Chicago’s Pizza and Oven Grinder – Worth the Wait
There’s a constant battle over what pizza is best. New York or Chicago deep dish? Stuffed crust or classic? But the number one pizza-related question you’ll hear in Chicago is: who has the best deep dish? Giordanos and Lou Malnatis have a long-standing rivalry, but there’s an underdog in the Chicago pizza game and it’s called Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder (CPOG).
There are so many novelties that make CPOG an instant classic. Things like the host commits your name and party number to memory in order without writing anything down, it’s cash-only and it’s rumored to be former mob boss Al Capone’s hangout. CPOG is a classic, but it’s also not a well-kept secret.
If you want to eat here, you better be prepared to wait a long time. The last time I came for dinner we arrived just after they opened at 4 p.m. and the wait time was already 1 hour and 30 minutes. Not a place I’d go very often, because the wait time continues to grow exceedingly [more] ridiculous.
With that being said, it is worth the wait. I wouldn’t put CPOG on the same level as other deep-dish pizzas in the city, because I wouldn’t say it’s really deep-dish. There’s no doubt about it that CPOG serves up delicious and gooey personal-sized thick cheesy pizzas, but they’re known best as pot pie pizzas. And for good reason, the pizzas are baked with all the fixings in a bowl with the bread on top so when they scoop them out onto the bread covering it makes a perfect pot pie.
When you first see CPOG and the crowd of people waiting outside and inside in the waiting area – you may think to yourself, “Is this really worth it? Could this pizza really be worth waiting for two hours?” And the short answer to that is, yes it is! I could live without the wait time, but I would gladly wait knowing what I have in store for me. When you walk in after leaving your name with the host, head to the bar. The restaurant is very dark, wooden details and tables are everywhere to be seen with low lighting. It also helps set the mood by the fact that the entire restaurant is in a basement of a residential building. Once you squeeze your way to the bar and have a better vantage point of the entire dining area, it’s not hard to see why the wait times are so long. On top of being one of the most popular places to get pizza in the city, they also have very limited seating and only one location, unlike other chains that have multiple locations.
You must be patient. If you come expecting to be seated right away, you will be very disappointed, but if you are patient you will be rewarded. They have a bar where you can get large glasses of beer and goblets of wine for a decent price. So at least that will help you pass the time.
After you’ve waited your mandatory hour or two and are finally seated, you can treat yourself to a chef salad and you MUST get the Mediterranean bread. After all of that waiting, you’re bound to be hungry. The salad comes out quickly so you won’t have to wait too long to nibble on something. And I know what you might be thinking, “salad really?” But trust me! Their chef salad seems like your typical salad, but the portion is incredibly huge and the dressings are scrumptious. They offer sour cream garlic, sweet and sour poppy seed and an Italian dressing for your salad. They’re all good, but the sweet and sour poppy seed was my favorite with just enough sweetness without being over the top.
The Mediterranean bread will set the tone for the delicious entrée coming your way. This huge bread is too big even for the plate it’s served on and spills off the edges. It’s light and fresh, the dough is soft and the combination of cheese and spices goes perfectly. You just rip and pull off your portion and enjoy.
This bread is so airy and while you could easily order several and just have that as your meal, you have to pace yourself for your pizza coming.
CPOG pot pie pizzas are a spectacle and a masterpiece. When ordering you have the option of white or wheat dough, meat or veggie sauce and mushrooms or no mushrooms. You can’t go wrong with any combination, but I prefer white, meat sauce with mushrooms. They flip your pizza over on the bread side and scoop the bowl of sauce and cheese out, and they do it with such flair and grace that it’s fun and a little mysterious to watch. I’m always impressed with how perfectly the pizza is scooped and how they make it to begin with! The sauce is flavorful with a winning combination of olive oil, fresh garlic, onions, green peppers, whole plum tomatoes and mushrooms, and sausage if you please, just blended so perfectly together. Then you throw on a rich combination of cheeses and homemade Sicilian style bread and you have the perfect pizza.
While this pot pie is a unique take on pizza, it shares many similar qualities as the Chicago deep dish. The thickness of cheese especially, one bite into that gooey delight and you better hope you’re not lactose intolerant. The bread is so perfectly prepared and the sauce is so flavorful that once you try CPOG you’re going to forget all about those other deep-dish guys.
Overall CPOG is a one-of-a-kind experience. From the history, to the waiting, to the incredible food, you’re sure to not find something like it around. I would highly recommend getting there as early as possible, although you’ll more than likely still have a long wait time. Try and be as patient as possible. Expect a long wait before you go so you’re prepared, but if you don’t have a long wait, even better. And just know no matter what happens, if you do choose to stay, it will be worth it.
CHICAGO PIZZA AND OVEN GRINDER COMPANY
2121 NORTH CLARK STREET
CHICAGO, IL 60614
All photos credit COPG website & IG @chicagopizzaandoveng