The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Every Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

by and | Feb 9, 2024 | Humor, Spirituality

This article is the first of a three-part reflection. Upon publication, the links to the following parts will be attached here.


In the Spiritual Exercises, there is a practice of repetitio, or repetition, in which the retreatant returns to a particular prayer experience, sometimes two, three, or even four times. The purpose of the repetitio is to savor the grace of the prayer and allow it to deepen in the heart. Even after God seems to be letting a new grace flourish in our lives, we return to the moment it occurred and move through it again. Returning to a graced experience is not a clinging to the past but a continued unfolding of God’s never-ending love. 

Last Spring, we completed First Studies, the second stage of Jesuit formation, and as we have moved on to different cities, we have been savoring the graces of our time together in Chicago. We had beautiful ministries, stimulating classes, and a joyful community. Plus, we got to know one of the greatest cities in the world. As we make our repetitio of our time in Chicago, one of the things that we keep coming back to – keep savoring – is deep dish pizza.

At some point in our second year at Loyola Chicago, while studying the most significant figures of Western thought – from Plato to Foucault – we turned our newfound philosophical understanding inward. We made an important self-realization that impacted the rest of our time in graduate studies: We realized our favorite food is pizza. Society gives us a set of acceptable favorite foods, like sushi, beef wellington, street tacos, or even a really good tavern burger. But when we look deep inside our soul, when we let go of who society tells us we should be, and we connect with our fundamental desires, we find something that has been there all along. Pizza. From our earliest birthday parties to late-night study sessions to awkward workplace socials, it’s the food that always makes us feel like the big questions of human existence can wait to be answered, at least until we finish this slice.

After we realized our favorite food was pizza, we did what any good grad student would do, and we began researching. We already had a couple of favorite deep dish places, but we wanted to know what else was out there, what lay beyond the known and the familiar. So over the next two years, we set off to explore the contours of Chicago’s deep dish pizza scene just like the great Jesuit missionary Jaques Marquette explored the contours of the Chicago River. And like Marquette, we weren’t the first ones to do it, but we did write a lot about it. 

Did you know Chicago has a trinity of pizza styles? If you answered “yes,” you are probably from Chicago. You know the difference between tavern style and thin crust, and you think it’s cool to prefer one of those over deep dish. That’s okay. If you answered “no,” you are probably from anywhere else in the world (like us), and you think “Chicago-style” and “deep dish” are synonymous. That’s okay. After all, deep dish puts Chicago on the map in the world of pizza. Not only is the style unique to Chicago and hard to find elsewhere, but it varies widely in its local interpretations. Is the crust crunchy, flaky, or chewy? Is the sauce deep and heavy or fresh and bright? Where does the cheese go? Is there another layer of dough on top? How much cheese is too much cheese?

We spent two years researching which combination is most magical, which strikes the perfect balance, and which stands out from the rest. What we found is that they are all good. Some, however, are better than others, and some align with certain palates better than others. Whether you’re gearing up for a big sloppy slice or whether you’re intimidated by the thought of a single piece of pizza that can fill a grown man, Chicago has a deep dish pie you will enjoy. 

Deep dish, after all, is food for the people. At around $35 for a large pizza that easily feeds four people, it’s the cheapest meal in town. Even a Big Mac and fries is more expensive than deep dish. And there is an important qualitative difference between going out for burgers and going out for a pie. Pizza is one of the only American experiences of truly communal dining.

When four of us get a deep dish, we have to agree on toppings. The two of us are mostly vegetarian, so our companions must sacrifice their desire to eat meat for their desire to share a meal together. The pie comes out in a tray in the center of the table, so we serve each other when somebody is ready for a slice. And, perhaps most importantly, what distinguishes deep dish from any other traditional American meal is that it takes a long time. Sometimes a very long time. 

And that’s a good thing. What we found as we checked each restaurant off our list and as we talked about our experience is that it was never really about the pizza. It was about being together, getting to know our city, and enjoying the company of good friends. The pizza was good, but as the old saying goes, “The real pizza was the friendships we made along the way.”

Writing so much about pizza can seem frivolous, especially given the nature of our current assignments. Collin works with the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, a ministry based out of Los Angeles that seeks to heal the relationships between incarcerated persons, their families, their communities, and God. Michael works for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Beirut, Lebanon, developing a project that builds community spaces and offers services for minority refugees and migrant workers, especially domestic workers and their children. And there’s a war going on. 

Our jobs are rewarding and graced, and they also put us in touch with some of the harshest human realities out there. The people we encounter face violence, abuse, war, displacement, ruptured family lives, and the daily struggles of poverty and exclusion. The countries and cities we live in are facing urgent and overlapping crises–from worries about our democracy in the United States to a war raging only a few hours away from Beirut. So why are we writing about pizza?

Simply put, writing about our beloved Chicago deep dish pizza has helped us to savor. It’s a silly project, but we are only half-joking. This project has been a way to intentionally return to the moments, smells, and tastes of grace during our three years in Chicago. Over the next few installments, we’ll take you through a three-part tour, beginning with the basics, moving on to some of our favorite innovators, and closing with a few special cases. We invite you to join us on this exercise of repetition, savoring the graces (and sauces, crusts, and toppings) of our time in Chicago, particularly the graces we encountered on the deep dish trail. So, from Ignatian spirituality and the ins and outs of Jesuit formation to the secrets of Chicago pizza, let’s get deep.


Michael Petro, SJ   /   All posts by Michael