Friday, January 13, 2017

Been Coming Round Since I Was 2: The Original Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in Lincolnwood, IL

Wednesday night, with two close friends, I went to a classic movie screening presented by the Northwest Chicago Film Society on the main campus of Northeastern Illinois University.

The movie, Nightmare Alley, is both a highly renowned and largely unheralded example of film noir made in 1947 and starring Tyrone Power.

I see enough Golden Age cinema that catching a 70-year-old movie--albeit one I'd never seen or even heard of before--isn't all that noteworthy.

Nor would it seem was grabbing dinner beforehand at a fairly nearby restaurant that I've long enjoyed.

But in going to the original location of Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, at 6649 N. Lincoln in Lincolnwood (just north of Chicago)--amid a rainstorm as shown below--it dawned on me that I've been going there ever since it opened in 1971. (Although given that I was two years old at the time, I didn't initially go on my own accord.)

Once again on Wednesday, the pizza was awesome.

I always get Lou Malnati's famed deep-dish, and shared a pepperoni and green pepper pie with my friend Ken; it was pretty much perfect and as good as ever.

Our friend Dave opted for a thin pepperoni that he also greatly enjoyed.

Though still one of the closer Lou locations to my Skokie home, I don't get to the original Lincolnwood restaurant all that often--perhaps once or twice a year--so doing so again was a real treat.

Certainly there are ties that go back before my time of conscious thought, as my mom is pretty certain that she and my dad took me and my sisters here soon after it opened, which Lou Malnati's website notes as March 17, 1971.

I can picture at least a few notable Lincolnwood visits with family and/or friends, among dozens of others.

And on Saturday, October 24, 1981, I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah in their party room downstairs.

On at least a couple of occasions when I lived in the Los Angeles area between 1990-92, I ordered "Lou to Go" and received four frozen pies via FedEx, packed with dry ice.

I remember it being a big hit among those uninitiated to prime Chicago deep-dish.

And while Lincolnwood is most sentimental and special of Lou Malnati's Chicagoland locations--they now have 47! including carryout/delivery-only spots, plus a new one in Phoenix--I made a point of choosing others when they were near workplaces or my 12-year-residence in west suburban Glen Ellyn.

The Naperville Lou Malnati's in an old fire station is one I enjoyed numerous times, including at least one memorable birthday dinner. Likewise, the Buffalo Grove location hosted at least a few after-work get-togethers when I worked in Deerfield.

For years, my friend Todd and I would eat at the Schaumburg location on Roselle Rd., and always get a chuckle from our waitress for playing Scrabble over dinner.

The first Chicago Lou's location on Wells Street, one in Lincoln Park and an Elk Grove Village restaurant also bring fond memories, while the Wilmette carryout/delivery branch has been a dependable staple numerous times over many years.

The decor in full-service Lou Malnati's is usually heavy in sports memorabilia, and I'm pretty certain a display in Lincolnwood is how I first learned about Brian Piccolo, a Chicago Bears running back who died of cancer at 26 (as depicted in the movie Brian's Song).

Anyway, this isn't meant to be a review nor free advertising, but it seemed like a good opportunity to celebrate a place that has been an important part of my life and continues to serve up delight.

In full disclosure, Lou Malnati's is now only one of three Chicago area pizzerias I regularly patronize--either for dine-in, delivery or carryout--and probably less so these days than Pizano's. (Gino's East is my other favorite, but convenient locations have disappeared, most notably from Rolling Meadows.)

Interestingly, Pizano's--which serves my favorite thin-crust pizza as well as an excellent deep-dish--appears also to be run by a member of the Malnati family.

If I've interpreted the website's histories correctly, Rudy Malnati, Sr. opened Pizzeria Uno in Chicago in 1943, featuring--perhaps inventing, but I can't confidently go that far--deep-dish pizza for which the Windy City is now famed.

His son, Lou Malnati, worked with him at Uno--there's also Pizzeria Due, but I'm unclear on the origins and ownership--and opened his namesake restaurant in Lincolnwood in 1971, along with his wife Jean.

Lou died from cancer in 1978 and it seems his oldest son, Marc Malnati, took over the family business, aided eventually by his brother Rick. I'm not sure who is still involved, but obviously Lou Malnati's Pizzeria has expanded greatly over the years.

Per the Pizano's website--I largely patronize their Glenview location and one on Madison near State in downtown Chicago, but four others exist--Rudy Malnati, Jr. (who would seem to be Lou Malnati's brother) opened Pizano's in 1991, with active assistance from his mother, Donna.

When it comes to pizza, there isn't much that I don't like, but the only pies I would truly say I love come from Lou Malnati's, Gino's East and Pizano's.

I'm glad all seem to be thriving, and have expanded, including beyond Chicago.

But the original Lincolnwood location of Lou Malnati's has provided the most pronounced slice of my life.

So I was happy to eat there once again, nearly 46 years on, and already look forward to my next visit coming round.


Ken said...

It makes me wonder, how many other Chicago area restaurants have lasted that long? Maybe Berghoff's before their demise?

Steve S. said...

I've been to the Lou Malnati's in Phoenix. It's good, but there's an even better one
named Buddyz, also owned by ex Chicagoans. Buddyz still has some locations in Chicago so you might want to check them out.

Steve S.