Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Chicago Style Pizza in Portage keeps sauce recipe under lock and key

PORTAGE, MI — When it comes to the reasons for its success, the owner of an unassuming Portage pizza stand points to her family’s sauce recipe and the pizza’s dough.

“The secret is in the sauce,” says Chicago Style Pizza owner Jennifer Taylor. “You will not find anywhere around us that has a sauce that’s anywhere close to ours.”

More spicy than it is sweet, the recipe, concocted by Taylor’s parents, Jack and Cindy, over 40 years ago, is locked away at Taylor’s house. And of those who work at the Portage pizzeria on a daily basis, only general manager Danny Durante, Taylor’s brother-in-law, knows the recipe.

“That is something that really sets us apart from other pizza places in the area,” Taylor said. “That and the consistency in the dough. We’ve spent a lot of time really refining the process and training the staff so they know what they are doing when it comes to dough-making.

“Consistency for us is super important so people know what they are getting every time they come.”

The pizza stand, located at 10420 Portage Road, has been serving up slice upon slice of consistency since September 1979, two years before Jennifer — the oldest of Jack and Cindy’s three daughters — was born.

Jack and Cindy Taylor, who worked together as teenagers at a pizza shop in Oak Lawn, just outside Chicago, made the move to Michigan when they were just 20 and 19, at the urging of Jack’s father, who had a cottage in the area and found true Chicago pizza options to be lacking.

“There’s a common misconception about what Chicago style pizza is,” Durante said. “It’s not just stuffed pizza. There’s also a lot of thin crust in Chicago. They call it tavern style, but it’s really thin, thinner than your average (chain pizza). There’s also deep dish, pan pizza, which is similar to Detroit, but it’s round. You put the cheese down first, then the toppings and then the sauce across the top.”

Both the thin and deep dish pizzas offered at Chicago Style Pizza are party cut, or square cut.

The stuffed, which is baked like a pie with two layers of dough, a heaping amount of toppings in the middle and then sauce and parmesan on top, is pie cut.

“There’s a couple other places in the area that have adopted the stuffed, but there’s still nothing like what we do, especially because of that sauce,” said Taylor, who took over ownership of the restaurant with her two sisters, Jessica Maxim and Kaitlynn Taylor, in 2019, a few months before their father died.

All three daughters, despite still living in the area, have other full-time jobs, leaving Kaitlynn Taylor’s husband, who has a hospitality degree in restaurant management from Michigan State University, to run the day-to-day operations.

In addition to the three styles of pizzas offered, the restaurant also offers oven-baked subs, calzones, Rizzo bread — a special cheesy bread named after 2016 Cubs’ World Series hero Anthony Rizzo — and Cubbies Sticks, a sugary, cinnamon desert, which like the Rizzo bread is made with deep dish dough.

Located south of the heart of Portage, delivery range is limited to Portage, Vicksburg, a bit of Schoolcraft and Scotts, but about 90% of business is comprised of carryout, Durante said. The small roadside pizzeria also has three booths outside which are popular in the summertime for the after-lake crowd, he said.

The pizzeria is planning for extensive renovations this fall, which Jennifer Taylor said will grant them more space, thus allowing them to add some new equipment and expand the menu a bit.

Chicago Style Pizza is open for carryout and delivery from 4-9 pm Wednesday and Thursday, 4-10 pm Friday and Saturday and 2-8:30 pm on Sundays. The pizzeria is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays at this time. To order, call 269-323-0807 or visit www.chicagostylepizza.net.

To help celebrate the beginning of summer, from June 1-12, the pizzeria will also be running a special for all delivery orders placed from boat ramps a free koozie, floatable boat keychain and a full set of to-go plates, napkins and plasticware .

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