Neighborhood Joints

Deep-Dish Pizza Debate Rages at South Beach's Pi Pizzeria

Jon Stewart claims that deep dish isn't the real thing. Too much of everything. So why do people in cities like Chicago flock for towering pies leaden with up to two inches of cheese?

The argument rages ad nauseum, with neither side surrendering. Deep-dish pizza isn’t a fad or a cult favorite, supporters say. It will remain a force, regardless of what devout New Yorkers (or even fork-and-knife wielding Neapolitans) may say.

St. Louis-based Pi Pizzeria, which opened a few weeks ago on Miami Beach, is bringing some first class deep dish to the subtropics. Seems a smart idea, given that we live and play on an island with an insatiable need for pre-or-post drinking fare and a dearth of good choices.

The real problem with deep dish, even Pi’s cheesy ones layered with tangy tomato sauce and magically crisp-but-soft crusts, is that it’s still a sit-down meal. People used to fast-paced pie-eating can’t fathom waiting 45 minutes to an hour for one to cook. Nor can they handle the arduous process of working through bloated slices with a fork and knife.

In reality, deep-dish pizza is like the ground up carp or pike formed into gefilte fish patties. It’s something you have to grow up with.

Pi began in San Francisco, where co-owner Chris Sommers was working for He became fanatical about the corn meal-crusted deep-dish pies from Little Star Pizza in the Mission District. “I became an evangelist and had my co-workers, my friends coming all the time,” he explains.

Then it got serious. He paid the owner $20,000 for his crust recipe and a few days of consulting to get his own concept off the ground. He and partners opened the first Pi Pizzeria on March 14, 2008 (Pi Day), turning out thinner-than-usual deep-dish pizzas alongside flour-based, thin-crust pies.

The focus remains on the deep ones and an even deeper lineup of craft beers. The cornmeal-spiked flour offers a barely gritty texture and crunchy crust that many look for in a proper pie. Sommers and executive chef Cary McDowell (who did a stint with Wolfgang Puck) toned down the cheese. It’s probably the best move they made. This cuts out the overwhelming mess and grease, while more than halving the cook time.

"We want you to get your pie in 20 minutes or less," Sommers says. “It’s also lighter, so you won’t need to be wheeled out after two or three slices and you won’t go back to work to pass out at your desk." 

He was right, and a sausage-layered South Side Classico ($18.95) arrived 16 minutes and 37 seconds after requested. The nubs of anise ground pork hid with crispy green pepper sauce under a sauce that was just a bit too sweet. Still, each slice tries to asset its superiority.

There was a problem with my order, though. The swimming pool of a pie came with a tiny piece of cardboard under a thick layer of tomato sauce. There were a thousand apologies, an offer of a new pie, and the charge was finally removed from the check.

Sommers & Co. are putting out a first-class product, but when the urge strikes late at night, I will be pining for Lucali.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson