Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review: Giordano's Pizza, Chicago

A few disclaimers are in order here:  I’m not fond of Chicago style deep-dish “pizza” in a general sense. I enjoy a fat Sicilian square, and a puffy Neapolitan slice, but it’s the thin-and-crisp Trenton/Brooklyn crust that is my go-to pie.  While it’s been a few years since my last visit to Chicago, EPBAC (Eats Pizza But Avoids Cheese) and VACK (Vegetable-Avoiding College Kid) recently made a weekend jaunt to the Windy City. 

They headed out to Giordano’s ("Famous Stuffed Pizza") in the Loop, ate some deep-dish, and brought home to me the final slice. So I did not have the in-restaurant hot-from-the-oven experience; this review is based on one slice that I re-heated at home.
Click on any pic to enlarge

Quite recently, a colleague also visited Chicago and came back with a nice report on the deep dish pie he got at Geno’s East. (Review here: Genos' East Review). Hence, I was open to the possibility that I may have been too hard in my view on Chicago “pizza.”

I took the remaining slice and gave it a loving re-heat in a frying pan, to crisp the bottom without drying out the top. It was about an inch thick, with a thick and dense crust on the bottom, then a big layer of white mozzarella, some roasted green peppers and chunks of sausage, and then topped with a layer of thick deep red tomato sauce. Kind of pretty to look at, with a dusting of aged cheese on top.

How did it taste? I’ve been seeking some kind, modulated terms. Terms like “bland,” however, don’t get the job done. While EPBAC naturally objected to the thick layer of buried cheese and VACK (Brooklyn native) felt it was “overrated,” my summary description is “crappy.”  This really was one sorry excuse for pizza, and I cannot fathom at all why folks get excited over this blob casserole. It’s gotta come in close to 1,000 calories per slice and that is really a shame that you might otherwise allocate that intake to thousands of tastier foods.

What was wrong with this pie? First of all, it’s not pizza. It’s a casserole. Now, that alone doesn’t kill it.  You might never get the wondrous alchemy of flavors AND textures such as occurs at Totonno’s in Coney Island or Papa’s Tomato Pies in Trenton, but you should be able to get the flavors, at least.  But the crust was flavorless. The cheese was less interesting than Velveeta, and that giant layer of magma never saw the heat of the oven, buried as it was under a sea of red sauce; hence, it had no chance to brown, caramelize, or otherwise acquire some hint of texture, flavor, or interest.

Ordinarily, I avoid green peppers on pizza because their strong flavor overwhelms some of the other savory aromas and tastes from the crust, cheese, and sauce. Here, however, they were most welcome because they offered the only sniff of any compelling ingredient. The sausage lacked the garlic and fennel of the lovely chunks of real Italian sausage that grace the surfaces of DeLorenzo’s and Denino’s and Pepe’s tomato pies. And, like the cheese, being buried in that deep-dish landfill deprived the sausage of any chance to get some nice oven browning.

There are several pizza joints in the Philly area that make “upside down” pizza where the sauce is on top. I’m not a fan, because the cheese needs to be bubbled and browned, but at least those east coast places have a signature sauce to show off. Did Giordano’s?  It sure didn’t. This sauce was less compelling that store-brand jarred sauce. Honestly, I don’t know why I finished this hapless lump of “pizza” except perhaps I needed to show gratitude to EPBAC and VACK for hauling it back from Chicago.

I’m going to give the crust a 3 (it wasn’t soggy, at least). The cheese gets a 1, the sauce gets a 2, the sausage gets a 3, the peppers get a 7.  Overall, this is one of the sorriest sacks of crap I’ve seen served up as “pizza.”  Not even a tourist should be subject to this. This pizza gets a “2” overall and ranks with Papa John’s as the worst stuff I’ve eaten since the inception of Pizza Quixote. My bias against deep-dish has been not only affirmed, but solidified.  

Giordano's Pizza on Urbanspoon


  1. Giordano's has gone downhill for quite awhile now. Should've brought back Lou Malnati's.

    Have you tried Chicago thin crust, by any chance? Pat's, Pizano's, and Vito & Nick's are good places to start.

    Also, several Chicago pizzerias serve traditional Neapolitan-style pie, notably Coalfire and Spacca Napoli.

    1. YES to Vito and Nick's! See the review on this blog!

  2. Hi Kingman, I was so eager to try Great Lakes thin-crust, but I understand they closed up. The other thin-crusts you mention are on my list, but I don't get to Chicago very often. I will have a few hours to kill near Midway in November - what pie should I target? Not gonna make it downtown, where I know the better pizzas can be found. Thanks for all the good tips!

  3. Update: I had the deep dish at Louisa's in Crestwoood, 10 miles South of Midway Airport in Chicago. It was superb, and changed my mind about Chicago style. See review on this blog.

  4. Seriously? You RE-HEATED a piece of Giordano's stuffed pizza (in a pan where, of course the would not have a chance to reach the top & middle of the slice) and then had the audacity to criticize it? Of course a day old half-warm & hald-cold piece of pizza would taste like crap (unless you're a starving college student!). And based on a non-Chicago bias on top of it? Do us all a favor, if you don't even appreciate Chicago style pizza, don't bother to review it.

  5. Fair enough! This review was 5 years ago - and I have found some excellent Chicago style pies since. Louisas in Crestwood is the best I have eaten, but I also enjoyed Exchequer and Pizanos in the Loop. I would like to give Giordanos another try, but this one was lacking flavor and character, even in light of the non-ideal circumstances. Appreciate the feedback, AnonSim!