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

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

“The secret is in the sauce,” says Jennifer Taylor, owner of Chicago Style Pizza. “Nowhere around us will you find a sauce close to ours.”

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

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

“For us, consistency is very important so people know what they’re getting every time they come.”

The pizza stand, located at 10420 Portage Road, has been serving slice after slice since September 1979, two years before the birth of Jennifer, the eldest of Jack and Cindy’s three daughters.

Jack and Cindy Taylor, who worked together as teenagers at a pizzeria in Oak Lawn, just outside Chicago, moved to Michigan when they were just 20 and 19, at the father’s request from Jack, who had a cabin in the area and found real Chicago pizza options lacking.

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

The thin and deep pizzas offered at Chicago Style Pizza are party cuts or square cuts.

The stuffing, which is baked like a pie with two layers of dough, plenty of fillings in the middle, then sauce and parmesan cheese on top, is cut into a pie.

“There are a few other places in the area that have embraced the stuffing, but there’s still nothing like what we’re doing, mostly because of this sauce,” said Taylor, who took over ownership of the restaurant with his two sisters, Jessica Maxim and Kaitlynn. Taylor, in 2019, a few months before their father died.

The three girls, though still living in the area, have other full-time jobs, leaving Kaitlynn Taylor’s husband, who holds a restaurant management degree from Michigan State University, to handle day-to-day operations.

In addition to the three styles of pizza on offer, the restaurant also offers baked subs, calzones, Rizzo Bread – a special cheese bun named after 2016 Cubs World Series hero Anthony Rizzo – and Cubbies Sticks, a sweet cinnamon dessert, which like Rizzo bread is made with deep dough.

Located south of the heart of Portage, the delivery range is limited to Portage, Vicksburg, a bit of Schoolcraft and Scotts, but about 90% of business is take-out orders, Durante said. The small roadside pizzeria also has three outdoor stalls which are popular in the summer for the crowds after the lake, he said.

The pizzeria is planning a major renovation this fall, which Taylor says will give them more space, allowing them to add new equipment and expand the menu a bit.

Chicago Style Pizza is open for take-out and delivery from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday. The pizzeria is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during this period. To order, call 269-323-0807 or visit www.chicagostylepizza.net.

To help celebrate the start of summer, from June 1-12, the pizzeria will also be running a special offer for all delivery orders placed from the boat ramps, a free koozie, a floating boat and a complete set of take-out plastic plates, napkins and crockery. .

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