Alibi V.18 No.8 • Feb 19-25, 2009 

Restaurant Review

Pizza 9

Duke City or Windy? The devil's in the details.

Pepperoni pizza gets personal (size).
Pepperoni pizza gets personal (size).
Eric Williams

Most places in this world are synonymous with certain foods. Maryland has crab cakes, Kansas City has barbecue, Philly has cheese steak and Chicago has pizza—a very specific type of pizza. It’s three-dimensional, and you can’t fold it in half. Hell, you can hardly hold it in your hand. There is no mistaking a true Chicago-style pizza. And those who have encountered the real deal have no trouble picking out an imitator.

Pizza 9, from the former owner of now-defunct Chicago Beef, slings dough in a converted KFC on Gibson. The menu promises Windy City authenticity with pizzas and Italian beefs. But are they really Chicago-style?

Pizza maker Tom Epley tosses a disc of dough.
Pizza maker Tom Epley tosses a disc of dough.
Eric Williams

It only takes a glance to figure it out. The pies lack the height of a true deep-dish Chicago pizza. Add in a surprisingly quick cook time, and things just don’t add up: Chicago pizza has a crust around three inches thick, which leads to an agonizingly long wait. Not so here. But Pizza 9's crust is rich and buttery, as it should be.

There are other divergences. P9's sauce and toppings are under the cheese instead of on top, and tomato sauce is used in lieu of crushed tomatoes. If authenticity is a hang-up for you, just mentally replace the menu's "Chicago-style" claims with "Midwestern butter crust" and the pizza passes muster.

The Fire Eater is a saucy challenge that rewards those who conquer it with an endorphin rush similar to surviving a fraternity hazing.

The Fire Eater is a particularly snappy pie. A monument to capsaicin, it scathes taste buds with pepperoni, jalapeños, green chile and hot giardiniera, an Italian-American relish that makes an appearance on nearly everything here. Giardiniera is a racy blend of sport peppers, celery and carrots, all pickled to hellish perfection. The Fire Eater is a saucy challenge that rewards those who conquer it with an endorphin rush similar to surviving a fraternity hazing.

Eric Williams

On the milder side, a Veggie Delight pizza masquerades as a healthy option. Of course, the thick crust and generous sprinkling of cheese negate any possibility of this meat-free pizza being good for you. Sure, mushrooms, olives, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes do have their health benefits. They’re just not enough to stand up to the carb/fat combo delivered by the crust and cheese—and that’s what makes this dish so damn delish.

A small section of sandwiches continues to toy with Chicago-style parameters. The bomber is another Chicago standard. Though some will dispute what a bomber entails, it generally refers to any beef-and-cheese sandwich served on a deli roll. If it’s made in Chicago, it’s likely topped with onions, peppers and, of course, giardiniera. P9 gets it right. The meatball bomber (though it's labeled a sandwich here), however, is a disappointment. The meatballs are passable—not bad, but nothing special. The problem is the sauce's absence of flavor; unless you count the metallic blush left over from the tin can.

An Italian beef sandwich makes a better impression. The thinly sliced beef is aptly seasoned and has the right amount of texture. Up north, eating one of these babies requires a high counter to lean on and prop your elbows: This stance keeps your clothes free from the dripping juices, because an Italian beef comes dunked in au jus. P9’s beef is escorted by a small side of the “gravy,” which gives diners just a taste of this Second City favorite. Ask for extra. And order with an open mind. Chicago may be written all over the menu, but diners hungry for lunch or a laid-back dinner should judge Pizza 9 by its own merits.

The Alibi recommends:

Fire Eater

Veggie Delight

Italian beef (ask them to dunk it)

Piling hot giardiniera on your pie until you actually shed tears

Pizza 9, 5305 Gibson SE, 366-6463. Hours: Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-midnight. Price range: $4.99 (Italian beef) to $15.99 (14-inch quattro stagioni ). Ambience: Slightly slower fast food. Credit cards, carryout, delivery.