly improved pie. That's not to say the pizza magically became a high-quality treat, but there was something rather comforting about it. Italian Fiesta does not offer a pizza to be savored, but it offers a decent pie, particularly for late night diners—Italian Fiesta is open until 1 a.m. during the week and 2 a.m. on weekends.
Obama's Real Favorite Pizza—It's from St. Louis
That said, I'm not certain that Barack Obama fans will actually be that much closer to their hero by eating pizza from Italian Fiesta. See, while Michelle Obama has proclaimed her love of Italian Fiesta, I haven't found a quote from the president-elect himself sharing her enthusiasm. In fact, the owner admits that Obama has never been seen in the restaurant. There is, however, a story out of St. Louis that offers some insight into his pizza palate.
When campaigning in St. Louis toward the end of the election, Obama spoke to about 100,000 people. As anyone who has given a speech to 100,000 people knows, it's a draining experience that builds up an appetite. Chris Sommers owns Pi, a Chicago-style pizzeria in St. Louis. He sent Obama and his staff some pizzas for a post-speech meal, and a few hours later, the future president called Sommers and said it was the best pizza he'd ever eaten.
Apparently, Obama was not just being the nice politician when he made the call. The campaign's Missouri Field Director later called Sommers and said that Obama "wouldn't shut up about my pizza."
Eager to get more publicity return the affection, Pi is introducing a new pizza called the Broccoli O'Bama, which consists of a vegan thin-crust topped with broccoli, seasoned potatoes, applewood-smoked bacon, gruyere cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, minced garlic, and fresh chives, and is served with a side of sour cream.
I have never been to Pi, so I can't vouch for it one way or the other. But as far as Italian Fiesta Pizzeria goes, well, let's all hope Obama is better at leading the country than he is at picking a pizza. At the same time, if anyone had to go eight years without pizza, Italian Fiesta would taste like the best food on the planet.
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