WEST LOOP — It’s hard to find a pizza restaurant Steve Dolinsky hasn’t been to yet: Over the past five years, the food reporter has visited hundreds of pie shops in almost every corner of Chicago.
This summer, Dolinsky is distilling his years of research, calories and restaurant tabs into a two-day pizza festival featuring 40 handpicked pizzerias. It’s called the Chicago Pizza Festival and it will run noon-9 p.m. July 23-24 at Plumbers Union Hall, 1350 W. Washington Blvd.
The fest will feature 10 massive pizza ovens for the experts to bake their pies in, each offering a different style of freshly made pizza, ranging from Chicago’s classic tavern-style squares to Detroit-style pies.
Between enjoying piping hot slices, festival-goers can browse pizza-themed art and attend educational seminars featuring renowned chefs and experts from across the United States who will speak about the art and history of making pizza.
Dolinsky ultimately hopes the festival will showcase the wealth of pizza styles Chicago is home to, he said.
Chicagoans tend to stick to the few types of pizza they grew up with, Dolinsky said, “But there’s actually a lot more style options here than there are in New York City. … I think Chicago embraces its different styles more warmly than they do on the East Coast.”
The pizzeria lineup:
July 23: Palermo’s 95th, Pat’s Pizzeria, Bartoli’s Pizza, Labriola Chicago, St.Vito Focacciaria, Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream, Coda di Volpe, Forno Rosso, Craft Pizza, Dante’s Pizza, Paulie Gee’s Logan Square, Five Squared Pizza, Bonci Pizza, Bar Cargo, Nancy’s Pizza, Angelo’s Stuffed Pizza, Roebuck Pizza, Bob’s Pizza, Robert’s Pizza & Dough Co. and Professor Pizza.
July 24: Vito & Nick’s, Home Run Inn, My Pi Pizza, Lou Malnati’s, Pompei, Pizza Friendly Pizza, Nella Pizza e Pasta, Coco Pazzo, Jimmy’s Pizza Café, Pazza Pizza, B Square Pizza, Bill Kim’s Pizza & Parm, Pizza Lobo, Stix n Brix, Suparossa, Giordano’s, Alla Vita, Pizza Portofino, Bungalow by Middlebrow and Spacca Napoli.
Dolinsky knows how and where to eat in Chicago better than most. Although he grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, he has made his name in Chicago’s culinary scenes over the past two decades first as a food reporter for ABC 7 under the moniker “Hungry Hound” and for NBC 5 as “The Food Guy”.
Five years ago, Dolinsky decided to embark on a deep dive into Chicago’s pizza scene after reading a listicle titled something like “the seven hottest pizza places in Chicago” and taking issue with all seven of the recommendations, he said.
“That convinced me that someone needed to be boots on the ground, no sacred cows, and really just tackle it from the beginning,” he said. “And not to be doing it on reputation or hearsay, but just tasting everything.”
Given Dolinsky’s credentials, he knew he was the one to take on the job. After two books, a podcast, a weekly touring business and countless hours devoted to thinking about pizza in Chicago, Dolinsky decided launching a pizza festival seemed like the natural next step.
“There have been other events in Chicago featuring pizza,” he said. “But in those cases, they have the pizzerias make the pizza at the business and bring it to the event already cooked, which I just couldn’t understand because pizzas don’t travel well and they don’t do well under heat lamps.”
All the pies at the Chicago Pizza Festival will be made to order in one of 10 PizzaMaster Electric Pizza Ovens, which Dolinsky said are versatile enough to make all the styles of pizzas he plans to feature.
“I’m excited to see all these different styles together to show people once and for all that Chicago has a lot more to offer than just deep dish or stuffed pizza,” Dolinsky said.
Early bird tickets, offered at a discount, will go on sale for two weeks starting the last week of March, and then regular priced tickets will be available until they sell out. VIP tickets include access to a VIP section at the event, alcohol, gelato and an invitation to a reception Friday night at LondonHouse Chicago.
One-day general admission: $49
Two-day general admission: $79
One-day VIP: $99
Two-day VIP: $169
One-day general admission: $59
Two-day general admission: $89
One-day VIP: $129
Two-day VIP: $199
Updates on the festival and tickets will be available on Chicago Pizza Festival’s website.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: