One recent Saturday night, the wait for a seat at Emmett’s, a new South Village spot that specializes in Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, was being quoted by Dillon Burke, the barkeep brother of owner Emmett Burke, as two hours. That’s not unheard of in a town where people rise at dawn to form a line for the chance to buy six Cronuts. But that’s not all. After you’ve scored a seat, even before you’ve taken off your coat, Dillon politely asks you to consider placing your pizza order right now, as it takes 35 minutes to cook the thing. When the pizza arrives on its pedestal, Dillon sets a two-minute egg timer next to it, because “it needs to settle.” So that’s a potential two-hour-and-37-minute wait for something many local pizza cognoscenti regard as an abomination and refuse to even classify as pizza.
What gives? Can there be that many Chicago expats in New York craving a taste of home? That was the rationale behind Emmett Burke’s business plan—one he conceived thirteen years ago as a freshman at Fordham, where the native of Chicago’s North Shore discovered a depressing citywide dearth of his hometown pie. In the intervening years, Burke worked in finance, never abandoning his dream. He tinkered with recipes in his apartment, stockpiled knickknacks destined for décor, and rummaged through construction sites for discarded lumber. He even flew his prospective chef de cuisine back home, taking him on a tour of blues clubs, Cubs games, and landmark pizzerias to develop his deep-dish palate.
Ultimately, that early prospect couldn’t find his pan-pizza groove, and Burke ended up with a replacement who had never even tried the stuff. This, as it turned out, was a stroke of luck: Without an allegiance to any particular pie, chef Mike Brigante was free to adapt Burke’s studied tweaks on dough, sauce, and toppings (none of which either man is willing to reveal).
The result is a thing quite unlike our local variety, and a nifty addition to the pizzascape. For maximum enjoyment, approach it without preconceived notions, and refrain from making comparisons with the iconic, foldable New York slice or the puffy and blistered Margherita D.O.C. Taken on its own terms, Emmett’s deep-dish is both audibly crunchy and pleasingly bready, zesty with herbs and exceptionally filling. It is a stiff round of golden dough smelling faintly of yeast, rising high and thin on the rim like an English pork pie, cradling a blanket of chewy mozzarella and a slick of aggressively seasoned sauce in which optional toppings are distributed so minimally they might seem invisible. It comes in four sizes, and three people sharing a twelve-inch-wide, two-inch-tall, three-and-a-half-pound large will likely have leftovers.
Should you desire a pre-pie appetizer, there’s a quartet of serviceable salads (the Greek is classic diner fare, down to the peperoncino and tangy red-wine vinaigrette) and an unassuming bar burger on a sesame-seed bun that hits the spot. Another thing you might not expect to find at a deep-dish joint: an eclectic wine list that runs from a Santorini Assyrtiko to a dry Lambrusco to a Ridge Zinfandel. (Burke is something of a grape nut.)
Emmett’s, at its heart, is a neighborhood bar with the feel of a bistro, the kind of genial hangout that’s grown increasingly rare. It’s the Corner Bistro meets Le Gamin—no coincidence, since the first branch of that atmospheric French café opened at Emmett’s address more than two decades ago. The bones of the snug, 30-seat space (pressed-tin ceiling, tiled floor, marble bar) are still visible beneath the smattering of Muddy Waters photos and random found objects. Burke might not like to hear it, but with its convivial vibe, effortlessly friendly service, and small but satisfying bar-food menu, Emmett’s is a pizzeria where the pizza is almost incidental.
50 Macdougal St., nr. King St.; 917-639-3571
Hours: Sunday 5:30 to 11 p.m., Tuesday till midnight, Wednesday to Saturday till 1 a.m.
Prices: $8 to $28 (toppings extra).
Ideal Meal: Greek salad, pizza with sausage.
Note: Burke plans to open for breakfast and lunch, with additions like Italian beef sandwiches, hot dogs, and Chicago’s lesser-known square-cut thin-crust pie.
Scratchpad: Two stars for the satisfyingly doughy deep-dish pizza, plus one more for the disarmingly friendly service and great quasi-dive-bar vibe.