Back in the days when one couldn’t possibly keep up with all the restaurants that opened every week in Chicago, I used to get cranky about all the cheffy burgers I was supposed to keep tabs on. The tonnage of terrible barbecue I was obligated to eat drove me into a rage I could barely contain. But now that everybody’s putting out pandemic pizza, I’m actually delighted by the proliferation of pie at nimble operations such as Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream (a collaboration between Eat Free Pizza, Kimski, and Pretty Cool Ice Cream); or Oriole chef Noah Sandoval’s Sicilian slices at Pizza Friendly Pizza; or Milly’s Pizza in the Pan, a Burt’s Place tribute operating out of a Logan Square ghost kitchen.
In times such as these how could anyone not be positive about pizza? It’s the one thing we all still love.
There hasn’t been enough time or digestive resources to try all the interesting new, ahem, pizzabilities that have sprung up in surprising places over the summer, but I am not afraid of my mission.
I’m probably most interested in the possibility of scoring a pizza under cover of a dark Chicago alley from food writer and Revolution Brewing hype man John Carruthers.
Back in May, he launched a monthly pop-up in which he auctions off tavern-style pizzas to his Instagram followers, whose money goes directly to a charity of Carruthers’s choice. “This pizza thing started as a way to keep myself sane during the shutdown,” he messaged me a while back. “You’ve met me, so I think you probably remember that I’m one of those really fidgety, talkative, possibly annoying personality types. My job is very social, my off-hours pop-ups and stuff are very social. That was all gone, so I started doing pizza and movies with the kids on Fridays to get some routine going. I was super privileged to have a family around, to still have a job, to have food, etc. It’s just that my mental health in those early days wasn’t great. The uncertainty of everything was just something that I was almost specifically not built for. So doing one thing over and over and over—then kind of obsessing about it for the next 6 days—helped.
“Then George Floyd happened, and the protests happened, and the federal government continued to be a trash fire. And I think most people kind of have that helpless feeling if they have any empathy at all. And I’m thinking, ‘Well shit, how do you help when all your skills are kind of insufferably twee for all the terrible problems going on right now?’
“But that seemed like kind of a cop-out, too. Help however you can help.”
People stepped up to help. A pair of friends, Anthony Hall and Zach Sherwood, created a logo and menu design sporting a jolly, jaunty anthropomorphic slice, and Crust Fund Pizza was born. In August, Carruthers sold $501 worth of pepperoni, sausage, cheese, and vegan pizzas to eight bidders benefitting The TRiiBE. Last month, a giardiniera-topped “Royko” pizza joined the menu, and My Block, My Hood, My City was on the receiving end of $1,056.
“Through the first two months of Crust Fund Pizza, the average Pizza Pal (Not calling them customers. I don’t sell anything!) paid $68.47 for each 14-inch pie,” Carruthers reports. “And that is a true testament to how much Chicago gives a fuck about social issues. I make a decent pie, but I could practice every day for the rest of my life and never make a $68.47 pie. These are wonderful people, and I hope the pizza is at least acceptable. I know some people who order, but mostly it’s people I haven’t met. And usually people go way above and beyond the suggested $25 dollar donation. I don’t post what people pay. No one knows but them and me, and they pretty much all do it. Someone got in too late to order and gave $200 anyhow. It’s a big-hearted city.”
Not only does it warm the cockles, but by the looks of it, it’s been one of the more fun and imaginative pop-ups to emerge along the ravaged hellscape of the last seven months. Carruthers puts out a bourbon barrel to signal his spot in the alley, and if he’s not tending his double oven, he often hangs out to jawbone with winning bidders about pizza, the not-for profit of the month, or how much the initial pick-up resembles how “a Dateline episode starts before the first commercial break.”
Carruthers is releasing the October menu—benefiting the Greater Chicago Legal Clinic—to his e-mail list today, and on Monday he’ll post it on Instagram. You can peep this months’ offering of pizza positivity right now, right under these words v:
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