Thin-crust at Kim’s Uncle Pizza in Westmont, Illinois

It’s Pizza Night at Kim’s Uncle Pizza in Westmont, Illinois, where Cecily Federighi, Billy Federighi, and Brad Shorten do a make & bake for us in this video of a pepperoni pizza.

Kim’s Uncle opened in July 2022, a pizza-only offshoot of Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream, which was a collaboration with entrepreneur/restaurateur Ed Marszewski and chef Won Kim in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. It was there that they first started serving the Sicilian–style square pies (which they’d made a name for themselves with as the Instagram account @eatfreepizza) before turning their attention to thin-crust pizza (aka “tavern-style pizza”).

The pizzeria’s name honors Kim Sinclair, the previous owner of the then-named Uncle Pete’s, and a friend of Marszewski’s mother through the tight-knit Korean–Polish community. Ms. Sinclair was looking to sell Uncle Pete’s after having spent decades there, first as an employee of Pete himself and then later as owner having bought it from him in 1971. Rather than keeping the Uncle Pete’s name, the buyers changed it to Kim’s Uncle, which neatly encapsulates the pizzeria’s history.

Portraits of Kim Sinclair appear in the kitchen (like this one) and above the counter in the small takeout/dining area.

The trio makes thin-crust pizza using the “cured crust” technique, which is something Subbu Arumugam first hipped me to via his Instagram account as he documented his recipe development for his homemade version. (That’s Subbu you can hear off-camera throughout this video. He and Brian Erst were my guides for many of the stops on my May 2023 Chicago pizza trip.)

Sheeted pizza crusts curing on a rack in the walk-in at Kim’s Uncle.

The cured crust method involves sheeting (or rolling out) the dough into thin rounds (or “skins”) that are left to air-dry on racks. This drives out water content and makes for a crust that’s much sturdier than it would be if cooked immediately. A crust cured overnight takes on a leathery look and feel and stands up to the hearty amount of sauce, cheese, and toppings you expect from a Chicago tavern pizza.

You don’t see that in the video, but that all goes on before Brad starts to sauce the pie.

Kim’s isn’t the first to employ this method. Subbu and Brian — my pizza fixers on this trip — point to Pat’s Pizza & Ristorante as having developed it, and there are a handful of OG-generation spots in Chicagoland that use it (like Frank’s), while a new wave of tavern-style revivalists (like Kim’s and Crust Fund Pizza) are drawing newfound attention to it. See Kenji Lopez-Alt’s New York Times article about it here and Brian Erst’s excellent deep dive into Chicago thin-crust here.

As you can see in the video, they’re cooking in a Faulds oven, a ferris-wheel contraption featuring four rotating decks made of quarter-inch steel (65mm), each of which can hold two 14-inch pizzas (35cm). It’s an oven native to Chicago and kind of an IYKYK thing among Chicago pizza nerds. (New Yorkers may be familiar with the oven style if they’ve been to Joe & Pat’s on Staten Island or have seen a bagel shop that uses one, where they’re quite common — though manufactured by Fish Oven, out of Wauconda, Illinois.)

I have more video from Kim’s sitting on a hard drive that I could show you, and I will later — I planned to make this a much more in-depth/elaborate video, but two things conspired against me:

  • DELUDED PERFECTIONISM: You see, before taking this trip, Kim’s Uncle was basically THE single pizzeria I most wanted to visit on this thin-crust pilgrimage. And I’d built up this vision for what this video was going to be — both in terms of showcasing this holy grail of a pizzeria AND in defining what “It’s Pizza Night” as a YT channel was going to be. I’d built up both notions so much in my head that I was afraid to begin work on this for fear of failing.
  • AMATEUR-HOUR BUNGLING, DANGNABBIT: I’m missing this whole big part of the interview I did with Cecily where I FORGOT TO HIT RECORD on my camera. Such a rookie move. And looking back in the video, I see exactly where it happened. I stopped recording so she could take an incoming pizza-order phone call — and then forgot to roll camera again. In it, she talks about the history of the pizzeria and Kim Sinclair, and… I… just… don’t… have… that voiceover to work with. Once I realized that, though, it was sort of liberating, because it forced me into doing a pretty straightforward “make & bake” segment and helped spur me forward.

Anyway, I’m heading back to Chicago in a couple weeks, and I hope to re-visit Kim’s Uncle and re-record an interview with the gang — if they’ll let me back in the door for it. So with any luck, I’ll be able to make a version of the video that lives in my mind’s eye.

Until next post, hasta la pizza.

Further reading