Friday, November 5, 2010

Great Lake, Chicago IL

Dinner on Friday was to’ve been Bonsoiree but that all changed when Schwa called me and changed things up on Thursday. Frustrating as it was at first, what resulted was not only a swapping of dates between Schwa and Bonsoiree, but a later seating at Schwa that opened up an opportunity I could not pass up – the opportunity for an early pre-dinner featuring what many (including Alan Richman who took the place global on his GQ list) consider to be the best Pizza in America – Great Lake. Traveling with my sister and her friend we called ahead to find out Great Lake would open at 5:00pm and we arrived in Andersonville around 4:30, grabbed a cup of coffee at Kopi, and proceeded to wait in the line already sporting two other couples.

Standing in front of the large window with curtain drawn we could see the vague outlines of Nick Lessins and crew working inside and I explained to my colleagues the controversial Pizza-Nazi-esque reputation that has been spread across the net. Undeterred by the stories and rather intrigued by the ethics of a husband/wife team that have stayed true to their roots – cooking each pie individually, sourcing everything they can locally or from well trusted providers, and honing their craft in the image of the restaurant that inspired them (Pizzeria Bianco) – instead of selling out and compromising an operation they clearly love, I rather figured the trip would be worth the effort. As we stood and a few snowflakes fell a car pulled up and out hopped Lydia Esparza with a large bag of groceries – making her way past the now 14 person line she opened the door and ushered us in.

Making our way in the door we simply followed the line up to the counter where Lessins could be seen preparing crusts and a young man was quickly chopping the ingredients Lydia had brought. Browsing the menu on the wall there were three pizzas, three addable ingredients, and two salads available for the evening – we quickly came to a consensus and placed our order. Handed a cork with two aces it was suggested we sit at an end at the communal table.

Seated for a few moments a young man brought us water and three cups – we were left to pour our own, as were all persons providing their own wine. As we sat and chatted we watched Nick slowly prepare each pizza step by step – throwing the dough, adding olive oil, placing each ingredient by hand, and manning the oven all on his own. We also chuckled as Lydia shot down a special request (from a particularly annoying mother with two young girls who unfortunately sat right next to us) to order Pizza #2 without black pepper.

With the gas oven capable of making only two pizzas at a time we sat for approximately 20 minutes before the first two came out of the oven and watched with baited breath as our neighbors indulged. With a short line slowly forming outside we additionally started to realize the non-stop calls coming in for carryout orders – by the time we left the pickup time was nearly 2 hours. Thankfully our wait was much less considerable and the pizza was delivered to our table a mere 35 minutes after sitting down.

Delivered piping hot with cheese still bubbling our #1 with Tomato, Homemade Fresh Mozzarella, Mona Aged Cheese, Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, and 1/2 with thick cut Gunthorp Farms Bacon was every bit as good as the rumors. Ten slices in total and featuring what I can only describe as the “perfect” crust I actually burned the roof of my mouth in taking my first bite – the supple charred crust proving astoundingly chewy beneath the creamy house mozzarella and cow/sheep blend. With the spice blend nicely complimenting the exquisitely sweet and mildly acidic tomatoes and the smoky bacon adding its characteristic savoriness the totality of the pizza was exactly what you expect when you think of “pizza” and given the quality of ingredients and preparation it was that “pizza” in its ideal form.

Settling the admittedly hefty $30 (w/tax+tip) tab after three slices each we thanked Lydia and Nick (I think Nick may have even looked up from the pizza station and smiled) and made our way to the street. Having eaten a number of other top notch pizzas from ovens of wood, coal, and gas I can say without a doubt that while I often prefer esoteric ingredients there is no doubt in my mind that the crust and ingredients at Great Lake are amongst the best I’ve ever tasted. Is it the best in the USA – I don’t know, I really liked Osteria, Tacconelli’s, and Supinos as well. While some people may not like the “attitude,” I’m okay with a man (or woman) truly dedicated to his/her craft and if they want to be perfect six hours a day and four days a week I’m okay with that – perfection is worth waiting for.


Jessica said...

Wow, nice to read your review. I'm really curious to how this will compare to Motorino. I am headed to Bianco in the spring and would now definitely like to try Great Lake after reading another great review about the place.

Did you get to Hoosier Mama pies or that famous custard place?

Enjoying the Chicago posts!

Anonymous said...

I just ran across your blog today while reading another article related to a restaurant here in Chicago. I was interested in what you had to say so I have spent the last few hours reading your posts from over the years. I happen to live in Andersonville and get to enjoy Great Lake often. I would agree that it is one of the best thin crust pies I have had outside of Italy. In reading through your posts I noticed that you have been to Due's and was not to impressed. Sorry to hear that if you give it another chance you should try the house dressing on it, very different. Also you should go to Burt's Place in Morton Grove. Burt and his wife run the place. Burt is the founder of Gulliver's and Pequdod's, arguably, one of the best deep dish pies in the city as many say.

uhockey said...

Actually, it was Uno (not Due) that we went to and I think the flaw was my sister ordering a confounded Spincollini pie - who orders that in Chicago? I called her a borderline Vegan and got yelled at. ;)

Burt's has been on the list a while - I get to Chicago approximately twice a year, so I'll get there. Glad you enjoyed the blog.

uhockey said...

Hi Jessica - I get to Chicago often but have not tried either of those options, yet.

I'll be in NYC from February 17th till February 21st if you and/or any local gourmet pizza fans would like to make a little tour of a few spots. :)