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Monday, November 10, 2008

Connie's Pizza [Meeting #69; Meeting #16 Revisited]

Connie's Pizza [Map]
2373 S Archer Avenue
Chicago, IL
(312) CONNIES (266-6437)

CPC invaded Connie's Pizza on 11/10/08.

Most people think that U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park) sits in Bridgeport; but they are mostly wrong. The original Comiskey Park (and the overwhelming majority of the current structure) actually sits in Armour Square, a long, skinny community area tucked between Bridgeport and Douglas. Armour Square gets its name from Armour Square Park, which was named after Chicago meat titan and philanthropist Philip Armour and designed by the Olmsted Brothers and Daniel H. Burnham and Co.

The Chicago Pizza Club was in Armour Square to satisfy a quest to find chorizo pizza, which allegedly exists at Fratellini Pizza & Pasta Inc. A person I spoke with at Fratellini, which has the wrong phone number listed on its website, assured me that they were open on Mondays (as their website indicates), but we arrived to a closed restaurant that has no sign indicating its hours of operation. I tried calling to find out what was going on, but the outgoing voice mail message offers nothing, not even the name of the restaurant. Odd.

Undeterred, the CPC immediately regrouped and headed to Connie's Pizza, which has been operating in the area for 50 years. In the 1950s, Raymond DeGrazia and his wife, Connie, opened a pizzeria in Bridgeport at 638 W. 26th Street. After tinkering with their pizza recipe by replacing provolone with mozzarella, Connie's pizzas quickly grew in popularity. In 1963, Jim Stolfe bought the restaurant and it has remained in the Stolfe family ever since (his son Marc now runs the company).

Forty-five years later, Connie's has established itself as one of Chicago's best-known pizzerias. In addition to the 6 Connie's restaurants and two Pazzini locations, Connie's pizza can be had at both baseball stadiums, Brookfield Zoo, and O'Hare Airport. And thanks to their fleet of ubiquitous pizza delivery trucks and frozen pizza business, Connie's can be had virtually anywhere in the City.

A couple of fun Connie's facts before getting to the pizza: Connie's allegedly paid the mob well over $100,000 in "street taxes." When Chicago passed its since-repealed foie gras ban, Connie's joined with dozens of other protesting restaurants by offering a foie gras pizza on the day the law went into effect.

The Chicago Pizza Club did not partake in foie gras pizza on this visit, but only because it was not on the menu. We did, however, have a couple of very unique pizzas. Connie's is currently running a special featuring three unique toppings that are served on a thin crust made with Old Style Beer. We opted for the chili cheese dog pizza, which includes chili con carne, slices of Vienna Beef hot dogs, mustard, shaved onion, sport peppers and both mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Perhaps it's because this pizza was served first, but it was inhaled by the CPC. Some of the slices were missing hot dog pieces, but other than that there were no complaints about that pie, and there were a couple of raves. The crust was a little firmer and thicker than traditional Chicago thin crusts, and it held up well to the generous portion of toppings piled on. I didn't taste much flavor from the beer, though though it did add a yellowish tint to the crust.

We were so enamored with the special toppings offered on the Old Style crust, that we opted for a second one - the Italian Beef pizza, but on the regular thin crust. Toppings on that pie included Italian Beef, hot giardinera, sweet peppers, sauce, and mozzarella and provolone cheese. The well-seasoned meat was not wet like most Italian Beef, but that was probably a good think as traditional Italian Beef would turn any crust into a soggy mess.

Up next was Connie's most famous pizza - a middleweight crust with sausage. This is the pizza that is sold at both baseball stadiums, the United Center, O'Hare Airport, Brookfield Zoo and every other non-pizzeria location I've seen Connie's. The crust is about half an inch thick and is more like bread than the kind of crust typically found on deep dish pizza. The pizza comes with a generous supply of sausage, which was had a pretty strong fennel flavor, but a texture that a couple of us noted screamed mass production.

On our deep dish pizza, we went for pepperoni. The deep dish crust is identical in texture to the middleweight, only it is about twice as thick. The pepperoni seemed to me to be a little thicker slices than is common, but other than that was indistinguishable from most pepperonis out there. The sauce on the deep dish and the middleweight was thick, but not chunky. It was neither noticeably tangy nor sweet, but rather a solid basic pizza sauce.

The final pizza we ordered was a very unique stuffed crust. Typically a stuffed pizza consists of a normal bottom crust about 1/4 inch thick and a paper thin top crust that is often indistinguishable from the thick layer of cheese it covers and unnoticeable due to the sauce that sits on top of it. Connie's top crust is just as thick as the bottom crust. They offer the stuffed pizza two different ways - with sauce on top as is done everywhere else, or what they call the "original 26th street style" with the sauce on the side. We opted for the latter, and we got it stuffed with ham, bacon, and cheddar cheese (in addition to, not instead of mozzarella).

The service we received was fantastic. Perhaps it's because Stelios blew our cover by announcing to the host when we got there that we are the Chicago Pizza Club and would be blogging about the meal, but the staff was incredibly attentive. There were twelve of us present and, unprompted, Connie's asked us if we wanted our pizzas cut into more than the normal 8 pieces so everyone could try each of them. I think that's the first time that has happened in the history of the CPC and it was much appreciated.

Petey Pizza gives Connie's a 5.37.



Hope we ordered enough...


The Sausage Pizza, as seen at many a sporting event and music festival...


The Stuffed Pizza with Ham, Bacon and Cheddar...


Italian Beef Pizza on an Old Style crust...


Deep Dish with Pepperoni...


The Chili Cheese Dog Pizza...


Italian Beef up close and personal...


The Chicago Pizza Club hard at work...


Where it went down...


Fred enjoys some leftovers...


Connie's Pizza on Urbanspoon

15 comments:

  1. I wanted to like Connie's, I really did. But while there was nothing bad about it, there wasn't much that was particularly good. The crust on the deep dish had the texture of a sponge, which I did not like. The crust on the stuffed crust was a lot better, and that pizza probably would have been my favorite if I liked ham more (or at all). The crust on the thin crust pizzas was fine, neither good nor bad.

    The sauce did not have much seasoning at all and almost tasted like a marinara sauce. I especially noticed that on the stuffed pizza, where the sauce did not have the benefit of baking in the oven. On the medium crust pizza, the sauce tasted better to me, but that may have been because it had the benefit of being under the seasoned sausage.

    The toppings were all fine, but for the most part were nothing special. I really liked the chili dog toppings, but an actual chili dog would have been better.

    Connie's is okay. I give it a 5.

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  2. Too much bread all around. And it was very spongy and filling, making me feel as if I had just eaten a whole loaf as opposed to pizza. Which is really too bad, since I did enjoy the rest of the pizza. It's not a revelatory experience, but it's acceptable.

    I give kudos to the Italian beef and chili dog pizza for exceeding my expectations. I usually distrust gimmick pizzas, but they were my favorites. I'm not sure if there was a discernible crust difference, but I did think the Old style crust was crisper. This may have been due to the fact that I had the regular crust pizza 20 minutes after it arrived at our table.

    Connie's - tastes the same in the restaurant as it does in the stadium! Stay away from the deep dish and stick with their traditional crust for maximum win.

    My score is 5.

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  3. If I had only eaten the Chili Cheese Dog pizza my score would've ended up being much higher, it was my favorite of the evening. The Italian Beef didn't impress me nearly as much, the stuffed pizza was alright, and the other two pizzas are the epitome of what I would call "generic pizza." It's alright in a pinch while standing in a hot summer crowd watching bands play at Lollapalooza, but if I'm going to go out to a restaurant and sit down with friends I expect more.

    Because I'm bored today, here's my Connie's Pizza score in haiku form;

    Chilli Cheese Dog pie,
    And it's all downhill from there,
    Connies gets a 5.

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  4. There have been many Chicago pizza parlors that have come and gone in the 45 years that Connies has been in biz. Connies restaurant and a select had-full of other Chicago pizza parlors have stuck-around because they focused on the fundementals of the business and served product that their customers enjoyed.

    As a restaurant business broker in Chicago ( see http://www.BradleyBrokers.com ) I have seen many restaurant and tavern businesses like Connies restaurant succeed by remaining focused, diligent, and tuned to their customer base. There is much to learn from Connies beyond the "dough."

    For example, the Connies "foie gras pizza" let Chicago Aldermen like Joe Moore know that ordinary Chicagoians will never let Chicago politicians give our city's restaurant owners a black-eye.

    Chicago is a city of great pizza. In my opinion Connies needs to be counted among the greats.

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  5. I loved this pizza.

    I hadn't had pizza for a couple of months, so you know I was excited when Dan came home from pizza club with a doggy bag. When I saw how much I was getting, I couldn't believe my luck - I got to eat a whole piece of sausage and part of a piece of pepperoni. This morning, I had one of the biggest poops of my life. All in all, a very satisfying 12 hours.

    On a scale of 1-10, I give Connie's a 25.

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  6. Hmm... anyone else think that Tom's opinion there might be a little biased?

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  7. My favorite was definitely the sausage pizza. It had a good ratio of dough, sauce, cheese, and sausage. The sausage was all over -- it looked like each slice had at least three sausages, which is great. I thought the pepperoni was pretty good too, honestly, I didn't mind the kind of chewy dough. The chili dog and italian beef pizzas were okay. I'm not the biggest fan of Italian beef, so I can't really hold that against them. We definitely made a good call by getting the bacon in the stuffed pizza. Bacon is always an improvement, and I think without it, the pie would have been lacking, in spite of the ham and cheese.

    I thought the service was very good, and very friendly, probably because our cover was blown. However, it did take a long time before they brought out complimentary bread, and then a long time for the pies to come out. I know it's pizza and they take a while, but it seemed liked a longer-than-average wait.

    Overall, I give Connie's a 6.25.

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  8. I had pretty high expectations for this place. Its Connie's for crying out loud. We've all heard of it. As Tom noted, its been around for ages. But after eating it, I have no idea why its been around for so long. Its b-o-r-i-n-g.

    I had a roast beef first, and thought it was pretty good. Good textures and flavors, but it didn't really wow me. Then the chili cheese dog pizza came to our end of the table and I excitedly grabbed one of the last 3 slices. Much to my disappointment, it was nasty. There were dribbles of chili on it, that's it. I was ticked off to find out later that the other side of the table had picked all of the 'good' slices I had no idea the pizza actually had hot dog on it! ...and mustard and onions etc, so I hear. This place knows nothing about even distribution of their toppings (the pizza would have failed miserably on a Wii Fit balance board challenge) and screwed me out of a good slice of pizza because of it. Good thing there wasn't much topping on my pizza, so I was really able to taste the beer crust. It was much crispier and had a great aftertaste to it. The beer crust was probably my favorite part of the night. Pepperoni was fine but pretty standard and nothing else really stands out.

    Again, as Tom said, Connie's has been around for years, and I have no idea why. We had five pizzas and yet I tasted nothing that would really make me crave it ever again. It is fine pizza. That being said, it isn't the worst pizza I've ever had, but it isn't the best, its just ok.

    Coming off of just having the most disgusting pizza I've ever tried in Miami last week, I might be over-rating Connie's, but I'll still give it a 5.6/10.0.

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  9. One note on toppings distribution: Connie's cut the pizza into 12 slices for us instead of the usual 8 so that all 12 of us could easily try each pizza. Had the pizza been cut in 8 slices, I think the toppings distribution wouldn't seem bad.

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  10. Connie's Pizza is mediocre. It is filling. However, it is not memorable. The crust, cheese, sauce, and toppings are good. They're not exceptional in any respect due to the lack of freshness. The sauce tastes bottled/canned. We tried five different pies, and it was nearly impossible to finish my portion due to the amount of bread in each slice. Because of the quantity of bread, they have to compensate by adding loads of cheese. Final Result = Heavy!

    My favorite pizza has to be the chili cheese dog thin crust. This is shocking since I was grossed out when I read the description. The peppers added a necessary pop! I also enjoyed the crispy crust as oppossed to the soft doughy crust found on the other pies.

    If you're at a sporting event and want to fill that stomach, grab a slice of Connie's Pizza. They're consistently average. But, if you're looking for a knock out pizza, go elsewhere.

    Connie's Pizza gets a 5.

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  11. I think I enjoyed Connie's more than most club members, probably because, having eaten Connie's at the ballpark but never visited the restaurant, I had very low expectations.

    The chili cheese dog pizza was my favorite, though I admit I took a few of the peppers off to prevent my mouth from catching fire. The mustard + cheese + hotdog + pizzacrust flavor was surprising and interesting. They should rename it the chili pepper cheese dog pizza, though...the image in my head definitely included kidney beans and ground beef. The sausage pizza was pretty good...not ultra-memorable, but very solid with tasty sausage and exactly the right amount of cheese.

    I liked the stuffed but it seemed a little, well, overstuffed -- though that may have been a case of over-ordering on toppings. I didn't really taste all the ingredients, which was frustrating. Its crust was like piecrust, a little too hard and thick. The italian beef was mediocre -- the beef had very little taste and the Old Style crust, while a nice marketing gimmick, was unremarkable. The pepperoni was a gigantic disappointment. Pepperoni is my favorite topping, despite Marla Collins' husband's disdain for it being "nothing but pure salt" -- this pepperoni was actually nothing but pure salt. There was too much cheese, and it was rubbery. In general, everything was a little too salty and bready. But a couple of the pizzas were pretty darned good, and one was inventive. I give Connie's a 6.
    P.S. Special medal of merit for honesty goes to the anonymous wait staff member who acknowledged to me that s/he orders from Phil's Pizza because it tastes better and Connie's is a little overpriced.

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  12. The chili cheese dog pizza dog is a rube. It is an overcondimented ballpark dog posing as a real pie. After I finished my slice, I could not help but think of Sarah Palin.

    The stuffed pizza was a pleasant surprise and the best pie of the night. The texture and taste of the crust was pleasing, but without discernable character and the pork product was plentiful. However, the sauce was transparent.

    The other pies were ho-hum.

    It was a bit drafty where I sat. Also, what is up with the morgue-like doors lining the ramp to the dining area?

    Note on my two pints of Guinness: way too cold. I don't expect room temperature, but the frosty pint was a bit ridiculous.

    5 out of 10.

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  13. I'd never been to Connie's prior to this visit, but I've had many a ballpark/festival slice. I always thought it was decent for what it was, and imagined it would be pretty good at the restaurant. I was really disappointed to find that it is exactly the same. Overall, it's not bad, but there is way too much bread in every slice. And the bread itself is too dense and bland. Sauce, cheese, and toppings are all okay but unadventurous.

    The chili cheese dog pizza just did not make sense to me, but it's a temporary special so I can appreciate that they're trying different things. I was surprised to find, however, that I liked the little hint of mustard in my pizza. The Italian beef was also pretty good, but could have been more flavorful. Sausage and pepperoni were pretty standard. I have to give them props for having a true blue stuffed pizza, but since excessive bread was an issue with all their pies, it did not actually work for me.

    The service was great, and I think we all enjoyed the evening, but I doubt I will be back. I will, however, continue to grab a quick slice when I am hungry at a game or a music festival.

    5.1

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  14. The chili dog pizza made this place. This was a specialty pizza so it is only available for a limited time. The sausage pizza which is their signature pizza was nothing special. I like pizza with some weird toppings such as mustard and chili, but the mainstream pizza is just OK. It is much better than the pizza Connie's serves at ballgames. Many is the time where I ask myself why does every sporting event in Chicago serve Connies Pizza when it clearly stinks? Rest assured it is does not stink it just happens to be average pizza. I give Connie's a 5.75/10.

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  15. i am not an official member, yet more of an acquintance and self described pizza expert in my own opinion. i also prefer standard thin crust (not too thin) pizza. so that is my specialty. connies standard thin crust is high quality and very very good. you will not beat it with anything less than a top chicago pizza place; such as home run in, giordanos, aurelios, marcello father and son, etc. etc.. while i will not rave about their pizza like it's the best ever at all, i will defend it's 1-2 traditional topping thin crust pizza as being in the top quality bracket of chicago pizza. this only applies for the original restaurant; as the stadiums and frozen grocery store varieties do not compete. always a big fan of the original connies thin crust with 1-2 common toppings!

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