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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Freddie's [Meeting #113]

701 W. 31st Street (Map)
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 808-0147

CPC invaded Freddies aka Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery at 5:30 PM on Sunday, September 22, 2013.

It's been nearly two years since the Chicago Pizza Club ventured out to a place with less than high expectations. One of the drawbacks of infrequent meetings besides less pizza (this was just our 10th since the start of 2011) is that we've gotten quite a bit less ambitious in exploring places that are a bit below the radar. Freddie's (also spelled Freddies and also sometimes known as Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery), has been serving up pizza and a whole lot more in Bridgeport since 1990.

The menu at Freddie's is a bit ridiculous in its length. In addition to three kinds of pizza (thin crust, deep dish, and stuffed) and homemade "panzarotti puffs," they've got everything from burgers and beefs to fried chicken and fried breaded pork to classic Italian American sandwiches and pastas to salads to fried fish and a host of sausages to breakfast sandwiches. Seriously, go look at the menu; there's a lot more than I just listed. Ordinarily, that would be a huge red flag. But upon closer inspection, some care is revealed - homemade soup of the day, homemade donuts, and homemade Italian ice. Also promising was that the menu lists sausage pizza as its own category. That's usually a sign that, if nothing else, the sausage is going to be pretty excellent. So that's where I was coming from when I walked in the door. Come along and see how things played out.

Seven Pizza Clubbers made it to the meeting which gave us sufficient ordering power.

We ordered:

The best pizza of the night by a wide margin was the stuffed pizza, which we got with pepperoni, garlic, and onion, a routinely successful combination of toppings. When ordering a stuffed pizza, diners are asked whether they want it with sauce or not. For people who buy into the theory put forth by the founders of Giordano's and Nancy's (visited pre-website), that stuffed pizza is based on scarciedda, an Easter pie filled with ricotta, an egg, and other goodies, it actually makes sense because tomato sauce wasn't part of that tradition.

Naturally, we opted for sauce and it was a good thing we did. This chunky and surprisingly vibrant sauce was a nice touch for the thick pizza, even if it lacked the herbaceousness of places like Giordano's. The top crust was thick for a style of pizza where it's usually close to paper-thin. I think this might have the thickest top crust of any stuffed pizza this side of Connie's (another place considers sauce on stuffed pizza to be optional. The cheese, melted to an ideal gooeyness, was fine, and for a group trying as many pizzas we were, thankfully less prevalent than at some other places in town. All together, I really enjoyed the stuffed pizza; certainly more than the other two pies of the evening.

We're spoiled in Chicago with great sausage. It's odd that so much of the country fails to measure up considering that good sausage is incredibly easy to make, but that's their problem. Know what's hard to make? Unfortunately, as the thin crust pizza at Freddie's demonstrated, a good pizza crust. This crust was not good - it was flavorless and was not crisp at all. Technically, this is what Freddies calls a regular crust. There's a thinner thin crust option and we should have asked for that. Slices were available at the counter and the thinner crust appeared to be almost cracker-like. There's no reason to think the taste would have been any better, but the texture would have been an upgrade.

The sausage was pretty good. To be fair, by national standards, it was very, very good. But in this sausage-loving town, we can be hypercritical and note that it could have used more fennel and a little more chewiness. The cheese didn't stand out as a positive or negative, nor did the sauce. The dearth of sauce was surprising, especially when considering the thickness of the crust.

We finished about 2/3 of the thin crust pizza and nobody really wanted to take home the extras. I took home three squares, one of which Phred thoroughly enjoyed.

It's quite possible a deep dish pizza with Italian beef and giardiniera is the most Chicago food one can buy. Unfortunately, this was the least enjoyable pizza of the night. The biggest problem was, again, with the crust. Let's start with the obvious; this crust is not close to a traditional deep dish pizza crust. Allow me to take a step back and make clear that people with strict rules about pizza categories frequently take it too far. But at some point names have to mean something and a deep dish pizza is more than just a thin pizza with more of everything.

The Uno's/Gino's East/Lou Malnati's/Pizano's family of deep dish all feature a crust that is more a slightly crunchy biscuit version of bread than generic thick crust on this. I'd call this pan pizza, but I still wouldn't want to eat it again. Sorry, that's mean, but the bottom line is that this came across as a rendition of deep dish pizza made by someone who'd never had the real thing.

The pizza puffs, which can be ordered baked or fried, are unquestionably the best pizza-ish value at $4 plus 75 cents per topping. It's a good rule in life that when any food is offered baked or fried, the latter should be chosen, and that's what we did. The most obvious benefit was that the crust that had been a problem so far was transformed into a flaky and crunchy bread that actually quite nice.

I suppose it's an art form to fry a pizza puff this big and achieve a beautiful golden crust and melted cheese. As you can see, this one came up a little short in the melted cheese department but that wasn't really noticeable when eating it. Overall, the pizza puff was a success. Until more places start making their own, it's easy to say this is one of the best in Chicago..

 We were all full after eating our fill of pizza but there were homemade desserts to be had. Some people refused to partake in the sweets, but those of us who did were rewarded with some very good Italian ice. The Italian ice is offered in sizes ranging from 8 ounces to 2 gallons and diners can enjoy lemon, strawberry, watermelon, cantaloupe, raspberry, and mango. We split an 8-ounce cup of lemon and watermelon and, despite our overstuffed state, would have eaten more. Also good, but not as special were the donuts, which are made to order and covered in a whole lot of powdered sugar.

It's doubtful anyone is going to go into Freddy's expecting to get their minds blown and it's even more doubtful that anyone will leave thinking they just had the best pizza of their lives. CPC members were a bit divided, but for me, I could see myself stopping in on my way to a Sox game for a stuffed pizza and an Italian ice.