TK and TK at Pizano’s in Glenview. PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOEL LERNER/JWC MEDIAAs a son of Rudy Malnati Sr., the late founder of Pizzeria Uno, home of Chicago’s original deep-dish pizza, Rudy Malnati Jr. has America’s favorite food in his DNA.
Both Rudy Jr. and his older half brother, Lou, have followed in their father’s footsteps, each making their own lasting mark on the competitive Chicago pizza business. Twenty years after Lou Malnati opened his first pizza joint in Lincolnwood, little brother Rudy Jr. forged his own path in 1991 with the opening of Pizano’s on State Street, gradually building the brand into a small chain of five downtown pizza restaurants.
By 2008, Rudy Jr. was ready to take on the North Shore, opening Pizano’s first suburban location in Glenview near the busy intersection of Waukegan and Chestnut.
Similar to the restaurant’s downtown locations, Pizano’s Glenview feels like a neighborhood pizza joint. Red checked tablecloths and walls decorated with sports memorabilia and Malnati family photos welcome a steady stream of customers five days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and weekends until 11 p.m.
“Being small, we still have a lot of control over what goes on in our kitchen,” said Pizano’s Glenview general manager, Mike Lawson, of the restaurant’s famous deep-dish and thin-crust pizzas. “We still use original recipes from Pizzeria Uno starting with a dough recipe perfected by Rudy Jr.’s mom.”
Quality control, said Lawson, is what sets Pizano’s apart from its competitors. The action at Pizano’s is non-stop; the Glenview restaurant alone seats an average of 300 customers on a busy weekend night. Nevertheless, Lawson said, only two people are entrusted with the task of making dough for all six Pizano’s restaurants, using the same standard set by Donna Marie Malnati many years ago.
“I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life and I think what sets Pizano’s apart is our dough,” said Chris Spitzer, Pizano’s corporate operations manager. “It’s also about balance … Pizano’s crust, cheese and toppings all work together with no single ingredient overpowering another.”
At Pizano’s separate takeout entrance, where as many as 150 pizzas are picked up on a weekend night, patrons are asked to inspect their pizza before it leaves the restaurant, ensuring that every hungry customer leaves happy.
“We don’t make a lot of mistakes,” said Spitzer. “But we like to show our customers what’s on their pizza before they walk out the door.”
Along with its “World Famous Gourmet Deep-Dish Pizza,” available in three sizes and a multitude of topping combinations, Pizano’s menu features two sizes of its acclaimed thin-crust pizza, “Voted #1 Thin-Crust by the Oprah Show,” back when the Chicago tastemaker ruled the airwaves.
Both style pizzas are available prepared as “Rudy’s Special,” an assemblage of the restaurateur’s favorite four ingredients: sausage, mushroom, onions and green peppers.
Spitzer said the square cut, thin-crust pizza found in Chicago originates from a time in the 1930s and ’40s when pizza was considered a snack food served in local taverns.
“Back then, pizza was cut in squares and put out on the bar so everyone could grab a piece,” said Spitzer.
It was the opening of Pizzeria Uno in 1943 that introduced Chicagoans to deep-dish pizza, or “peasant pie,” as a dinnertime dish that could feed an entire family.
Pizano’s other popular dishes, according to general manager, Mike Lawson, include Chicken Parmesan, made with the restaurant’s homemade sauce, the fried calamari appetizer, as well as “Bottoms Up Chicken Wings,” named after the first sports bar Rudy Jr. owned downtown on State Street, where Lawson worked as the first bartender 26 years ago.
A top seller on Pizano’s dessert menu: “Holly’s Cookie,” a deep-dish chocolate chip or peanut-butter cookie topped with whipped cream.
‘We also have a large selection of gluten-free options, including pasta, deep-dish and thin-crust pizza,” said Lawson. “We are conscious of people’s allergies.”
Although Pizano’s has been careful to control its growth over the years, they’ll soon be making their first foray into another city: a new location in Milwaukee is set to open this fall. And while the restaurants’ custom online mail-order business keeps far flung Pizano’s pizza devotees happy, Spitzer said the company has no plans to go national.
“We get approached a lot to expand,” said Spitzer. “We have a customer who often comes in here begging us to open in Nashville.”
At Pizano’s Glenview’s 15-seat bar, customers can find top-shelf spirits, a diverse list of wines by the bottle and glass, and 15 beers on tap. On Wednesday evenings, Pizano’s hosts an $8 “You Call It” Martini and Manhattan special.
To accommodate large gatherings, Pizano’s features two private party rooms, where large screen TVs make the space perfect for hosting travel baseball teams or watching sports.
“For Rudy Jr., the whole Pizano’s experience is about making our customers feel that when they come out to the restaurant, they’re coming home,” said Lawson.
Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta, 1808 N. Waukegan Road, Glenview www.pizanoschicago.com.