Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lou Malnati's

Locations: 439 N Wells (Chicago) and 85 S. Buffalo Grove Road (Buffalo Grove)
Cost: Around $10 per person

So it's passover right now, and I've had a post waiting to be written for just this time. Some of you may think it's a bit evil of me to write about pizza while you're stuck with the matzo equivalent, but my family always loved going to Lou Malnati's the second we were allowed to eat chametz again. For that matter, my history with Lou's goes way back. Lou's is where I learned how to eat pizza with a fork and knife. It's also where I learned that unscrewing the top of the parmesan cheese before passing it can be very funny (and that doing the same with the red pepper flakes doesn't have the same effect). For this post though, I'll focus on my two most recent experiences.

Lou's has a bunch of locations around the city, and for Ricky's birthday we ordered it in. A little while after that, my cousins (Jeff, Annie, Nathan, and Daniel) came in town, and we went to the big location in Buffalo Grove. I'll mention a bit about both.

Finally, before I really get rolling, I'd like to say something about the "best pizza" debate in Chicago. I like Lou's, Gino's and Giordano's. I think they're all delicious, but in the same way that deep dish is unique, each one of these places has their unique strengths. There's a type of pizza I would order at each, and I can see why people have their preferences. For those that like whole tomatoes, Lou's is the clear choice. Giordano's fans seem to go for a doughy, cheesier pie, and Gino's fanatics love that cornmeal crust. That being said, I was raised on Lou's and am probably biased that way in the debate (but I'm not going to put down the other places in my efforts to proclaim deliciousness).

Somehow, even though we live 2 blocks away from the location in Lincoln Park, I kept getting passed around from place to place while they claimed that we weren't in their delivery zone. Oddly enough the spot in River North ended up covering our territory. I was a bit perturbed by the phone calls, but the pizza came quickly and was piping hot. There's not too excessive of a delivery fee either.

Dine In
The Lou's in Buffalo Grove is gigantic. The building is a landmark, and the walls are covered with valuable sports memorabilia. There's always a crowd, and the only thing you can really do to speed up the process is to call in your pizza order ahead of time. Sometimes they're nice and put out appetizers to keep the crowd from revolting. It should be noted that the parking lot is a battlefield. I was going for a spot when an older lady (probably late 70s), honked, flipped me off, and took it for herself. It was just too funny for me to get mad though.

The service is always solid, and we've experienced every setting from small parties of 2 to large banquets of 40. They're great at accommodating, but it's always awkward in my mind about who should serve the pizza. They leave it on little stands by your table. If the server is around and sees that your plate is empty, they'll grab you another slice, but there's always a moment when you're not sure whether or not to get it yourself. Ultimately, I've learned not to hesitate when getting the next slice.

The pizza is fairly priced, and probably on average with most other deep dish places. A large pie that will stuff 4 people runs close to $20 with some toppings. They also have a family sized Malnati salad for $10.25 which is usually the appetizer of choice.

The Food
Like I was saying, we started off both meals (delivery and dine in) with the Malnati Salad. It's a bed of romaine lettuce with tomatoes, olives, gorgonzola cheese, roasted salami, and mushrooms. It comes with a house dressing that is unbelievably tasty (kind of a sweet italian), but I always ask for the 1000 Island dressing on the side. It's by far my favorite salad dressing at any restaurant (I've even been known to dip my pizza in it [don't knock it till you try it]). We always go for either the Lou or the Malnati Chicago Classic pizza. The Lou comes with spinach, mushroom, sliced tomatoes, and three cheeses. For a veggie pizza this may be as good as they come (I'm also a big fan of Edwardo's spinach). The Malnati Chicago Classic is basically a sausage pie, but it's not just crumbles of sausage, you get a patty made into a whole layer. This is the keynote of the menu. All of their pies come with a buttery crust and relatively whole chunks of tomato on top. The crust is thick and flaky while the tomatoes provide a unique freshness that other paste based sauces don't. There's enough cheese for me, but not nearly enough to congeal into a large hunk like some people prefer. I think a fair way to put this is that there's always some strings of cheese pulling when you try to serve the pizza, but they're always manageable with a little pull or swipe of the spatula. The veggies on the Lou are well balanced, and the cheeses contribute a nice savory blend of flavors. The sausage has a spicy bite and a ton of juiciness. The one thing to watch out for at Lou Malnati's is an undercooked crust if they're really busy (which is often). The simple way to get around this is asking for your pizza a little more on the done side.

 The Lou

  The Malnati Salad

 The Malnati Chicago Classic
(sorry about the glare, it was dark in the restaurant and this was the best I could do)

When I think deep dish pizza, my first thought is Lou Malnati's. Much like when I wrote about Walker Brothers, I felt like I couldn't tell much new information to those that have been in Chicago for at least a little while. Still, many of my readers are recent transplants to the area and need to know how amazing the pizza is. I've had it so many times that I can say it's some of the best around, but I also can't say it's perfect. I'm giving Lou's 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

To those of you celebrating Passover, I wish you a Chag Sameach and strongly suggest hitting up Lou's when leavened bread is an option again.

After writing this post I went to the Lou Malnati's in the South Loop at 805 S State. It's probably a bit more difficult logistically. They don't have a full bar, and the seating isn't as expansive as the BG location.The lines are just as difficult as the other spots too. Still, the pizza and salads are consistently fantastic. You can expect the same great service and food as the other spots.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria (River North) on Urbanspoon
Lou Malnati's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Lou Malnati's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


  1. Thanks so much for the fantastic blog post! Great pictures, too :). Definitely a good post to read for those that have not had the chance to experience our restaurant before.

    Thanks again!

  2. Thanks a ton for this post! Love it and couldn't agree more. I was also raised on Lou Malnati's in the north suburbs and though this is torture to look at while I'm at school in Minneapolis it is great to see some Lou's! Cannot wait! 3 and a half weeks till I can bite into a piece of lou's sausage deep dish pizza.

  3. Malnati's is the worst of Chicago deeep dish pizza. There are so many others which blow it out of the water!

  4. I recently visited this restaurant and I have to say I had a very pleasant experience. The food was great and the staff was very friendly. My daughter lost her phone at the restaurant that day and I notified the manager James. He was very helpful and reassuring. Luckily, he found my daughter's phone. I owe him for that. Loumalnatis s my favorite! Evevryone there makes me feel at home. Thank you once again to everyone.

  5. I have been going to Lous since they opened the original store in Lincolnwood.

    Several ordering sugggestions... ask for Buttercrust !!!

    Also remember, the Cheese or Cheese and Sausage are the usuals that bring out the best flavors.

    Pepperoni is also a good add on.

    However, if you are intent adding a lot of veggies, reember it takes away the cooking quality.

    And if your taking home the FROZEN pizzas available in each store, stick to the CHEESE to get the true restaurant flavor.

    Oh yes... BTW,,, You can take a slice from your pan at any time - but be careful. The pans of pizza are purposely placed are on the stands away from you, because they come directly from the oven. They want you to enjoy your pizza - and not ruin it with burnt hands or fingers.

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