Costa Mesa gets a slice of Chicago

Good pizza comes to those who wait.

That's the motto of sorts for the folks at Rance's Chicago Pizza, whose pies are made in authentic Chi-Town style, right down to the Wisconsin cheese.

But how long a wait is it for such iconic Midwestern flavor?

"Being that it's a deep dish — and there's so much food and so many ingredients that need to be cooked — whether you're in Chicago or here, it takes 40 to 45 minutes," said co-owner Rance Ruiz, who opened the Costa Mesa pizza business last month with childhood friend Aaron Tofani. "This kind of pizza is very labor-intensive. Everything is handcrafted from start to finish. We wanted to have a couple months for our cooks to really feel comfortable before we got incredibly busy."

Soft openings preceded the Dec. 1. grand opening for Rance's, 1420 Baker St., Suite B, in the Costa Mesa Square shopping center anchored by Target. Things seem to be starting off well. Rance's is getting positive reviews on Yelp and Facebook.

"They have a specific flavor that they're looking for, that Chicago flavor," Ruiz said. "I try to get as much of it as I can out here, albeit it's a little more expensive. But the customers appreciate it, and they can taste it."

Rance's serves pizza in three styles: stuffed, pan and thin.

The stuffed style, Ruiz said, is "in essence, a true pie."

For those pizzas, after a layer of dough and adding the ingredients and handfuls of cheese, "we put a very paper-thin layer of dough on top of that, which actually doesn't cook. It actually melts into the cheese but keeps the sauce separate from your ingredients, so the cheese and your ingredients are cooking together."

All the pizzas go into an oven with a revolving tray that resembles a Ferris wheel.

Rance's oven, where temperatures are usually between 490 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit, can bake up to 40 pies in 30 minutes. It provides an even cook, Ruiz said, no matter how many pizzas are in there.

"Come the dinner rush, it's very handy," he said.

The thin style is crispy and cut into squares — another Chicago tradition, Ruiz said.

Ruiz got into the pizza game after being inspired years ago by Zachary's Chicago Pizza in Berkeley.

"It blew my mind, just the flavors alone," he said.

It led him on a pizza-making quest, where he was "practically obsessed" over all the details until he got them just right after much trial and error. In 2011, Ruiz opened P.H.A.T. Pizza — the acronym stood for "pretty hot and tasty" — in Yorba Linda. It has since closed and now Ruiz, a Mission Viejo native, is focusing on his new operation.

Some of Rance's employees came from P.H.A.T., while others are new. Ruiz chose Costa Mesa after thinking its demographics and age groups would provide a good customer base.

"Costa Mesa's been really good to us," he said. "It's been a great place to start."

Rance's offers takeout, full-service dining and delivery. There's also a weekday happy hour.

In addition to the pizzas, Rance's sells salads and breadsticks, and has 10 beers on tap, a few of which are from Chicago-based breweries.

All in all, Ruiz and his team see Rance's as offering what few others do in this part of the U.S.

"That's the beauty of Chicago deep dish," he said. "For people in California and the West Coast, it's a very rare item to have true, Chicago-style pizza."

Twitter: @bradleyzint

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World