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In Chicago, pizza and hot dogs with pizazz

CHICAGO -- Two of the most popular items on any children's menu, pizza and hot dogs, have become haute cuisine here. The deep-dish pizza is eaten with knife and fork, but contrary to what many folks believe, it is not a thick-crust pizza. Dough is patted high up the side of a deep-dish pan, with ingredients placed in reverse order of those on a regular pizza. Mozzarella cheese goes in first, followed by toppings such as sausage, pepperoni, or mushrooms, all doused with fresh plum-tomato sauce.

Locals rave that Lou Malnati's has perfected the art of pizza making. The crust has just enough butter to make it flaky but not soggy. The sausage is a dense layer of meat. The chunky tomatoes in the sauce are both sweet and zesty. Lou got his start in the business working with his father in Chicago's first deep-dish pizzeria in the 1940s, then opened his own restaurant in a northern suburb, Lincolnwood, in 1971. There are now 21 family-owned Malnati's pizzerias throughout the city and suburbs, managed by Lou's sons Rick and Marc. (Lou died in 1978.)

Sports paraphernalia, including framed jerseys of well-known Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks players, line the walls of the downtown North Wells Street locale. In addition to the pan pizza, a thin-crust and a new crustless pizza for South Beach dieters are offered. Recommended appetizers include stuffed spinach bread and the antipasto salad.

When it comes to hot dogs, Wieners Circle has always been a favorite of the 4 a.m. club crowd who come to demand their "dog now!" If you come to this walk-up window sober, say when the sun is still out, you realize that you don't need to be inebriated to enjoy the great taste of these Vienna franks. Get your dog charred, not boiled, on the grill flame and loaded with dill pickles, slices of tomato, and raw onion under a deluge of mustard and relish. The hand-cut fries come with or without cheese. You can sit on a stool inside or at a picnic table overlooking Clark Street.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, 439 N. Wells St., Chicago, 312-828-9800. If you can't wait for your next trip to Chicago, try the next-day delivery, Wieners Circle, 2622 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-477-7444.

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