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Noshtalgia: Digging Into Chicago-Style Pizza

Chicago Pols Chew on Their Culinary Birthright

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Paying homage to the defining treat of one’s youth can be tricky — particularly when competing against a chain restaurant that’s convinced the public that what it dishes out is the real thing.  

All of which makes entrepreneurial chef Tom Madrecki that much more determined to share his version of Chicago-style pizza with pie lovers in the nation’s capital.  

“I think it’s just trying to introduce people to good pizza,” Madrecki said of Vin & Vic’s , his budget-friendly dining concept.

According to Illinois Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren, authentic tastes of home are hard to come by on Capitol Hill.

“I feel like I’m in withdrawal when I’m here,” he said, bemoaning the lack of meaty, toppings-laden offerings to choose from.  

Republican Rep. Peter Roskam concurred, stressing that he is always on the lookout for slices like those he’s feasted on back home.  

Restaurateurs Richard Novaretti and Ike Sewell dreamt up the iconic entrée in 1943, per multiple accounts in the Chicago Tribune. Depending on which side of history you are on, both of the Pizzeria Uno co-founders are credited with developing the hearty pies that would come to define their Italian-style eatery. But so is , Adolpho “Rudy” Malnati Sr., one of the duo’s most trusted employees.  

But not all Chicagoans equate deep dish with Chicago pizza.  

“Being logical little creatures, kids know that anything you can eat with your hands is better than something you have to cut with a knife or stab with a fork,” the late Mike Royko railed in a column declaring thin crust as Chicago pizza. “This probably surprises tourists, yuppies and lifelong suburbanites, who have spread the myth that Chicago pizza is the cumbersome creation of Ike Sewell.”  Go-to pizza places when in the Windy City • Hultgren: Giordano’s — “just massive pieces of pizza,” he said of the stuffed slices; Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria — whose crust he categorized as “buttery” and “crunchy”  

• Madrecki: Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company ; Geo’s Pizza — Madrecki said he typically drives directly there from the airport; Lou Malnati’s; Vito & Nick’s Pizzeria — “They’re kind of surly, but in the best possible way,” he said of the service  

• Roskam: Gino’s East ; Jack Straw’s Pizza ; Lou Malnati’s  

Madrecki, a D.C. native who claims Chicago as home (he lived there from toddlerhood until leaving home for the University of Virginia) credits the Mulnati clan with perfecting the deep dish pie, and will offer both types of pizza at Vin & Vic’s.  

“I’m going to push hard for the Obamas to stop by,” Madrecki, who handles communications for UPS as part of his day job, shared. “Shooting for the moon, but totally would be worth it.”  

Having cooked in fine dining establishments before doing his own thing with private supper clubs and free-form wine tastings , Madrecki chose to pop up at Capitol Lounge because of what he affectionately described as its “appropriately dingy” vibe. That and the fact that the longstanding watering hole, which typically traffics in happy hour fare, just so happens to have large gas ovens similar to those found in the pizzerias Madrecki frequents back home.  

Illinois Republicans Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren weigh in on the hallmarks of Chicago-style pizza. (JM Rieger/CQ Roll Call)
Chicago-area Reps. Peter Roskam Randy Hultgren praised Madrecki’s pies in between bites. (JM Rieger/CQ Roll Call)

Inspired by his love of wine (the “vin” part of the equation) and a gregarious grandfather (RIP, Victor Madrecki), the experiment is designed to cater to those who carve out a spot for themselves at the front bar of Capitol Lounge on Friday and Saturday nights. Madrecki did a test run in January that was both a raging success (he sold out of pizza, serving up 40 deep dish and 80 thin crust pies) and a lesson in humility (ineffective time management forced some folks to wait up to three hours for a deep dish pizza).  

He’s since refined his inventory, preparing just 16 deep dish pizzas per night (sold out, again) for a soft re-opening on March 25th and 26th.  

Madrecki dubbed the pizzas spun out at the original Pizzeria Uno and its adjacent offshoot, Pizzeria Due , as respectable (“It’s pretty good pizza still,” he estimated), but denounced the “frozen, commodity product” served at their other locations. He described Armand’s D.C.-bred version of deep dish as “a little breadier” than his and dubbed St. Louis-based Pi Pizzeria’s take on deep dish “a little closer.”  

As for as Hultgren and Roskam are concerned, Vin & Vic’s is the only game in town.  

“This is better than anything I’ve tasted, by far, here in D.C.,” Hultgren proclaimed in between bites of pizza piled high with whole plum tomatoes.  

“You know it’s good pizza when you are eating one and already looking at another,” said Roskam, whose eyes grew wide when Madrecki presented the duo with a variety of thick and thin crust creations.  

Then he plotted out breakfast while still munching on lunch.  

“Both of these pizzas I could easily eat cold tomorrow morning with a hot cup of coffee,” Roskam suggested. Hultgren happily signed on for the cold pizza caucus. “The flavors just get better,” he quipped.  


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