Thursday, August 9, 2018

A pie in the sky idea? The city would eat it up

Burt's Pizza, with mushrooms and spinach
     As a rule, I try not have any rules regarding the column.  
    Nothing beyond "make it interesting" and "don't get the facts wrong," that is.
     But I do urge myself, in the strongest terms possible, not to advocate the impossible. Because it never happens, being impossible, and you just look stupid, cheering on a runner who isn't even in the race.
     Like all rules, it gets broken sometimes. Because there is an overpowering appeal to certain fanciful notions, no matter how far-fetched. Reading this Sun-Times story about a summertime "Pizza Museum" in the South Loop reminded me of the time I broke my own rule and suggested a monument to pizza. Our editor at the time got excited about the column, for some unfathomable reason: he commissioned a drawing of the monument, if I recall, to go with it. Needless to say, the idea lead nowhere. But admit it: it would be great, would it not? Maybe it's not too late...

     This summer is the 30th birthday of the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza. Though people have gotten used to it, I suppose, I don't know anyone who really likes the thing.
     The problem has always been that nobody knows what the sculpture is supposed to be. A bird? A baboon? A "rusting heap of iron" to use the phrase of Ald. John Hoellen? Hoellen proposed, 30 years ago, that the Picasso be shipped to Paris "where it would be more appreciated" and replaced with a statue to "the eternal greatness of Chicago's own Achilles, Ernie Banks."
     Most statues in Chicago evoke barely more than the glimmer of uncertainty sparked by the now-familiar Picasso. I'm thinking about statues such as that of Schiller in Lincoln Park. Who was Schiller? A German philosopher of some sort. But that's all anybody knows about him. If that. At least they'd know Ernie Banks' philosophy: "Let's play two." But even Banks will fade, just as Schiller was a big deal, once.
     Which is why we need a monument to something that is eternal, yet people can relate to. A monument that will not become irrelevant. A monument to something inspiring and changeless. A monument that will be beloved for as long as a city stands astride the Chicago River.
     We need a monument to pizza.
     Think about it. Didn't your heart race, if only a little, at the mention of pizza?
     Say it out loud, softly, like a prayer. "Pizza." Did the person at the next desk—no matter what race, what gender or sexual inclination—look up and sniff the air, maybe even responding, "Pizza? Where?"
     Chicago is the perfect place for a monument to pizza. Pizza is one of the arts we're famous for. Visitors who eat just one meal in Chicago want pizza. And frankly, so do those who have lived here all their lives.
     The first question is where to put the monument. There are certainly many empty yawning spaces right in the heart of downtown. You could erect an enormous pizza monument in Block 37 and still have plenty of room for a skating rink and art fairs and whatever else. An immense pizza sculpture could make a nice permanent roof there.
     A more pressing concern is what form the pizza monument should take. I would hate to see the purity of the concept tainted by a lot of divisive controversy, though that's probably unavoidable. Even while I was hatching the idea last night over—what else?—a steaming pizza pie, my wife and I fell into disagreement. I insisted the monument should be deep dish. Definitely. It should honor our local specialty.
     She argued that flat pizza would be more aesthetic. "Deep dish would just look like a big thick disc," she said. "All the ingredients are hidden inside, under the cheese."
     We went back and forth until hitting upon a clever compromise: The monument would not show any specific pizza genotype, flat or deep dish, but instead should show a person, a pizzamaker, tossing up a round of raw dough.
     This is appealing on several levels beyond merely solving the flat; deep dish dilemma. It is also a tribute to the unheralded role of the pizzamaker who, although typically displayed in pizzeria windows, nevertheless is underpaid and uncelebrated.
     Imagine: a larger-than-life pizzamaker, his right arm raised skyward, head tilted back, expectantly, as an undulating bronze disc of pizza dough forever hovers (perhaps through use of a plastic rod) above him, glimmering in the sun.
     On either side, an honor guard of two real pizza workers, in crisp white aprons and paper hats, standing at parade rest. There are at least 1,000 pizzerias in the Chicago area, and it would be nothing to set up a rotation so that, every few years, each pizzeria takes a turn sending a pair of guys over for the day. It would be a privilege. They could even hand out free slices to promote their places.
     Consider the tourist business. The people who otherwise might have gone to ogle the arch in St. Louis, or just stayed home, instead would be inspired to visit Chicago's Monument to the Everlasting Splendor of Pizza. To have their photos taken next to the somber pizza worker honor guards—straight-faced, like at Buckingham Palace. What a charming local oddity, unmatched anywhere on earth.
     Get on board early, Mr. Mayor. The monument could be a way for you to finally support something that actually comes to fruition. It could be your legacy.
     At least consider it. Michael Jordan has a statue, and he will be just a fond memory someday, a distinguished presence glimpsed on a golf course somewhere halfway around the world.
     But pizza will always be here, eternal and wonderful. We owe it obeisance.
                  —Originally published in the Sun-Times, March 30, 1997


  1. Why stop there? Chicago needs to be the home of the World's Largest Pizza Museum! Picture this: a ten acre, disc-shaped building that looks like an enormous pizza! Put it right on the lakefront, south of Soldier Field! We'll be the envy of every major city in the Western World! Tourists will flock to Chicago in droves! Think of the revenue! Act now, before it's too late!

  2. I'd rather have a hot dog monument, complete with a garbage can on the side with ketchup bottles no one wants!

  3. "The demonization of ketchup is a sign of an authoritarian mind" - Carl Jung

    1. Anyone making up a Jung quote is the sign of a tomato farmer.

  4. The best part of this idea would be how it would explode heads among the Chicago-pizza-isn't-really-pizza crowd.

  5. Even though I'm a big fan of deep dish I recently had this nepolitan style at a place on randolph st. Really good! Extraordinarily expensive. My wife's from Cleveland here in Chicago by way of new jersey. She's in that Chicago pizza isn't really pizza crowd. Loved the nepolitan.

  6. Simple solution to the question of displaying a flat, thin crust or deep dish: a pizza maker in the middle, proudly holding up a delicious-looking slice of thin crust in one hand, and a deep-dish in the other.

  7. I've been a big fan of Chicago style thin crust tavern pizzas going as far back as memory serves. Here is a good selection of pizza parlors where you can't go wrong. No need to create a pizza memorial, you will leave your guests with memories that will last a lifetime. Off topic but Chicago and it's suburbs have world class Italian beef sandwiches.

    1. Next week I begin my 27th year in Cleveland. I have never been able to find anything here, whether thick or thin, to match what I left behind in Chicago. And I haven't had a real Italian beef sandwich since moving here. Oh, I've found a few people who've tried to duplicate one, but none have really succeeded. I can make do with the pizza in our Little Italy, but I'd kill for a real Chicago Italian beef sandwich...with yellow mustard and sliced tomatoes.

    2. Grizz, you're only 6 hours away. Pop on over, do lunch, turn the car around, go home. You'll be sleeping in your own bed tonight.

    3. Yellow mustard and tomatoes? Never heard that one. Hot giardenara with extra olives, ambrosia!

  8. That's twelve hours on the road. Long shlep for a beef or a pizza. Probably couldn't hack it in one day anymore. Only way that would work would be if I could do a Cub game after lunch or before dinner. Got tickets? Haven't been inside Wrigley in four years.

    My last visit, and my last Chicago beef, was the night the Cubs beat the Dodgers for the pennant. I was at Waveland and Kenmore, hanging with old bleacher pals. Hadn't seen some of them in twenty years. Hey, we're all geezers now! Other friends were absent. Either too debilitated to show up...or dead.

    1. I have some friends that used to drive to Toronto for a weekend because there was some restaurant they liked.

      I haven't been inside Wrigley Field in about 15 years. My wife goes once a year with a friend. Right now I'm more than a little pissed at most of the Ricketts family, so they won't be getting any of my money.

    2. They piss me off, too, because of their politics, but I consider them merely caretakers of a storied franchise whose origins date back to 1876, like the Trib was for a while, and the Wrigleys were for so many years.

      Players may come and go, managers are hired and fired, and even owners take over and eventually depart. But the Cubs are, as they have been, and always will be, THE CUBS. I root for the team and the uniforms, not the players who don them, or their on-field and off-field bosses. It's the only way I was able to rationalize sticking with the Cubs during all those decades of pain, suffering, and heartbreak.

  9. The memories are the monument to the taste of Chicago's unique pizza history. With the fantastic thin crusts as comparison, mine being Riggios and Espositos, that first taste of Uno's can't be captured in bronze or marble, but it endures as long. Especially the original sausage recipe, I know they've claimed it's the same, but my taste buds know better. And Burt and his offshoots, and imitators, and the most original Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder(save some Mediterranean Bread to dip). These tastes are monument enough for me. What we need are more monuments to Frederic Douglass, maybe than he'd rate more comments than pizza.

    1. Yes and gun violence. Thought folks might have had something to say about that too.


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