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Amanda and Jared Leonard held a Budlong Hot Chicken pop-up at the Source in early 2018. Now Jared is opening a pizza joint here.
Amanda and Jared Leonard held a Budlong Hot Chicken pop-up at the Source in early 2018. Now Jared is opening a pizza joint here.
Stone Soup Collective

Budlong Chicken Founder Makes a Grabowski at Vacant Source Space

What's a Grabowski? If you're a Chicago Bears fan, Chicago ex-pat or Mike Ditka follower, you probably already know. For the rest of us, it's a name used for hardworking, blue-collar Chicagoans, the kind who just want a cold beer and some pizza (nothing fancy; just a cracker-thin crust, and cut it into squares, for the love of Mike) at the end of the day.

Jared Leonard, founder of the Budlong Hot Chicken and AJ's Pit Bar-B-Q, is turning to another of his Chicago food obsessions for his next concept, Grabowski's, which he plans to open later this summer in the recently vacated Comida spot at the Source (3330 Brighton Boulevard).

Most people think of deep-dish pizza when they hear the phrase "Chicago style," but not Leonard, who has never been much of a fan of the heavy, saucy pie that draws more tourists than Chicago natives in its home town. Instead, he prefers "tavern-style" pizza, which evolved at bars that would put out free pizza for customers to keep them in the house to spend more money on booze. The pizzas were usually built on a thin, crispy crust with cornmeal on the bottom and were cut into squares so that more customers could get a piece.

That's the kind of pie Leonard will introduce at Grabowski's, where he's partnering with fellow Chicagoan Justin Anderson, who also oversees the Source's central bar, Isabel, and the entire food hall operation at Zeppelin Station. The two met in Chicago when Leonard was opening a Budlong outpost inside Revival Food Hall, which Anderson was managing.

This is the pizza Leonard grew up eating in northwest Chicago, and it's the family-run businesses with teenagers working in the kitchen that he remembers and loves — places like Barnaby's, Villanova (a newer discovery for him) and Vito & Nick's. "In Chicago, it's not specifically Italian," he notes, adding that this kind of pizza isn't something you have to study or think about. "Sometimes you just want to eat something without having to learn about it first, and then say, 'Man, that was freakin' good.'"

Leonard is serious about food, whether its brisket or pizza.EXPAND
Leonard is serious about food, whether its brisket or pizza.
Mark Antonation

The pizzas at Grabowski's will come with traditional toppings (nothing weird or fancy), since Leonard's goal is "family-friendly comfort food."

"We’re serving nostalgia," he adds. "In the ’80s, pizzerias were very classic in their offerings. They didn’t add a bunch of elaborate ingredients to the pie: no fruit, no truffles, no seafood!”

The partners plan on adding a pick-up window at the front of the space for call-in orders, and will also close late to serve pizza to guests of the Source staying for drinks at Isabel. There will also be garlic knots, beer by the pitcher, housemade root beer, TVs tuned to Chicago sporting events, and a mezzanine level filled with vintage pinball machines and other arcade games.

Leonard has been road-tripping through the Midwest and Chicago over the last few months to sample the best versions of tavern-style pizza from his home town and the surrounding states. He points out that the key to the dough is a little fat (butter, lard or vegetable oil) in the mix, a quick rise (one day, compared with the two- to three-day fermentation of Neapolitan dough), and the use of a dough sheeter to achieve the right thinness. With the recipes now dialed in, he expects to open Grabowski's in mid-July.

The restaurateur got his start in 2010, opening BBQ Supply Co. in Chicago with his wife, Amanda, before launching his first Budlong in 2016. In 2018, he opened a BBQ Supply Co. here in Denver (at 2180 South Delaware Street) before changing the name to AJ's Pit Bar-B-Q earlier this year. He also runs Au Feu and the Budlong Hot Chicken inside Zeppelin Station.

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