It was late last February when the Chi-Pie food trailer first opened near the Sherman Oaks Galleria. Inside, two Windy City transplants baked up weighty slices of Chicago-style deep dish pizza built to blow away Los Angeles taste buds. Soon, a growing line of customers had formed to grab a slice before they sold out.
Why all the commotion over pizza? Because each slice is nearly two inches tall, containing copious amounts of cheese and/or meat covered with a thick, chunky tomato sauce, all held in by a hardy wall of crust. Looking at a whole pie, you’d never know it had so much cheese because—that’s right—it’s layered on the bottom, not on top.
Co-owners Malysha Flanders and Lindsay Sammons enjoy the reactions from those who have never seen or tried Chicago deep dish before. “A lot of people are skeptical at first,” said Malysha. When confused customers wonder why they don’t see the cheese or meat, he often has to reassure them, “It’s in there. Trust me.”
The Chi-Pie duo also delights in the pleasantly surprised reactions they get when people first taste their deep dish. First-timers realize what they’ve been missing, while former Chicagoans reminisce over the familiar flavors they’ve missed. In fact that nostalgic craving, combined with the scarcity of authentic Chicago deep dish pizza in Los Angeles, was what drove Malysha and Lindsay to start the business.
“We are huge pizza fanatics, so we decided to start up our own company that has really good pizza,” said Lindsay. “What we really like is that this tastes just like Chicago pizza.”
Though neither Malysha nor Lindsay claim a culinary background, they both grew up with a love for cooking and experimenting. To formulate the right recipes for Chi-Pie, they picked up some helpful tips from a friend in the pizza business in the Chicago area.
“The hardest thing was definitely the crust,” said Malysha. He and Lindsay wrestled with the dough until they found that signature balance of thickness and cooking time that results in a satisfying crunch. It took many rounds of trial and error to avoid outcomes that ranged from rock hard to a soggy mess. The crust also has to achieve the renowned golden color of deep dish pizza, which visually reinforces its robustly buttery scent.
“When you eat it, you’re not only tasting it, but you’re smelling it,” Lindsay said. “It’s activating all of your senses.”
While the crust is a substantial component on its own, the inch of cheese that lines the bottom adds to the pizza’s heft. Hidden beneath a blanket of sauce, the cheese stays warm and molten enough to stretch into long strings when slices are pulled away. The next layer of meat and sauce gives the pie its iconic red-top look. Chi-Pie created their own sauce recipe, preferring one that’s slightly sweet with big chunks of peeled tomato and a kick of red pepper.
“The thing about deep dish is, to make it fresh and authentic, you have to take time with it,” Malysha explained. With such a thick pizza, an 8-inch pie takes 25 minutes to bake, which can result in longer waits for Chi-Pie lunch crowds on busy days.
“If you don’t let it cook long enough, then the cheese won’t get that ooey-gooey kind of melty feeling that you want when you bite into it,” said Lindsay.
But proceed with caution, because these slices are gut-busting. Customers with ambitious appetites have ordered two or three slices at a time, only to discover that they could only finish one in a single sitting. Slices are $5 and currently come in four varieties: cheese, pepperoni, sausage, and a combo of pepperoni and sausage.
“We want to start expanding and doing more toppings,” Lindsay said. “Some people have been requesting a vegetable pizza.” Chi-Pie also wants to start tackling a gluten-free recipe based on customer feedback.
If you head out to find Chi-Pie, keep in mind that it’s not a traditional food truck. Look for a renovated vintage 1967 Cardinal camping trailer, painted white with sky blue trim and red stars along the top. At first glance, it’s about half the size of a normal food truck.
“A lot of people love the vibe and the style,” said Malysha. “We want to keep the old school, new school look just to make it a little different from other trucks.”
Inside the trailer is just enough room for Chi-Pie’s team of two. (Malysha, who stands at 6’3”, negotiates the low ceiling with a slight bend of his knees.) To store and prep enough food, it was retrofitted with a refrigerator, sink, two ovens and an ordering counter. The trailer’s frugal and whimsical charm is punctuated by the pair’s enthusiasm for making pizzas. “It kind of reflects on Chicago itself, how it’s kind of like an oddball city,” Lindsay said.
You can find Chi-Pie regularly parked on Sepulveda Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, and they’re also available for catering. In the coming months, they plan to navigate to more areas across Los Angeles County and open another truck.
“We want to bring that Chicago vibe to more people in LA so they can know what deep dish is like,” Malysha said.