The mystery behind one of Chicago’s signature meals lingers even deeper than the pizza itself. 

Chicago, Illinois – Nowhere else can you find a 3-inch deep, steaming-hot pizza pie filled with layers of thick mozzarella cheese with the toppings of your choice and a chunky dose of fresh tomato sauce on top. This is deep dish pizza, and it’s not just a meal: It’s a Windy City experience that you cannot reproduce anywhere else in the world.

I will never forget my first deep dish experience. It occurred during a college visit to the Chicago area, when my family and I decided to step into Giordano’s. Coming from California where pizza is flat and simple, my encounter with this Chicago creation began the transition to a brand new world. Did I really have to eat my slice of pizza with a fork and knife? Why was the sauce on top of the cheese? Where did my “toppings” go? But, upon my first taste of the rich and hot entrée, it was love at first bite. Deep dish pizza is not just something you pick up on the go – it is truly the flavor of Chicago; something to be shared among friends and family; a dish that welcomes you into its warm embrace with every encounter.

Courtesy of Muy Yum

With such a legendary pizza, one can’t help but wonder about the history behind it.

The origin of Chicago’s pizza pie is somewhat of a mystery, since no one really knows exactly who came up with the idea. With very little documentation, the one fact that anyone does know is that this type of pizza emerged in 1943 from a restaurant opening in a mansion at 29 E Ohio Street. According to the Chicago Tribune, the founders of the restaurant were Richard “Ric Riccardo” Novaretti, the owner of Riccardo’s Restaurant, and his friend Ike Sewell, a Chicago liquor distributor. Phone books and city records show that by the 1940s and 1950s, housed at the mansion were Riccardo, Rudy Malnati Sr. and a restaurant that offered a foreign dish called “pizza.” Sewell, who was not listed as a tenant of the mansion, was the person credited for super-sizing the pizza that was originally an appetizer-sized dish. Opening in 1943 as “The Pizzeria,” the restaurant’s name was changed to “Pizzeria Riccardo” and ultimately settled  as “Pizzeria Uno” in 1955.

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Although there is no official evidence that proves anyone as the inventor of  deep dish pizza, Rudy Malnati Jr. argues that his father should get partial credit for inventing one of Chicago’s greatest wonders.  He possesses  a 1956 newspaper clipping that calls his father the person who established Pizzeria Uno. Perhaps this is a piece of proof in this mysterious story.

The world may never know who invented the deep dish pizza, but as long as the specialty still exists, people will continue to come to the Windy City to get a taste of it. Don’t wait for the mystery to get solved – grab a slice of the deep dish tonight and take a bite of the rich history that Chicago has to offer.

*Featured photo courtesy of JGrana