Old Chicago Pizza at Petaluma serves up satisfying classic pies

It’s rare to find a cautionary menu, but at Old Chicago Pizza in Petaluma, it warns: “Our large pizza weighs over 4 pounds without toppings. We suggest that you order your pizza with fewer toppings than you normally would.” You better believe it.

Much like looks, the delicious deep-dish monsters of Old Chicago are piled inches high in a buttery crust. The thick, tender, and flaky dough comes from a recipe that’s been going strong since the restaurant opened in 1978 in the historic Lanmart Building in downtown Petaluma as a homage to Chicago’s hometown founder Bill Berliner.

Berliner and general manager/co-owner Michael Hansen have since passed away, but the process still runs in the family. These days, Hansen’s widow, Joan Hansen, and Audrey Haglund, who joined the team in 1987 and rise through the ranks, are co-owned.

Little has changed over the past 45 years, as the sturdy brick building rises above Petaluma Boulevard North, dining rooms sparkle with crystal chandeliers and an ornately framed original menu hangs on the wall. The 1876 structure was at one point a home of notoriety. It is not difficult to imagine ladies painted in cheerful colors attracting customers from the large windows overlooking the street.

The pizza is as big as the architecture. In Chicago fashion, pie dough is stuffed into a deep skillet and topped with bits of mozzarella, then toppings of your choice—or perhaps “the middle”: mashed, spicy tomato sauce is drizzled over the pie, helping to protect the cheese from burning during the long, slow baking that can take Up to half an hour.

You build your own, with prices starting at $16.85 for a small four-slice cheesecake and going up to $36.45 for a large eight-slice pizza with seven toppings that should weigh more than 10 pounds. Don’t expect anything fancy, because the boldest move was the addition of Canadian bacon and pineapple to your to-do list in the mid-’90s. They’ve also added a gluten-free crust.

Perhaps in reference to today’s healthy eating concerns, you could also have any size with less than a third of cheese, but why in the world would you want that?

The pillow-size muffins that ooze cheesy is really the reason to come here. It pleases elevating slabs of meat with a bun spoon and bringing out the wonderful golden-orange grease from pepperoni and sausage. The special “double crust” recipe also has a definite appeal; It’s a little lighter than the original with thin, crunchy layers drenched in cheese and sauce and two toppings of choice ($19.50-$36.75).

You can also get classic versions of the thinner or very thin crust from Chicago, although they are considered fairly prevalent by comparison. For more modern flavors here, I prefer the gluten-free thin-crust combo (add $3.50) sprinkled with artichoke hearts and grilled garlic chicken on a dollop of pesto sauce.

Keep in mind the long baking time (remember that muffins can take up to 30 minutes to bake), order a salad to start. Lisa Eskin’s simple yet satisfying salad for two is topped with a sprinkle of lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms, chopped olives, and cheese with a tangy, house-made Italian dressing ($10.50). If you’re loading up on carbs, add a side of butter-soaked garlic bread ($6).

It’s also worth noting that there is now a second takeout and delivery location at the Wilco Shopping Center at 1390 N. McDowell Blvd. in Petaluma. Call 707-732-8008.

As I picked up leftovers from my big house for pizza from the restaurant, I was pretty sure it would take a few days of dedicated eating to deal with the mixture of pepperoni, sausage, olives, and leftover mushrooms. But that’s just one of the joys of old Chicago – it was delivered in pounds of happiness.

Carrie Sweet is a restaurants and food writer based in Sebastopol. Read her bi-weekly restaurant reviews on Sonoma Life. Contact her at [email protected]

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