During college, I went with friends to Chicago's Pizzeria Uno, the inventor of deep-dish pizza, and to Gino's East, the hottest food ticket in the Windy City, to get 3-inch-thick pies. The crusts were doughy with too many toppings heaped over the dense, ponderous, oozy conglomerations. I never became an aficionado and shied away from heavyweight deep-dish pizzas.
In subsequent years I visited Italy a few times and grew enamored with the real deal. Deep-dish pizza to a Neapolitan, Sicilian or Roman would be blasphemous. Melt-in-the-mouth thin-crusted pizzas and flatbread, with minimal toppings, are truest to pizzadom's holy grail.
Now, I've changed my tune. Palo Alto's Patxi's (pronounced pah-cheese) Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is near glorious. It's all about the crust for me.
What is likeable about Patxi's crust is the ratio of cornmeal to flour. The pizza shell is pie-like, buttery and flaky, but not crumbly. Rather than pulling off the crust and eating the innards of the pizza, I don't mind filling up on the perimeter with this version.
Francisco "Patxi" Azpiroz and Bill Freeman are partners in the pizza venture, which opened on Emerson Street in 2004, and now includes two San Francisco locations. In Palo Alto, the partners have committed to filling all of their energy needs from wind and solar sources via the PaloAltoGreen Program. The stylish interior seems more restaurant than pizza parlor with dark woods and long banquettes, a handsome bar, checkerboard flooring and chic pendant lighting.
Besides deep-dish, Patxi's makes thin-crusted pizzas. There is an "extra thin" interpretation that I particularly liked. It's a cousin of what one might find in Naples or Siena.
Patxi's offers several standard varieties such as pepperoni, black olive and mushroom; vegetarian; and a Californian with whole-wheat crust, low-fat cheese and fresh spinach. But those versions are for the indecisive. Patxi's has a laundry list of ingredients that allows guys to man up, choose bold combinations and enjoy the fruits of his sometimes unwitting choices. The nearly three-dozen topping options run from anchovies to zucchini ($1-$3.10 each).
One noonday, I enjoyed the slice-of-the-day deep-dish special: chicken with fresh basil and jalapenos ($2.09 per slice). The ingredients were generous, the chicken juicy and tender, the jalapenos just spicy enough to pique the palate. The saucing perfectly balanced the ingredients and the crust.
One slice was plenty with the Caesar salad I ordered as an appetizer ($5.95 small, $9.50 large). The salad bowl was filled to the top with crisp romaine, croutons and cheese. The anchovies I requested were draped over the top instead of being incorporated into the dressing. The cheese might have been the shaved parmesan the menu claimed, or it could as well have been jack cheese or something similar. Clearly, it was not Reggiano but it was good enough.
Patxi's pizzas come in 10-, 12- and 14-inch sizes. The 10-inch deep-dish is plenty for two, but guys might need to ratchet up a size for the thinner-crusted pizzas. Expect a 30- to 40-minute wait as everything is made to order.
One evening we constructed a 10-inch deep-dish that had black olives, red onion, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese in addition to the mozzarella and thick tomato sauce that was included ($20.60). The two of us managed just half. The pizza was artistically presented on a wire rack, eye level. Flavors were deep, colors vibrant.
While we waited, we ordered a "raw bowl" ($7.50) that contained both snappy vegetables and ripe fruits along with a ranch-dressing dipping sauce. Appetizers and beverages, including bottles of wine, are half-price during happy hour (3-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday).
One other evening, we started with antipasti ($9.75), which featured Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, olives, fruit, crackers and our choice of three cold meats. We chose prosciutto, Spanish chorizo and Genoa salami and were not disappointed.
Our pizza choice that evening was sausage, mushrooms, onions and green pepper on extra-thin crust ($18.15). The pizza was chockablock with toppings, yet the sheer crust had enough structure to hold the ingredients in check without becoming soggy or weighed down.
A revelation, courtesy of our friendly waitress, was drizzling honey on some of the pieces of uneaten crust. Since Patxi's offers no desserts, that was a clever idea and a great way to end the meal. The golden syrup over the thick crust suggested morning biscuits and honey, and made me regret not having ordered a pizza with Canadian bacon.
There are loads of beverages. Not surprisingly, there are more beers than wines available by the bottle — or, on tap, by the pint and pitcher. The well-priced wine list offers about a dozen selections, light to full-bodied. Corkage is $9.
Patxi's delivers to nearby zip codes, or pizzas can be picked up hot or half-baked.
I'm beholden to Patxi's for helping me overcome my phobia of deep-dish pizzas. Deep-dish remains the heavyweight of the pizza kingdom, but at least Patxi's has fashioned a world champion.
Patxi's Chicago Pizza
441 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Hours: Sun.-Mon. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: city lots
Alcohol: beer and wine
Outdoor dining: no
Party facilities: no
Noise level: moderate to high
Bathroom cleanliness: very good
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