I want to introduce you, foodie, to something you never had before. I want to take you to a land of ice and snow. A land where the wind never stops blowing. A land where if you see someone running on the road they are probably running away from the cops. A land neither here nor there, one nestled in a sea of red, one caught up in its incestuous corrupt history, one where silos in the country compete with brutal, state-sanctioned urban warfare just half an hour away, a land where I left my third grade girl behind and never looked back, a land where a Large size T-shirt at the store is really a Large size T-shirt, a land I, and several others like to call Illinois.
Chi-town has been in the news lately because of its rough and tumble downward turn but the history of Chicago is one of resilience and fortitude, one where the Cubs persist as a nugget of hope in a world going quickly and silently down the toilet, one where the beauty and mystique of the Iltaco Pizza Puff quietly reigns supreme.
If you don’t know, and you don’t (don’t you feel unhip, young fooder foodie?), the Iltaco Pizza Puff is a frozen block of flaky pastry goodness gently covering a red sauce lava filled cavity wherein swim streams of stringy melted cheese and, depending on your choice (don’t you love freedom) nuggets of sausage, pepperoni, beef or mystery msg chemical perfection.
Here’s the deal – if you live in Illinois you can buy these at the supermarket and bake them up in your oven, or, if you are a real person, you can find them at your neighborhood burger/pizza joint where they make them by tossing them into a vat of decades old simmering oil for x minutes.
My friends, if you haven’t had the pizza puff then maybe you won’t understand it. It’s not craft, handmade, organic, it does not save the planet, it likely will do serious harm to your body if you put too many of them into it, but as the real geniuses say “it is what it is.”
I lived on these things during the summer I became a man. It was my first job in life at the tender age of 16. I was fat and soft and meek and liked to read on the couch instead of walk around. But I spent a summer in Elgin, Illinois, working at a place called Racing Rapids, a water park slash go-kart thing that was a part of Santa’s Village – a psychotic amusement park tucked into middle America with a year-round Christmas theme (another story entirely) and I either had a pizza puff or nachos with extra cheese sauce on them for lunch every day.
Now I don’t know if it was the pizza puff or the outdoor activity but after that summer I was turned into a mean, lean, buffed out high schooler, goodbye awkward middle school, and I returned to my school triumphantly, like a hero, with bits of pastry still stuck on my chin and shirt.
You might ask, what the fuck sandiegofoodblog, I thought this was about San Diego, and you’d be right to do so.
Well, I found pizza puffs on the West Coast. They are available at Lefty’s Pizza in San Diego at their Mission Hills Location (not at North Park).
They are the only place (the owner told me) west of Arizona that has them in the entire country.
That is worth some driving, that is worth some getting in your car and getting one.
The pizza puff surprisingly holds together well. I say surprisingly because its crust is unlike anything you’ve seen before – it is a flaky (but somehow crispy as well) pastry crust that reminds one of spanakopita, but more buttery. You’d think it would fall apart and ooze out shit everywhere after frying up for 7 mins or so, but no – the pizza puff is magic, it holds its shape, it does not ooze, it does not dissolve in your fingers, it retains itself, and every bite is magical.
The cheese does not string out and fly all over the place, the sauce does not gather up in one corner only to explode out of the bottom on your lap, parts of it are not still frozen while other parts burn your face off – it is perfect.
And it exists in San Diego. Amazing. Go get one fool, you been schooled.
Thank you Lefty’s Pizza. Now we can all get buffed up for the summertime.