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Sunday, June 22, 2008

[Special Event] The 2nd Annual Pizza Fest Chicago

The 2nd Annual Pizza Fest Chicago
Racine & Fullerton Map

The Chicago Pizza Club invaded the 2nd Annual Pizza Fest Chicago on 6/21/08.

It was very hard to tear myself away from the television on Saturday afternoon (with the crosstown, Cubs/Sox rivalry in full swing), but with a pitching change in the 4th inning I headed out the door and hopped on the CTA towards the DePaul campus and this year's Pizza Fest Chicago. Upon meeting up with Dan and Fred (who muddied my Pizza Club t-shirt with a very enthusiastic greeting) we paid our $5 "donation" to enter and proceeded to purchase the tickets that are standard food and beverage currency for Chicago street festivals. After walking the grounds briefly we entered the area that housed the music stage and pizza vendors, and using the logic that the longest line must correlate to the best pizza we queued up and waited for Pizza Club member Kate to join us while we waited.

First off, let me say that I loved the idea of a Chicago Pizza Fest. Not just because any street festival in Chicago is going to be a good time when the weather is good (and the weather is seldom better than it was on Saturday afternoon), but also for the opportunities that a Chicago Pizza Fest would present to sample a variety of Chicago pizza at once.

A few things stood in the way of such a Pizza Fest realizing its full potential. Mainly, none of the pizzas served were freshly cooked. All of the vendors had opted to serve their wares from under heat lamps and warming trays. This was a huge letdown to all of the Chicago Pizza Club members in attendance. The heat lamps seemed have a detrimental effect on the cheeses and crusts of all the pizzas we sampled. We understand that using heat lamps and serving "warmed" pizza is the most cost-effective measure for this situation, but we also know that there are other alternatives that would've allowed the vendors present to offer up freshly cooked pizzas on the premises.

Another downer was that of all the numerous and varied pizzerias in Chicago they only managed six pizza vendors at the festival. I realize that the Pizza Fest is only in its second year, but six options at a festival celebrating Chicago Pizza seems to me like a slap in the face. Especially when one of those vendors was a frozen pizza company. Seriously, frozen pizza?

One of the upsides though was that most of the vendors offered sample slices for only $1, which was a nice way to get a variety of pizzas at the festival.

Fortunately, the Chicago's Best Pizza judging featured a more diverse range of entrants (and we certainly wished some of them would have been vendors), we didn't get the chance to witness the judging (nor to take part in the judging for that matter as the CPC sent in their applications a tad late) as the judges seemed to be set off to the side.

For the reasons I listed above I don't really feel that it is fair to rate any of the pizzas we sampled at the festival, but we did make note of a few places for the Chicago Pizza Club to visit in the future.

Also, none of this is to say that I didn't enjoy myself at the festival (though, the weather was the main contributor to that), but without a more diverse offering of pizza vendors, and freshly cooked pizza I can't recommend this festival to anyone who's looking for anything more than spending some time outdoors on a beautiful day at an average Chicago street festival.

***UPDATE: And the winners of the pizza contest are:

Best Chicago Style Deep Dish: Nonna's
Best Thin Style: My Pie
Best Gourmet/Unique: Nonna's

Waiting in line for some samples and enjoying some music...

Frozen? Pizza?? Frozen Pizza???

Some of the various pies we sampled...

Fred cares nothing about heat lamps...


  1. so it was a beautiful day and i had a nice enough time, but the pizza itself was kind of blah. i understand that it would be a lot of work to have anything more than heat lamp pizza at an outdoor festival, but why bother having a "pizza fest" if you're not going to ramp it up a bit? i don't expect anyone to bring their brick oven in from their restaurant, but there are alternatives. anyway, if it's the same old thing next year, i probably won't return. i did, however, appreciate that you could get sample-sized slices from most of the purveyors for 1 ticket ($1). however, i didn't really see the point of trying more than a couple of samples.

  2. Everything at the Pizza Fest was fine except for the pizza, which was just plain bad. A couple of the places seemed like they had okay flavors, but I couldn't get past the congealed cheese.

    The organizers should be ashamed of themselves in calling this Chicago Pizza Fest. This event is a disgrace to Chicago pizza.

  3. FROZEN PIZZA? Bagh. Those slices didn't look that great. What a let-down.

  4. I forgot to mention - not a single pizza offered at the "Chicago Pizza Fest" was any of the three varieties of Chicago style pizza.

  5. Slices? They should have sold little squares.