History of Pizza Pie & Chicago Style Deep-Dish

Sometimes the retelling of history is often skewed for accurate information and is usually less than thrilling once you hear what actually happened. This can’t be more than apparent when telling the true story of the Pizza Pie and how it originally came into existence.

The Birth Of Chicago’s Deep Dish

Chicago’s Deep-Dish Pizza slice in plate

One of the most imaginative stories that became ever-changing since the story began over 78 years ago. When it comes down to the exact origin of the Pizza Pie, the true definition of this is about as honest as it gets. You won’t get an accurately recreated pizza from Pizzaria Uno, despite the fact they claim the recipe is the same as their original. Yet that’s also part of the mystique of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza lore.

To get right down to brass tacks, the origin for the name ‘Pizza Pie’ comes from the method in which the original pizza was prepared. It was literally made backward just like you would make a pie. The first incarnation of Chicago Deep Dish started with a round deep-dish pie pan and was filled with a generous amount of meat and vegetables that were covered with pizza sauce and topped with lots of cheese.

The final topping was literally pizza dough that covered the top, just like you would bake a pie. There is no mention of whether the inside of the pie pan was lined with pizza dough, which is how the modern version is made today except for the covered top. This would have made it easier to serve out of the pie pan, but ultimately each slice would have kept its shape after it was baked. Having pizza dough inside the pan just makes it faster to remove.

The person responsible for coming up with this recipe is also a big mystery, but not hard to trace back to the original cooking staff of Pizzaria Uno. Three employees were likely the ones behind the creation of the pizza pie most likely include Adopho “Rudy” Malnati Sr., Alice May Redmond, and her sister Ruth Hadley. Neither of the two owners of Pizzaria Uno ever claimed (in an interview) that they were the ones responsible for inventing the deep dish pizza.

Yet the most fascinating part of how this new innovation that completely defined pizza, was certainly a marketing move that the owners of Pizzaria Uno had to learn the hard way.

What Led To The Birth Of Deep-Dish Pizza?

Pizzaria Uno restaurant
Pizzaria Uno

The two owners of Pizzaria Uno is not the classic Italian-American story you always hear and is only a half-truth. Ric Riccardo who was born under his birth name Richard Novaretti was born into an Italian-American family in Chicago. He became friends with ex-football star Ike Sewell during the Second World War in Europe during their military service.

Once the war ended, Ike Sewell (a Texas-born entrepreneur), returned and found work in the Chicago area as a liquor distributor. Ric on the other hand had used family funds and his association with other Italian-Americans to move into the property that eventually evolved into Pizzaria Uno. Phone books from the late 1940s and 50s show that the tenants included Riccardo and Rudy Malnati Sr.

They opened a restaurant located at the corner of Rush and Hubbard Street and was aptly named Pizzaria Riccardo. As the story goes, Rudy Malnati Sr. was Ric’s head bartender for the restaurant, but this story changed many times since he was often referred to being the manager of Riccardo’s and also has been listed as co-owner or main operator.

At the time, Riccardo and Rudi had a handshake agreement that also included a profit-sharing partner position. This eventually led to opportunities to open further pizzerias throughout the Chicago area. Despite this, Ike Sewell who supplied liquor to Pizzaria Uno, stayed in close contact with Riccardo and the two eventually decided to partner up and expand the business.

Pizzaria Due restaurant
Pizzaria Due

They changed the name of Pizzaria Riccardo to PIzzaria Uno and also opened another pizza restaurant only one block away called Pizzaria Due. The most ironic twist is that Ike wanted to open a Mexican restaurant since this food wasn’t being offered in Chicago yet. The only problem was that Riccardo had never eaten Mexican food before, yet his partner Ike (being a Texas native), was very familiar with the popularity of this cuisine throughout Texas.

The restaurant was decorated with Mexican-style decorations and before opening, it was finally time for Ric to try a popular dish from the menu. This resulted in a failed food experiment that left Riccardo becoming stricken with food poisoning. The experience was so traumatizing that it resulted in him moving to Italy for a short time to recover. When Riccardo returned to Chicago a couple months later, it was his decision to stick to pizza.

After that, it was probably Ike’s idea to offer something new on the menu aside from the traditional Neopolitan pizza to create a buzz for these two new restaurants. So the Mexican decorations were removed and re-themed as Italian once again. While these two owners had big ideas for making an empire out of pizza that would cash in on the influx of military G.I.s returning from Europe, they left the details of this new creation to Rudy Malnati Sr. Now- keep in mind, back in 1943, many Army soldiers had been shuffled around Europe and especially across Italy. Ike Sewell had a feeling that these soldiers would be accustomed to eating pizza by that point and might be hooked on it when they returned. While the idea of Mexican food was off the table, the creation of a new pizza was on the horizon.

Rudy, who wasn’t actually a Chef may have instructed his kitchen staff including Alice May Redmond, and her sister Ruth Hadley to come up with a new and interesting pizza variant. And since many of the working-class of Chicago wanted a hearty meal, something that would supply enough energy to last all day was certainly a plus.

This is where the combination of a casserole-based dish mixed with a thicker cornmeal type of dough and filled with heavy fennel sausage and chunky tomatoes and topped with whipped mozzarella cheese. The whole thing was covered with a thin cornmeal cap and was very similar to a pizza soufflé. It was also a meal that took over an hour to bake so these meals were often prebaked to keep up with the demand.

Unlike the standard ingredients used for making pizza dough including wheat flour, corn oil, salt, and yeast, they were still being rationed. This is where Alice May Redmond, an African-American woman would have known that cornmeal was a great alternative to making pizza crust. This gave the original deep dish pizza its iconic corn flavor and yellow crust. It would have been very common to throw in leftovers like meats, sausage, and vegetables.

Gino’s East Pizzaria restaurant
Gino’s East Pizzaria

By the time Pizzaria Uno and Pizzaria Due were gaining traction, Gino’s East Pizzaria opened its doors and had been able to lure away Alice and Ruth from the kitchen of Pizzaria Uno. Unknowingly, they took the original recipe with them and thus became another hotspot within Chicago that offered the famous original deep dish pizza known as Pizza Pie. It should also be noted that several staffers and employees of the first.

Pizzaria Uno claim their involvement. The son of Rudi Malnati Sr. also claims his father was the originator and many of his family went on to create iconic pizza joints all over the Chicago area. Yet with all of the fanfare aside we can be sure that Alice May Redmond and her sister were in fact the ones who came up with the recipe for PIzza Pie as finally revealed after 46 years of hanging up their aprons at Gino’s East and Pizzaria Uno!

This is one more iconic achievement in pizza for African-Americans to be proud of. While Alice had finally passed away in 1989, her nephew Brian Coli, who continues to this day. This recipe is carefully guarded and is still faithfully reproduced at Georgio’s Pizza that was founded by Brian in 2002.

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