Thanks to a trifecta of deep dish, stuffed and pan pizza, no city in the world is as synonymous with thick-crusted pizza as Chicago. But what if you’re not looking for pizza that’s thick as a brick, but one that’s as thin as possible?
As a growing chorus of locals have pointed out, Chicago has a robust thin-crust pizza scene, from legends like Pat’s Pizza (2679 N. Lincoln Ave.) and Vito & Nick’s (8433 S. Pulaski Road), to inspired new spots like Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream (964 W. 31st St.). But the thinnest pizza I’ve encountered belongs to Paper Thin Pizza (113 N. Green St.). I’m not sure it’s humanly possible for pizza to get any thinner, without the crust disappearing completely into the void.
Look at the pizza from overhead, and it appears similar to other thin-crust options around Chicago, albeit cut into slices instead of tavern-style squares. (More on this later.) But hold up a slice, and you’ll realize the crust rises about a millimeter or two. You might be tempted to call it cracker-thin, but it’s honestly skinnier than most crackers. (I measured: Club Crackers are 3 to 4 millimeters; Ritz crackers are 4 to 5 millimeters.)
This is the work of the husband-and-wife team of Drew and Ray Anthony. Like a number of other food entrepreneurs, the idea started because they suddenly had a lot of free time at the beginning of the pandemic. Drew Anthony had been experimenting with a superthin-crust pizza, and the two decided to sell pizzas out of their house.
The demand was so strong, they eventually set up a deal to work out of Soho House Chicago. Now you can pick up pizza from the club’s cafe or eat inside at the Fox Bar. (Though Soho House is a members-only club, anyone can pick up the pizza or visit that bar.)
Instead of a straight homage to Chicago-style thin crust, Anthony said he was inspired by a combination of different regional thin-crust pizza styles, including Vezzo in New York, Fricano’s Pizza in Michigan and Imo’s in St. Louis. But he’s also quick to point out that he loves local spots like Pat’s Pizza and Vito & Nick’s.
To get the crust so thin, Anthony starts with a dough that has an extremely low hydration level, meaning there is far less water in the dough than for many other styles. “It depends on how dry the air is, but ours usually floats around 45%,” Anthony said. After fermenting at room temperature, the dough is run through a sheeter multiple times until “it’s as thin as we can get it.” Then they stash the dough in the fridge overnight.
Anthony readily admits the dough is “very tough to work with,” so to keep it from sticking to the pan, the rolled-out dough rests on parchment paper, something he notes other thin-crust spots in Chicago do. But unlike most, the dough is topped while still cold and placed in the oven with the parchment paper still attached to the bottom.
“We cook it for about 4 or 5 minutes, and then remove the parchment and finish the pizza on the deck of the oven,” Anthony said. He learned this tip while picking up a used dough sheeter from Kelly Tobin, who had decided to retire and close Kelly’s on 66 in Lexington, Illinois.
Considering the crust is on the verge of nonexistence, it’s kind of a miracle it can support anything more than a dusting of cheese. But Anthony said the crust holds more than one might think, though toppings do need to be cut very thinly. The 4 Seasons ($17) manages to pack on sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and red onions without collapsing. Or you can go with the Heavy Veggi ($17) which adds broccoli, red onions, mushrooms and green peppers.
Anthony said the most popular offering is the Hot Trax ($19) a fiercely spicy concoction featuring sausage with jalape?os, giardiniera and hot oil.
Besides pizza, you have the option to pick up paper-thin cookies ($6 for four), which are as skinny as you’d imagine. If you love your cookies crispy, they are a must-order.
As for why the pizza is cut into slices, not squares, Anthony said he thinks the pizza holds up better to slices. “It’s such a light pizza,” Anthony said, “the squares wouldn’t hold together.” But he points out that he’s not “militantly anti-square.” Someone recently asked in an online order for squares, and he happily obliged.
Most nights, it’s just Drew and Ray Anthony working, though they do occasionally bring on help for large catering orders. “It’s been honestly awesome to do this together,” Drew Anthony said. “Most people didn’t know what to do during the pandemic. This has been something to focus on through these last crazy few years.”
Right now, Paper Thin Pizza is open from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. Ordering is done on Tock. Anthony said he and his wife have looked at a number of permanent brick-and-mortar homes for Paper Thin, but with the uncertainty around the pandemic continuing, they want to be cautious. “We want to take one step at a time,” he said.
Paper Thin Pizza, 113 N. Green St., paperthin.pizza
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