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Chicago Pizza Summit Attracts 10 Pizzerias, 900 Hungry People

By Alex Nitkin | April 3, 2016 7:47pm
 About 900 people sampled pizza from 10 restaurants at the inaugural Chicago Pizza Summit Sunday.
Chicago Pizza summit
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WICKER PARK — For one afternoon, Chop Shop 1st Ward was the nexus of some of the most renowned names in Chicago pizza.

The restaurant and butcher shop, 2033 W. North Ave., gathered 10 ambassadors of the cultural staple for the inaugural Chicago Pizza Summit, laying out a massive smorgasbord of cheese and crust for hundreds of guests.

Between two three-hour sessions, the event afforded each of 900 guests a commemorative plate, five Old Style beers and as much pizza as they could stuff into their faces.

As groundbreaking as the event was, organizers said they were amazed no one had thought of it before.

"It's crazy to us that there's no pizza event or pizza festival in a city that's so known for it," said Brent Heyl, a producer with Empty Bottle Presents, which organized the summit. "So we thought we'd try to come up with a way to get all our favorite pizza places under one roof, and showcase them in their own way."

"It's like if you had 10 of your friends and everyone ordered their favorite pizza, and everyone just came together to party and share them," he said.

The event sold out less than five minutes after tickets went on sale, Chop Shop 1st Ward owner Nick Moretti said. Part of the appeal, he believed, had to do with the convivial spirit of the event.

"A lot of fests are all about competition, but we purposely wanted this one to be more like a celebration of the dynamic of pizza in Chicago," Moretti said. "So from the beginning we said 'No judges, no winners.' Instead, it's literally just a giant pizza party." 

There were no set ground rules, Moretti said, leaving each pizzamaker with a "blank canvas" to present the hungry crowd.

Options ran the gamut from Lou Malnati's traditional deep dish to jumbo New York-style slices from Santullo's, with neighborhood favorites like Boiler Room's signature sausage-and giardiniera-topped pies thrown in.

But the favorite of Alexandra Brandt, who walked to the summit from her Wicker Park home a few blocks away, was a deconstructed pizza handed out by Taco in a Bag.

"Pizza on bread is one thing, but I'd never had pizza mixed up with chips," Brandt said.

Co-owner Patrick Bartoletti and his staff packed pizza ingredients into about 700 of the restaurant's signature silver bags, reviving an item once featured on their menu.

Bartoletti had asked to participate in the summit, he said, partially so he could see its heavily-advertised keynote speaker: rock star and party specialist Andrew WK.

Brandt, too, said she'd only heard about the event because she was a devoted fan of WK.

"He's just such a positive person," Brandt said.

When the rocker addressed the crowd from a pizza-shaped lectern, he was more than positive: He discussed the idea of pizza as a metaphor for the meaning of life.

"Pizza shows us that despite all our conflicts and challenges, there are reliable sources of joy in this world," WK told the half-drunk crowd. "Pizza transcends food just like music transcends sound, humans transcend animals, and life transcends death."

When the crowd got quiet, he revved them back up with a chant: "When I say 'pizza,' you say 'pizza!'"

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