“Deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us…” (J.R.R. Tolkien–I'm just that geeky.)
I am a child of New Jersey. I grew up eating the flat pizzas of New York, with toppings chosen from the canonical list: sausage, peppers, onions, pepperoni, anchovies, mushrooms, etc. While ham showed up from time to time (especially prosciutto), pineapple was nowhere to be found.
The unifying thread of pizza until I went to college was that it was fairly floppy, cut into very large slices and usually folded before being eaten.
You can imagine, then, my consternation the first time I laid eyes on a Chicago deep-dish pizza. “I don't know what the hell this is,” I imagine I said, “but it ain't pizza.” Two inches in height, with a buttery crust rather than the familiar tangy flatbread, nary a burn mark anywhere, and with tomatoes–not even sauce, tomatoes!–strewn across the top.
My incredulity only increased the first time I saw stuffed pizza: a deep-dish pizza with an extra layer of thin crust between the toppings and those accursèd tomatoes. I did, to be fair, love it: it just wasn't pizza to me, and it is still a separate beast to me now.
I knew of Tony's Little Italy in Placentia from the Chowhound boards before I even moved to Orange County; I happened upon Sal's Bit Of Italy while driving Ball Road after my arrival. Sal's has changed owners and been saved from the brink of closure at least twice; Tony's is still on its original owners.
It is time, then, to compare the two and crown a king of gigantic tomato
pie savory cheesecake.
Tony's, by far the better known, is a slightly taller pizza; the tomatoes are, in true Chicago style, not heavily seasoned. The toppings are very good, the cheese melts evenly and the crust is impossibly buttery; it's got more butter in it than a croissant. The big problem with Tony's pizza is the grease: it's inescapable. Oil and grease run everywhere, and it can really quell one's appetite after the first piece.
Sal's doesn't take quite as long and isn't as tall as Tony's, but the grease factor is not there, and the tomatoes are cooked into a sauce. The crust was not as buttery, however, the top layer on the stuffed crust was nearly undetectable, and the cheese was unevenly melted, which speaks to either a miscalibrated oven or not enough time in the oven. If you're nostalgic for the original Sal's, this isn't it.
Verdict: Tony's has better pizza than Sal's, but the greasefest I've had the last couple of times is discouraging, because it was never there before. Bear in mind that at either place, you should order the pizza before going in, because it takes 30-40 minutes for a pizza.
Tony's Little Italy, 1808 N. Placentia Ave., Placentia; (714) 528-2159; tonyslittleitaly.com.
Sal's Bit Of Italy, 918-B S. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim; (714) 826-3590.