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Chicago: Obbie's Pizza is a Garfield Ridge Institution
6654 W Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60638 (map); 773-586-2828; no website
Pizza Style: Thin and stuffed
The Skinny: Thin crust was good, but should be ordered extra crispy; the stuffed was surprisingly bland but otherwise very staisfying
Price: Large thin crust with one toppings is $14.85; medium stuffed with two toppings is $18.20
Notes: Carry-out and delivery only
I'm not ashamed to admit I've seen every episode of The Good Wife. Why does that matter? Well, the Chicago-based (though unfortunately filmed in New York) show made a valiant effort to connect to Chicago pizza in the last episode of the first season when the title character's husband was released from prison and selected Obbie's as his first meal as a free man. The show even got the pronunciation right (rhymes with hobbies), although the restaurant itself was embellished considerably, the true hole in the wall was depicted as an old-school Italian American restaurant, complete with dark wood walls and checkered tablecloths.
The reason the Obbie's reference was striking is that the 35 year old restaurant is not all that well known outside of the Garfield Ridge neighborhood. Hell, Garfield Ridge isn't all that well known outside the neighborhood. Located on the southwest side, directly north and west of Midway airport, the heavily Eastern European area (with an increasing Latino population) isn't exactly on the beaten path for most people without personal ties to the area. But the locals swear by Obbie's, a carry-out and delivery only pizzeria that pumps thin crust and stuffed pizzas out of a 1947 Middleby Marshall oven at an impressive clip.
Typically, the older south side pizzerias specialize in thin crust pies and that's clearly the popular choice at Obbie's. I got one with sausage and because I arrived well before my designated time to pick up and the pizzas are constructed out in the open, I got to see the entire process. Once the dough ball goes through the sheeter a few times, it's adjusted into shape on the peel before getting completely covered in sauce all the way to the edge. The next step involves the cook reaching into a large tub of raw sausage, coming out with more than a handful, and then rapidly tearing off chunks and placing them all over the pizza. The last step sees the pizza covered with a massive pile of shredded mozzarella before it's placed inside the classic oven.
Remember when I said the sauce goes to the edge and the sausage is placed all over the pizza? It is impossible to take a bite of a thin crust pizza at Obbie's and not get a taste of every component. Other than a few deep dish pizzerias that offer a solid layer of sausage, I can't think of a place that puts more meat on their pizzas. If the sausage had been stellar, that would have made this a truly special pizza. The meat was good, and I appreciated the high fat content and the healthy dose of fennel, but there just wasn't enough other seasoning to balance it out.
In fact, good but not great really summed up the thin crust pizza for me. The sauce had a nice tang to it, but the cheese was bland. As for the crust, it was a bit of a mixed bag. Under no circumstances is this crust going to blow anyone away, but the crispy edges were a pleasure to eat. If I make it back to Obbie's, I'll definitely follow the lead of the clearly more experienced customers I heard ask for their pies to be made crispy.
I've never had a stuffed pizza I disliked and Obbie's kept that streak alive. There's something about the borderline insane amount of cheese and sauce that guarantees I'll be happy to eat it. That said, this pizza was desperate for some kind of seasoning. Typically the sauce on stuffed pizza features a significant amount of generic Italian seasoning mix that's heavy on the oregano. This sauce had nothing but tangy tomatoes, and the spinach and mushrooms I added for toppings didn't add enough flavor.
The lack of seasoning was problematic for the picturesque stuffed pizza, but that's actually an easily overcome problem for anyone with red pepper flakes and/or dried oregano at home, although I actually stumbled upon an even better solution. On the too rare occasion that I make it to that part of the city, it's pretty much guaranteed I'll stop in at Birrieria Zaragoza, which in addition to serving what I consider to be the best tacos in Chicago, also sells salsa de molcajete, a homemade thick and chunky salsa that makes for a spectacular addition to pizza.
I saw enough potential at Obbie's to understand why it's held in such high regard in the neighborhood, and I'd like to return to see how the thin crust works when ordered extra crispy. But given how rarely I make it to that part of the city and how close it is to Villa Nova (reviewed here), one of the truly outstanding options for thin crust pizza in town, I'm not sure I'll make it back to Obbie's. 'Tis the curse of selling a product that's just good in a city where so many options are great.
About the author: Daniel Zemans is so devoted to Chicago that he covers pizza for Slice and burgers for A Hamburger Today. When he's not focusing on expanding his waistline, he works as a lawyer on behalf of employees and tenants.