In 2010, Stefania Rudd and Martha Robbins decided to celebrate National Pizza Month by eating pizza every day in October. As the month progressed it became clear that eating pizza every day was taking a toll on their waistlines and wallets. Since pizza is not only for 31 days, it is for life, the duo rounded up a group of pizza loving friends and began to visit a new Chicago pizzeria every month. The group of pizza goers began to grow and Pizza for Life was born. Since 2010, the group has visited over 50 pizzerias and has grown into a 197 member Facebook Group. Martha has since left Chicago and Stefania is now in charge of managing Pizza for Life’s Facebook Group page and organizing the club’s monthly meet-ups.
I first learned about Pizza for Life through Twitter. Justine, a longtime member of Pizza for Life (referred to as #P4L on social media) began to follow Encyclopizzeria after reading about our website in DNA Info Chicago. In her Twitter bio, Justine described herself as a “pizza club patriot.” Curious to find out what this meant, I reached out to Justine and she was nice enough to invite Stephen and I into the club. Since Tweeting with Justine, I have joined Pizza for Life at two of their meet-ups. The first meeting I attended was at Reno where we enjoyed an array of Neapolitan style pizzas. Then, in June, Stephen and I both attending their meeting that took place at Stefania’s apartment where we ordered Detroit style pizza from Jet’s, a delivery and carry-out only pizza chain, and watched VH1 reality shows. After being apart of Pizza for Life for roughly three months, I can honestly say that the members in the group are the least pretentious foodies you will ever meet. They also have been extremely supportive of Encyclopizzeria. Two of Pizza for Life patrons, Bokeen and Jena, write for us and in August I was lucky enough to appear on Your Chicago, a bi-weekly podcast that Stefania and Arden Joy host and produce. The format of Pizza for Life s simple. Future meetings and photos from past events are organized and documented through Pizza for Life’s Facebook Group page. Towards the end of the month, Stefania picks a pizzeria for the group to visit. Once a pizzeria is chosen, members vote on next month’s date and time works best for them. Pizzerias are chosen based on suggestions from members and are pulled from “best of” lists and other recommendation sources. Pizza for Life tries to visit new pizzeria each month, with the exception of October, when they celebrate their anniversary at Piece Brewery and Pizza, where they first met four years ago. The group does not officially review any of the pizzeria’s they visit but they do informally discuss the pizza and atmosphere of the pizzeria while sharing some slices. Membership to Pizza for Life is inclusive. However, the Facebook Group that Pizza for Life operates and organizes out of is invite only and does require approval from Stefania. This process is not built to keep pizza lovers out, but to assure that spambots are not infiltrating the comments section of the group’s wall and to also make sure that all members have a connection to someone in the group. Most members do not attend all of Pizza for Life’s monthly meet-ups and, on average the group has roughly 12-20 members present at each outing. At first, I was unsure of the club’s invite-only policy. But once I began to regularly check and follow the group’s Facebook wall, I understand why the invite-only policy was implemented. The group’s Facebook wall is a pizza lover’s dream. Members post pizza facts, recipes, news, GIFs, and images daily.
Members also post pictures of pizza that they have tried at pizzerias outside of Chicago and let others know what they thought of their experience. If the group was not invite-only, there would be no doubt that membership would be in the thousands and that people would not respect the group’s desire to focus only on pizza and pizza related discussion. Here at Encyclopizzeria, we are always eager to learn more about Chicago pizza. That is why we chatted over email with pizza expert Stefania to discuss the best and worst of what Chicago pizza has to offer.
What are some of the most memorable pizzas that you have tried with Pizza for Life?
For me the ones that stick out are the ones that I wouldn’t gravitate to ordering on my own. But, because I’m with a group and enough people want it, we get one. I always will try a slice. One of my favorites is the Pesto Pizza at Coalfire. That was one that I was like, “Okay sounds good, but not compelled to order it” and it turned out to be my favorite one of the night. Another one like that was a pizza we put together at Cookies & Carnitas with goat meat and mushrooms. It was super tasty.
What was the least memorable pizza you tried?
The Pizza Pot Pie at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder on Clark. I know that is an old school joint that people who grew up here have stories about the place, but I was unimpressed and it’s probably the only place I wouldn’t go back to that we have been. If I ever do go back, I will get a grinder (sandwich) since those looked amazing.
Out of all of the pizzerias you have visited, which would you say is the most “Chicago”?
I think the most “Chicago” would have to be Marie’s Pizza & Liquors on Lawrence. The place is almost 75 years old! It has that old school Italian restaurant feeling that you know generation after generation of families go to regularly and probably for their family’s pizza night. But whether it’s your first time there or your 100th time, they treat you like you are an old friend. If you go you have to get the Marie’s Special Pizza. To me that pizza screams “Chicago!,” outside of deep dish.
What type/style of pizza did you have growing up in Oklahoma?
My mother is Italian (like the real deal, moved over here in the 70s) and she made pizza frequently as we grew up. Friday was usually pizza night whether my mom made it or we ordered it (typically from Little Caesar’s–before it was a grab and go, hot and ready type place). My mom makes a pan style pizza and she does it in larger squares kind of like Sicilian, but not quite. I think I like Lou Malnati’s because when it is leftover, it tastes just like my mom’s. When she came to visit I took her there and she gave it the stamp of approval.
What is your favorite pizza topping?
My go to pizza topping combo is pepperoni and mushroom. Or just mushroom. At Piece [which the group revisits yearly to celebrate their anniversary]I do strong arm the group into getting a particular pizza. It’s the white base, with mushrooms, spinach, and bacon. We’ve nicknamed it the “Stefania Special.” And friends will tell me, “I went to Piece and got the Stefania Special” even though it is a creation they have to give. I would love for Piece to actually have it on the menu and name it after me. Ha! Wishful thinking, but totally doable. Get on it, Piece!
What is your favorite pizza style?
My favorite style is probably pan. Not too thick, not to thin. Pequod’s is my favorite in Chicago as far as any kind of pizza goes. For traditional deep dish it’s Lou Malnati’s.
Does Pizza for Life have plans to visit any pizzerias outside of Chicago?
I always keep a running list of pizza places I read or hear about that are in other cities in case I am ever there. Since many of us in our group don’t own cars, making pizza related road trips as Pizza for Life would be tough, but doable if we coordinate it well in advance. I certainly do try to venture out of the city to hit up places (like Burt’s), but as a formalized group we have not.
You mentioned that, since starting Pizza for Life, you have received a lot of pizza theme gifts. What are some of the best pizza themed gifts people have given you?
I have two pairs of pizza slice earrings (both pepperoni), a custom made scarf (also pepperoni), and a pepperoni pizza shaped pill box–all given as gifts. Justine got me an original piece of art of a wooden pizza slice done by Chicago artist Jason Waclawik that is in my living room. I think the strangest pizza related gift anyone has given me though would be my pizza flavored lip balm that I got as part of a birthday gift from one of my dearest friends back home. I have plans to get a pizza dress made. I have the fabric picked out and my mom is a seamstress, so why wouldn’t I get one made?
Pizza for Life’s September meet-up is at Gulliver’s Pizza. Members have until Friday, August 29th, 2014 to vote on a date and time that works best for them—majority rules and the winning date and time will be announced shortly after voting has closed. To learn how to get invited into the Pizza for Life Facebook Group please leave us a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org