At Wabash Avenue and Ohio Street on Chicago's traditionally fashionable Near North Side, crowds wait in line to enter a restaurant called Uno.
Uno means one in Italian, and the restaurant was given this name by proprietor Ike Sewell because it was his first establishment. The place, which opened in 1943, enjoyed an early success that led Sewell to open a second establishment across the street. He called that one Due.
Had Sewell's arithmetical naming scheme been followed when his restaurants began selling franchises a few years ago, the Pacific Beach franchise that opened in July would have to be called Vente-otto, because it is the 28th in the chain. But because the magic resides in the first name selected by Sewell, this restaurant, like the others from Manhattan to San Francisco, is called Uno.
Uno's major claim to fame is the deep-dish or "Chicago-style" pizza, an invention for which Sewell is credited, and a thick crust brimming with bubbling ingredients that lends legitimacy to the term pizza pie. Deep-dish pizza no longer is a novelty--several San Diego restaurants offer Chicago pizzas of varying quality--but Uno's are particularly attractive.
The speed with which this place has attracted a following is nothing short of remarkable. From the day it opened, the place has been jammed from early till late, and there seems to always be a line at the entrance. People frequently can be observed breaking through this line bearing away take-out pizzas, which is not a bad way for folks who dislike crowds to sample one of these pies. In any case, locals who value peace and quiet may want to wait for the end of the tourist season before giving Uno a try.
The crowds primarily are here for the pizza, of course, although the decor is pleasant and the menu offers quite a few alternative selections. But a quick look around the room will reveal a pizza on every table, as well as numerous patrons who seem too engrossed in consuming them to notice the surroundings or the noise.
So what is unusual about the Uno pizza? The difference starts with the pan in which it is baked, a heavy, tall-sided, oven-darkened utensil that is much like an old-fashioned pie plate, especially in its ability to concentrate heat in a way that guarantees a universally browned crust.
The crust itself, though, is the key to the Uno pizza. A slightly sweet, richly textured crust, it seems a combination of pie and bread doughs; it is somewhat heavier than ordinary pizza crust, but is not indelicate. A fair amount of shortening must be added to the dough, since the baked product has an almost buttery flavor, as well as a cake-like crumb. ( Crumb, it should be mentioned, is a term used to describe the texture of bread.)
Pressed into a deep pan, then, this crust serves as a receptacle for all the usual toppings, as well as a long list of non-traditional items that must be appealing to some patrons or they would not be on the menu; after all, there is no disputing tastes. But when filled with tomatoes and cheese, and sausage or pepperoni, and baked to a molten perfection, the Uno pizza can be quite a pie.
Uno is generous with toppings, and includes quite a bit more cheese than do traditional pizzerias. Generosity is something of a requisite for this place, however, since those deep crusts would look silly were they not filled at least half-way to the top. The restaurant often uses fresh diced tomatoes, which add a pleasing lightness to the pies; at other times, canned tomatoes are used, but in any case, Uno spares its clientele the tragedy of canned, catsup-like, all-purpose pizza sauce.
Quite a variety of combination pizzas are mentioned by the menu, although it is just as well to construct a build-it-yourself model by ordering from the long list of toppings that can be placed atop the basic cheese pie (If a member of the party wants to add something bizarre like broccoli, be assured that the kitchen will segregate this ingredient on the portion of the pizza to be consumed by this odd person.). The strangest combination is probably the Maui pizza, which fills the crust with pineapple, apricots, ham, Canadian bacon, coconut and two kinds of cheese.
As mentioned earlier, everyone seems to eat pizza here, but the menu does include a variety of hamburgers (served on specially baked, hollow sandwich "shells") as well as cheese-steak sandwiches and giant Chicago hot dogs doused in Windy City chili. The chili is available by itself, as well, in first-course and meal-sized portions. Several salads also are available in starter or meal-sized versions; the spinach, a traditional toss that includes bacon, chopped egg and mushrooms, is nice, and the Caesar, while not authentic, makes a good lead-in to the pizza.