Last week, Crushed by Giants — a downtown brewpub that had been open for three months until the state shutdown indoor dining in October — reopened for the first time since fall with big changes. Gone are the tacos that the restaurant was built around. Ownership has since purchased a $25,000 pizza oven to focus on takeout, hoping to better entice nearby residents in Streeterville. A new style of pizza, one that owner Greg Shuff says is unique to Chicago, has replaced the tacos.
Now open for takeout, delivery, and dine-in with 40 percent capacity, Crushed by Giants shares building at 600 N. Michigan Avenue with a movie theater that’s been closed for much of the last year; crowds of theater patrons that were also supposed to patronize the restaurant haven’t materialized. That’s led Shuff to shift strategies, even if it meant throwing out the menu research and development spent on street tacos. This is about survival.
“Being almost 12 months into the pandemic, I’ve lost emotions attached to almost everything,” Shuff says.
The pizzas come in five varieties. The tacos aren’t coming back as pizza is a permanent change: “I think we’re going to be feeling the effects from this for a long time,” Shuff adds.
Pizza makes for a better carryout choice as his team can regulate quality better, Shuff says. He worries about serving soggy tacos to customers living in the tall downtown skyscrapers. Shuff and chef Ryan Henderson call their new creation a “Double Oven Pizza.” The dough is crispier compared to normal neo-Neapolitan thin crusts. Cooks will slip a screen underneath the dough to shield the bottom from heat, and place the uncooked pie in a 865-degree oven for about 90 seconds. Then they’ll pull the pizza, remove the screen and put it on a cooler oven deck set at 525 degrees for two minutes more. The result is a crispy crust with a nicely browned top, Shuff says. The pizza still gets those pretty leopard spots around the ring. Henderson had been tinkering with methods and excitedly called Shuff to pitch his idea. This is a way to ensure thin-crust pies taste better at home.
Shuff learned about the art of pizza making when he opened Roebuck, a pizza bar that neighbors his first brewpub, DryHop Brewing, in Lakeview. Pizza complements the beer brewed on premises — to-go beer sales have kept the business viable, Shuff says. Shuff’s team has also revitalized the brewpub’s to-go crowlers with new art. It’s a small change, but customers have really taken to the labels, Shuff says. Picky beer drinkers can be disloyal, Shuff says, but this small spark in interest is surprising — and fun. During a public health crisis, restaurants will anxiously grab on to any positives.
Henderson and Shuff drove out to Wheeling to visit the showroom at MPM Food Equipment where they selected a PizzaMaster electric oven. The purchase further demonstrates to his building’s landlord their commitment to success, and enabled them to agree on rent mitigations while the brewpub was closed. Shuff says they spent about $1.7 million on renovations to the space that formerly housed Heaven on Seven.
Shuff says he’s been appreciative of his landlord, his staff, and customers. He calls himself “two-thirds lucky” in being in a position to survive. He’s hoping this new Double Oven Pizza will bring in customers and that better times are on tap for 2021.