Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Glamour of Backseat Pizza

Vito and Nick’s
8433 S. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL

I just want you to know something -- this gig isn’t as easy as it looks.

I know. You think it must be fun traveling the backroads of America discovering cool new places to eat, drink and have a good time.

Well it’s not all dollar beer nights and gourmet chili cheese dogs for Suit757.

It’s hard living out here on the road.

Do you think I bother to even break out the laptop to write about a sack full of McDonald’s Dollar Menu cheeseburgers when the Golden Arches are the only option open at 1am?

Or the microwaved burritos at the dive bar adjacent to my Best Western?

Or the hot dogs rotating unappetizingly on the little metal rollers behind the cash register at the airport smoking lounge?

Hell no. I only attempt to entertain you with my adventures…if they are at least somewhat entertaining.

Most of my days are spent racing across town in Pine-Sol scented rental cars, dashing through airports and having my genitals radiated by TSA bureaucrats.

Suit757’s life isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as I might lead you to believe.

Today was a perfect example.

I was in Chicago -- one of my favorite eating cities.

I was determined to squeeze a memorable dining experience into my itinerary already jam packed with four meetings spread across the Chicagoland Metro region.

I just happened to recently see an episode on the Food Network with that guy with the spiky hair featuring a popular and unique pizza joint that combines two of Chicago’s favorite delicacies: pizza and Italian beef.

Thanks to national chains like Uno’s, everyone knows about Chicago deep dish pizza, even though, not surprisingly, the real thing is much better than the stuff served at your local mall.

Italian beef is the lesser known Chicago specialty.

Chicago Italian beef is tender slowly marinated shreds of meat stuffed into a big sub roll.

If that’s all you get, it’s not bad, but a bit bland.

But “not bad” isn’t good enough for Suit757.

I always get the “combo” which adds a link of Italian sausage to the sandwich.

Oh, and you want to add another Chicago specialty, giardiniera.

Giardiniera -- or giardineer, as they spell it at Vito and Nick’s -- is mix of celery and diced peppers, either sweet or hot depending on your tolerance and/or preference.

The idea of adding the ingredients of a Chicago Italian beef sandwich to a pizza sounded like the best invention since 2am pizza delivery.

As luck would have it, Vito and Nick’s just happened to kinda sorta be on the way to one of my meetings in the southwest suburbs.

Vito and Nick’s is far enough out that you can’t really say it is in the city. But it isn’t far enough out to be in the suburbs. It’s located in that urban no man’s land where one way streets and tenements give way to medians and strip malls.

My first task was convincing my travel partner of the day to give the place a try.

This is not a problem I am used to.

We Suits usually travel alone.

If I want to risk my life and digestive track on some urban greasy spoon dive, I’m not risking anyone’s wellbeing but my own.

And if I trash the rental car? Well, that’s an Enterprise problem, not mine.

As it turned out, having a fellow Suit to chauffeur me around Chicago on this day was quite an advantage. This meal was not a one man job.

Coincidentally, my fellow Suit is a native Chicagoan.

But convincing him to try Italian beef on a pizza took a bit of Suit757 persuasion.

“I love Chicago pizza. And I love Italian beef. But I’m not sure I want them together,” he complained.

My response was, “Dude. It’s going to be awesome.

“We’re going.”

Ah, the subtle art of persuasion.

The fact that I was a mere passenger in his car did not deter me from setting the lunch itinerary.

I must admit I started to have second thoughts as soon as we walked in.

The TV show pictured a packed house with pizza guys tossing wooden pizza boards through the air frantically trying to keep up with the hordes of patrons lined up out the door.

Our experience was very different.

Only two other occupied tables in the entire restaurant. And this was the noon “lunch rush.”

“This might not be a good sign,” I mumbled to myself without letting my companion in on my self-doubt.

I mean, usually when these places make national TV it ruins it for the rest of us. You can’t even get near the place.

It didn’t take long to figure out why no one comes here for lunch.

We placed our order of Italian beef pizza with Italian sausage and “mild giardineer” at the stroke of high noon.

By 12:40 it was time to hit the road for our 1pm meeting out in the suburbs.

Just one minor problem.

We still didn’t have our pizza.

Holy crap. This is a working class neighborhood. Last time I checked, most people who work for a living don’t get more than an hour for lunch.

No wonder the place was empty. Maybe Vito and Nick’s should relocate to the Obama side of town where people don’t have jobs.

Or only open for dinner when people have time for a two hour meal.

I told the waitress we had to go. I guess we’ll eat it cold later this afternoon when all our meetings are over.

Our pizza was just coming out of the oven. The pizza man boxed it up, I threw the waitress a twenty and a ten (they don’t take credit cards) and we dashed out the door.

I tossed the pizza in the back seat of the car and I think I heard tires squealing as my fellow Suit swerved his car onto Pulaski Road heading southbound.

By the time we got to the first traffic light, my traveling companion looked at me. I looked at him. We both looked into the back seat where the most intoxicating aroma of our lives was emanating.

Stomach growing, I said, “I’m going in.”

“Hell yeah,” he said.

I unbuckled my seat belt and turned around in the passenger seat to get a better look and opened the box.

An absolute masterpiece.

Melted cheese, green giardineer, toasted sausage and beef, crust charred perfectly on the edges.

I picked up the first piece.

The traffic light turned green. My fellow Suit hit the accelerator.

I tumbled into the backseat spilling Italian beef and giardineer all over his floor boards -- and his suit coat hanging precariously just above the pizza box.

The sight, the smell and the taste of this masterful pie was too much to resist.

In our 15 minute commute through suburban Chicago, we were going to eat that pizza. To hell with the dry cleaning bills.

Eating scalding hot pizza while driving wasn’t the most difficult part (of course that’s easy for me to say since I wasn’t the one actually driving).

The difficult part was transferring steaming hot pieces of pizza intact from the back seat to the front seat of a moving vehicle swerving through an urban minefield of construction cones and red light cameras with no plates or utensils.

Fortunately, I remembered to grab a stack of napkins in our mad exit.

This was one of the most extraordinary pizzas of my life.

The crust was thin and crispy and held up well to the topping onslaught it was subjected to.

The Italian beef marinated in garlic, oregano and basil was delicious with a smoky char from the oven.

The spice from the Italian sausage married perfectly with the sweet diced giardineer peppers.

Negotiating Chicago traffic with his knees, my driver kept alternating bites with exclamations like, “This is unbelievable!”

“I never thought Italian beef on pizza could be this good!”

I was in total agreement -- if a bit nervous about the lack of available hands for turn signals and steering wheels.

We pulled up to our meeting -- alive and well -- at exactly 12:59.

We wiped ourselves down with more napkins, checked the rearview mirror for stray giardineer in our teeth and popped some breath mints.

Who knew that backseat pizza while negotiating the streets of Chicago could be one of life’s best meals?

This traveling life might not be glamorous, but it’s definitely not boring.

Rating: Would Have Bought the Shirt -- If We Had Time.

Vito & Nick's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

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