The Boring Pizza? Oh ho, not at all! Cheese pizza is a godsend perfect for kids’ birthday parties and church meetings. An icebreaker. A hand across countless divides. A relatively cheap chow-down. Cheese pizza deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

With National Cheese Pizza Day once again upon us, we ponder the origins of this essential food. Chicago, of course, shares a long history with pizza. Though most famous for the deep-dish version, the city actually helped turned America into Ameri-za years before Pizzeria Riccardo brought its pioneering “thick crust” to Ohio Street and the world. Today, we turn to The Chicago Food Encyclopedia, the big pizza pie of reference books on the topic, to take us back even further:

By the middle of the eighteenth century, chewy thin-crusted pizza was a well-established street food in Naples. A wave of Italian immigrants brought the beloved concoction to American shores in the late nineteenth century, where it took hold in New York City. In Chicago, the first pizzeria was Granato’s (later called Pizzeria Napolitana) at 907 West Taylor Street, opened by the Neapolitan Granato family in the early 1930s. It survived until 1961 when the building was razed for the construction of the University of Illinois Circle Campus. But it wasn’t until American soldiers returned from World War II that pizza made serious footprints from coast to coast. And nowhere was it bigger than in Chicago, where deep-dish, the ultimate Chicago-style pizza, was born.

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