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The idea to write this piece came to me while eating an especially mediocre pizza from an unnamed “mom ‘n pop” pizzeria on the north side of Chicago. Soggy dough, not enough sauce, sausage that tasted like it came fresh from the freezer … Why was I subjecting myself to this?
I know pizza. I have sampled quite a lot of varieties of pizza. I’ve had lionfish pizza in Cozumel, smoked beef pizza in Indonesia, orange zest pizza in Egypt, al pastor pizza in Mexico City. The list goes on and on. But the fact is, none of these hold a candle to the pizza in Lansing, Illinois, and it is because I grew up in Lansing that I do know pizza.
I am sure, or at least I hope, that the reader has at least an intrinsic knowledge that Lansing is a special place when it comes to pizza. It’s something that can easily be taken for granted if you grew up there, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Of course I am biased, having lived my life in Lansing up until 2006 — at age 19 — when I moved off to college, never to return. It’s what I grew up with, so naturally my tastes will err in that direction. But even acknowledging and correcting for that, the magic is there. I’ve taken enough out-of-town friends to the remaining pizzerias of Lansing to get their outsider’s perspective, and the jury is in: Lansing has great pizza. It’s the typical Chicago thin crust, tavern style, for the most part. Ultra-thin, crispy crust, and cut into squares so you can better share with your friends & family. (Plus you get the much beloved corner and middle pieces!) But in contrast to other pockets of Chicagoland, Lansing happens to be the geographic center of an above-average number of these high quality pizzerias.
It was only after my move to the north side of Chicago that I realized that not all places are equal when it comes to the abundance and quality of pizza offerings available. I assumed after moving up here that the pizzas would be across-the-board great, but I was sadly mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely stellar pizzerias here on the north side. And yet, even compared to world-famous Chicago, Lansing’s ratio of good-to-bad pizza is sky-high, and the best that Lansing has are among the best in the world.
Take Rico’s, for example (my personal favorite), which is locally famous for its spicy sauce, perfect char, and super thin crust. Despite Steve “The Hungry Hound” Dolinsky’s recent social media diss of Ricos’ excellence, what serious person can argue that Rico’s isn’t a world class pizza destination? Sure, Dolinsky has his thesis that the “Pizza I Grew Up Eating”, or PIGUE, syndrome places rose-colored glasses on pizzerias for locals — places which may otherwise be mediocre to outsiders. But the proof is in the pudding, as Rico’s has enjoyed a stellar reputation and a loyal following for decades. It will take more than one pseudo-celebrity’s visit to sully its reputation.
In addition to Rico’s, Lansing has Beggars, Stephano’s, Mancino’s, and newcomer Ace within its borders. And Aurelio’s, Sanfratello’s, State Line, and John’s, with its Quad Cities-style, are all within a short drive. That is an all-star lineup of pizzas within a relatively small geographic area. Even typing this from the vast expanse of the north side of Chicago, I can tell you from personal experience that it is a top-tier roster if there ever was one.
Gone but not forgotten are such heavy-hitters as Colucci’s, Popolano’s, Mundo’s, and Jimmy’s, which was just over the river in Calumet City. The thought of the sound of the doorbell ringing knowing that any of the above pizzas was about to hit my tastebuds takes me right back to being a kid.
I would take nearly any of them over the better places on the north side, where the quality is variable and the profuse habit of pizzerias to undercook the pie has me defaulting to ordering it “well done” every time (something I never had to do in Lansing, where pizza is cooked until it’s just right).
So this is an ode to the geographic oddity of Lansing, so blessed with an abundance of world-class pizzas that you could order one from a different restaurant every night of the week and still have days to spare before you’d have to repeat yourself. Know, reader, that you live in a special place that is not replicated in any other corner of the globe. And remember, order the spicy sauce!
To read more of Derek’s pizza opinions, follow him on Instagram at derek_b_pizza_man.
Local Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.