Introducing The Big Lou

Hey. Hey you. You like pizza?

Read Time: 7 minutes

What is this sandwich?

I never write about bad sandwiches (unless it’s Halloween) and I do my best to write about good sandwiches but sometimes I also make and write about great sandwiches. This Big Lou sandwich is one of the great ones. Today I’m writing about a full-out flavorful bang-up of a cheesy, veggie-focused sandwich. This concept is centered on a popular pizza selection from a restaurant chain named Lou Malnati’s based in the greater Chicago Metro area.

Who or what is Lou Malnati’s?

There was a guy from Chicago named Rudy Malnati, Sr. who is credited with being involved in creating the recipe for the first Chicago-style deep dish pizza in 1943. A few years later in the 1950s Rudy’s son, Lou Malnati, worked with his dad to co-manage the original home of Chicago deep dish, Pizzeria Uno—now known as Uno PIzzeria & Grill. Over on the Lou Malnati’s About Us page we learn that Lou got his start in the pizza business there.

Eventually, Lou probably wanted to make sure his kids got that good suburban schooling and he moved to Lincolnwood, a suburb on the north side of Chicago. Soon after, in 1971, he opened Lou Malnati’s.

Lou has since passed away, but the restaurant chain is still in the family and run by his sons. The chain, Lou Malnati’s, has now expanded to have locations outside of Illinois in Indiana, Wisconsin, and even way down in Arizona.

What is “The Lou” pizza?

Since I’m a consummate sandwich blogging professional, I was forced to convince my wife it was pizza time, and we ordered The Lou to get a baseline for performance and to get a control for sandwich testing. We ordered a large Lou for delivery to refresh our memories before originally creating the components for this sandwich.

You might not have ever seen an uncut delivery pizza in your home, but this is how Lou Malnati’s suggests you order. Uncut. So that’s what we did. The reason they suggest uncut pizza is to give the ingredients and sauce a bit more time to set up during delivery or travel. If they cut this style of pizza and deliver it to your house, there will be a lot of moisture that seeps out through the slices, and it will potentially leave a big soggy mess inside the box. Cutting yourself seems to help with this situation. Grab a big knife.

Once we were ready to eat, I cut the heck out of it, and we dug in.

A full unsliced large Big Lou. Keeping the pizza whole like this will help the juices stay inside the pizza during delivery.
I sliced my own slice because I’m a professional.

What does The Lou taste like?

Like many Chicago deep dish pizzas, Lou Malnati’s pizzas are built upside down—they say “backwards”—from what you’d expect in a normal non-deep-dish pizza. Most of the cheese goes on the bottom under the sauce instead of on top. For The Lou, the mozzarella is layered with slices on the bottom but there is still clearly visible, orange-colored cheese on top. The spinach blend is visible under the sauce and Roma tomato slices are placed prominently on top. Just look up and you’ll see what I mean.

The flavors in this pizza lean hard on savory with salty and garlic spinach and cheeses in each bite, but occasionally you will get a bit of sweetness from a baked Roma tomato slice or the vine-ripened tomato sauce. Every couple of bites, you’ll bite through a piece of mushroom that will texturally feel like it could be a piece of sausage or meat. If you’re worried about missing the meat in your pizza, stop worrying. You won’t miss it.

After the flavors of the tomato and spinach mix, the next best part of The Lou is the crust. The butter crust has strong cornbread vibes going on because there is cornmeal in the crust, but it is also very buttery. The crust for me seems a bit lacking in salt, but that balances out with the saltiness in the cheese and the spinach mix. The crust is very crunchy and chewy and it tastes like it’s fried in butter or oil. These are all things that excited and encouraged me to recreate them in the sandwich version.

Welcome to The Big Lou Sandwich

My wife’s office at an old job ordered from Lou Malnati’s often for work events and she became a big fan of the flavors of The Lou because of this. When my wife first told me about this pizza, I thought she said it was called “The Big Lou” and that name stuck in my head. The actual pizza is just called The Lou, but the pizza is also big, so that’s where my sandwich got its name. If we want to make The Big Lou sandwich at home, first, we need bread.

First, we need some bread and then we need to butter and garlic some homemade bread.

Toasted roll and garlic bread

Since I knew we’d be making a panini and since Lou Malnati calls their crust a “butter crust” I decided we’d start with my homemade Cubano bread recipe, but I replaced the lard with butter. Then I decided that since the crust in the pizza is pulling some heavy lifting in the texture of each slice, I would turn it into garlic bread and then use some oil in the panini process to crisp up the exterior.

All of this worked to make a great, crunchy and garlic buttery sandwich experience.

Here we have shaped 119-gram, 7-ish-inch torpedoes that I pressed down a little. Ready for final proof.
This is the same sheet pan 1 hour and 15 minutes later. I even zoomed into the photo to confirm. Yeast is amazing.
I scored three of the six dough torpedoes but I think I preferred how the unscored rolls looked quite a bit better after baking than the scored ones.

My Cubano roll recipe below creates 3 eleven or twelve-inch sandwich rolls, but I decided that I would just make 6 half-sized rolls instead. I scored three rolls and left the other three untouched. I think I ended up visually preferring the unscored rolls the best but otherwise, they baked up and pressed out pretty much the same.

This is an easy dough to work with and the rolls were easy to shape. Because they are allowed to experience their final proof on a sheet pan, they should widen as they double in size which will end up providing more surface area for a panini’ed or pressed sandwich once the rolls are sliced.

Six fresh baked rolls.

This sandwich isn’t a Cubano and this pizza does not have lard in the crust or anywhere else. So I took my Cubano roll that I know stands up well to the panini pressing process and I switched out the lard for butter. As I wrote above, I also turned the dough into 6 short rolls instead of 3 longer rolls.

3 hours
Cuban bread rolls (Pan Cubano)

Making Cuban sandwiches? First you're going to need to find some lard. Then you'll need to make these soft, semi-crusty rolls that eventually you'll smash between two hot surfaces. Oh, and you'll need some pork, ham (also pork), mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles!

Get Recipe

The garlicky, buttery, and toasty part

I sliced each roll, and I turned just the bottom part into garlic bread. The Lou isn’t crazily heavy on butter or garlic so I felt the sandwich should pull back and only contribute a moderate amount of those flavors into the mix. I spread the compound butter onto just the bottom slice and toasted that up. The top stayed untoasted but don’t worry, it’s still getting pressed during the sandwich cooking process.

The base of this sandwich is garlic bread since the pizza is based on a buttery crust.

Compound garlic butter

Making compound butter simply means that you’re adding seasonings to softened butter to build flavor that can be spread on butter or added on top of a freshly grilled steak. In this situation, we’re making garlic, parmesan, and parsley-flavored butter that’s spreadable which we can add to bread and broil, turning it into garlic bread.

A pile of compound garlic butter.
Slice the rolls.
Add a slather of softened compound garlic butter.
Broil until toasty and tasty. Now you have garlic bread.

Here’s my compound butter recipe that you simply need to spread on some bread and broil or toast to create garlic bread.

5 minutes
Garlic compound butter

This is a garlicky and cheesy butter spread that can be used to create garlic bread or placed on top of a freshly cooked steak to add flavor and excitement.

Get Recipe

Pizza sauce

For this pizza sandwich, I bought the pizza sauce that we used but my wife’s sauce is what we would have used otherwise. Lou Malnati’s prides themselves on their sauce and the vine-ripened tomatoes that they use. I didn’t feel that we were in the position to actually recreate their recipe, so we bought the sauce that we preferred and used that. You can use your favorite or make this recipe if you want.

40 minutes
Robin's pizza sauce

A slightly spicy, slightly sweet tomato sauce that's great for your next French bread pizza.

Get Recipe

Spinach and onion mix with mushrooms

If you end up never making this Big Lou sandwich you should learn how to make the spinach and mushrooms part of the recipe. It’s garlic, onions, and mushrooms mixed with spinach and everything is sauteed until soft but still tender, seasoned with a bit of salt and black pepper until super flavorful and perfect for the next side dish during steak night. But instead, we’re using it for a sandwich.

The Lou doesn’t have a huge layer of this spinach mix, but the flavors come through strongly in each bite of pizza. So, we must make sure this spinach mix is super tasty since it’s a crucial part of this Big Lou sandwich.

The spinach, mushroom, and onion mix reducing in a pan.

Roasted Roma tomatoes

Lou Malnati places their sliced Roma tomatoes right onto the top of the decorated pizzas and those tomatoes get a full blast of bake time right on top of the pizza. They turn out nice and soft but with still enough texture that you notice them in a bite of pizza. We wanted to recreate this so my wife suggested that she would be in charge of the tomatoes.

Salt, pepper, and olive oil’d Roma tomatoes waiting to be baked.

She painted them with olive oil, salt, and ground black pepper and baked them on a sheet pan set at 400 F (205 C) for 15 minutes. You might want to go an extra 5 minutes if the texture isn’t quite to your liking. The tomatoes will not cook much more inside the panini process so if you want more or less structure, this is your opportunity.

If you have a 6 or 7-inch sandwich you will need a little less than one whole Roma tomato per sandwich. That’s what we did, and it turned out great. Go ahead and bake all the slices of the tomato because any extra will become great snacks while you’re waiting for your sandwiches to panini/grill.

Cheese blend

Some of Lou Malnati’s marketing materials claim they use a blend of cheeses in The Lou, but you can easily figure out which ones if you dig around their menu and site. We used three kinds of cheese in our Big Lou sandwich: thinly sliced mozzarella, shredded cheddar, and grated Romano cheese. If you can’t find Romano, grated parmesan will work just fine. These three cheeses go a long way to recreate what you will get in The Lou deep dish pizza.

Screenshot from the Malnati’s menu.

The sandwich

Here are some photos of this Big Lou sandwich in action. Scroll past to get the recipe and thanks for reading. Make a pizza sandwich!

The flavors in this sandwich work so well together since they’ve been tested for years in a popular pizza selection.
Sometimes you look at a sandwich sideways.
All that melty cheese. This is a vegetarian sandwich, but I never said it was healthy.
Panini-ing this sandwich gives the crust a crisp and crunchy texture just like the deep dish pizza.
All the warm and comforting sandwich ingredients melt together and give the texture and taste of The Lou.
You have to slice panini sandwiches diagonally and you have to cut with a sharp and not serrated knife. These are the rules.
The Big Lou pizza sandwich view printable page for this recipe

This savory and crunchy sandwich brings the flavors of pizza into a panini experience. Roasted Roma tomatoes and sauteed garlicky spinach, onion, and mushroom mix along with a mix of cheeses form this melty, and buttery-pressed sandwich. This sandwich is based on the flavors in The Lou pizza from Lou Malnati's.


Spinach and onion mix and roasted tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced and quartered
  • 1 pound baby spinach (16 ounces)
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • 14 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • olive oil
  • salt and ground black pepper
Compound butter and garlic bread
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, finely grated (or Romano cheese)
  • 14 teaspoon salt
  • 12 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 six-to-eight-inch sub rolls
Sandwich cooking and assembly
  • 2 six-to-eight-inch sub rolls (used above)
  • 2 to 4 mozzarella cheese slices
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons pizza sauce
  • spinach and onion mix (from above)
  • roasted Roma tomatoes (from above - 4 to 6 slices per sandwich)
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • grated Romano cheese (or parmesan)


Spinach, mushroom, and onion mix: add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium pan over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add minced garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes. Season the mushrooms with just a pinch of salt and ground black pepper.

After the mushrooms have softened a little add the thinly sliced onion and stir them in with the mushrooms. Cook for about 4 minutes until the mushrooms and onions are softened, but not turned into mush. 

Add a couple of handfuls of spinach at a time and stir it in with the mushrooms and onions. At first, it will look like there is way too much spinach for your pan, but it will wilt and shrink down allowing you to add a couple more handfuls.

Add a pinch or two of salt and ground black pepper and keep adding and stirring until all the spinach is in the pan. 

Cook for between 5 and 10 minutes or until all the spinach has been added and everything is soft. Remove the spinach mix to a plate to cool or to a sealed container in the refrigerator until it's time to make the sandwich.

Roasted tomatoes: Slice the Roma tomatoes and place them on a sheet pan with at least a half inch of room between each one. Paint or spoon a little olive oil on top of each tomato and then sprinkle a tiny pinch of salt and ground black pepper on top of each tomato. Bake them at 400 degrees F (205 C) for 15 to 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft but not falling apart. Remove them to a plate or a sealed container until it's time to make the sandwich.

Compound butter: in a small bowl combine all ingredients and using a spoon or spatula mix everything very well. 

Store in a sealed container or wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

Garlic bread: spread a thin layer of compound butter on the bottom slice of your sandwich roll. Place the buttered piece of bread under your broiler for 3 to 4 minutes or until the edges of the bread are turning brown and the butter is very melted. If you do not have a broiler, you can cook the garlic bread in a 375-degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes to melt the cheese and crisp up the bread. 

Sandwich assembly: on top of the garlic bread layer the following ingredients: sliced mozzarella topped with pizza sauce, a couple of big spoons of cooked spinach mix, then the roasted Roma tomato slices. Finally, top everything with shredded cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of grated Romano or Parmesan cheese. Cap everything off with the top of the sandwich.

Panini process: cook the sandwich in a lightly oiled panini press until the bread gets crusty and browned. If you do not have a panini press, you can use a hot cast iron skillet with another skillet on top of the sandwich, pressing it down. Add a little oil to the top of the sandwich and to the bottom pan before cooking. This two-pan method will griddle one side and you will have to flip the sandwich, but it will work. 

Check back next week for memories

Next week I will be writing about the sandwich that I haven’t had since my wedding day. I took a vacation last week and tried it again for the first time in 23 years and then I made it at home. After next week you’ll be able to make it at your house.

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