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Obama Actually Bolsters Chicago Cred in Shunning Deep-Dish Pizza for New York Style

The former president didn’t betray Chicago in stating his preference on the Tonight Show — his true affection lies with tavern-style pizza

President Obama delivered a hot pizza take on the Tonight Show.
Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Last week, while promoting his new book, former-President Barack Obama appeared on the Tonight Show where host Jimmy Fallon asked him to pick a pizza: Chicago deep dish or New York style. The former president knew this was a polarizing topic, but he did not pander to the residents of his former hometown as he picked New York.

“I love Chicago deep-dish pizza, I love my hometown,” Obama told an anxious Jimmy Fallon last week. “But New York style — being able to fold it, walk while you’re eating — there’s an efficiency element to it that I think puts it over the top. No offense, Chicago. I love our pizza. New York’s a little more practical.”

For background, Obama wasn’t raised in Chicago (he’s from Hawai’i — but would also tell Fallon that pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza), even though it’s where his political career took off. It’s also where he met his wife; Michelle Obama is a native Chicagoan and a fan of deep dish, telling People that she prefers it over N.Y. style. When it comes to Chicago pizza, the former president has in the past shown a preference for the city’s signature thin-crust pizza. He’s mentioned Italian Fiesta in Hyde Park as a family favorite for tavern-style pies.

If anything, Obama’s deep-dish restraint has further bolstered his Chicago cred, as tavern style — cut into squares and triangles — is what most Chicagoans eat regularly. Nurturing and filling deep dish, thanks to effective marketing, is instead what natives serve to their out-of-town guests. It’s the pizza that tourists line up to try in downtown Chicago, before and even during the pandemic. Chicagoans eat deep dish more than they would admit, but it’s still reserved for special occasions.

However, deep dish also continues to define Chicago on the national stage no matter how much locals plead otherwise. Just recently, there’s the Emily in Paris fiasco. Then as the Green Bay Packers decimated the Chicago Bears last month, TV cameras panned to a lonely Packer fan holding up a sign reading, “Deep Dish Pizza is Overrated.” The fan didn’t know any better and was trying to have fun, but it was the subsequent pick ups by national sports media trying to push a rivalry that didn’t exist that were tired. A screen capture of the fan quickly went viral with tweets declaring “shots fired” and a shocked Joey Tribbiani manufacturing disbelief that a Packer fan would go so low.

And now, New York pubs are trying to make something out of Obama’s conversation with Fallon with headlines like “Obama correctly prefers NYC pizza over Chicago deep dish.” Though New York loves to say they don’t care, it really seems that they do. Stories like this pop up a few times a year and Chicagoans are experienced. They’ve shown remarkable restraint not to engage, learning to shrug their shoulders, to take a deep breath, and then to ponder why the city’s carnitas or Italian beefs don’t get more recognition. That’s the real story here.

  • Italian Fiesta Pizzeria: The Obamas’ Chicago Pizza Favorite, Reviewed [Serious Eats]
  • Chicago’s Tavern-Style Pizza Reigns Supreme [Eater Chicago]
  • ‘Emily in Paris’ Insult to Chicago Deep Dish Results in Righteous Lou Malnati’s Marketing Ploy [Eater Chicago]
  • ‘Deep Dish Pizza is Overrated’ sign at the Bears-Packers game restarts age-old arguments [Sun-Times]
  • Obama correctly prefers NYC pizza over Chicago deep dish [Time Out New York]
  • Sorry, New Yorkers Will Never Care That You Think Your City’s Food Is Better [Eater New York]