Giordano’s of Orland Park (IL)
Ah, the Chicago pizza war. So many passionate people. So many pizzas. On a large-scale, it comes down to three major players. Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s, and Geno’s East.
I always get asked which I think is better and I always dance around the question. To me, it’s like comparing apples. Sure, a Red Delicious and a Jonathan are both red apples, but they don’t taste the same. Each has unique qualities that make them both delicious and that’s how I feel about Chicago pizza.
J and I had an extended weekend home and she made plans to get together with some girls from high school on Saturday afternoon. It was a no husband deal, so I was on my own to do what I wanted. When I told my brother I was going to have some free time, he suggested meeting in Orland Park for lunch. J was on her way to New Lenox, so she could drop me off then the plan was to go to my parents, so I could just go home with my family and she could drive down after her girls day.
I assumed my brother would say, “Let’s meet at Portillo’s.” Instead, he mentioned Giordano’s, but the first one he thought of was the Giordano’s near Midway airport which is a pretty good drive from where he lives. I told him there was a Giordano’s in Orland Park so that’s where we planned on eating.
J dropped me off at Orland Square Mall and headed on her way. I killed time in the Apple Store until my brother called. They picked me up and we headed down the road to (almost) the corner of LaGrange and 143rd Street.
Giordano’s has become a local chain. The buildings are all pretty much the same and what once was two brother’s trying to recreate their mother’s pizza for the masses has become franchiseable local legend. This is one of those cases where the chain aspect doesn’t bother me. Unlike Uno’s, you get the same pizza in every store and since we don’t get downtown very often, it’s nice to have Giordano’s restaurants that are accessible.
We pulled in just around noon on a Saturday afternoon. There weren’t a lot of people in the dining room, but they were getting ready for a large party. The space has two separate dining rooms. We were seated in the one near the front. The hostess set us down at a table for four, but we had five people. She brought enough menus, but just assumed we could all fit around the one table. When the waitress came over, she told us to grab the table next to us. We told her if it got busy and she needed the table, they could have it back and we’d make do.
We all started with Cokes while we decided on pizzas. My brother and I wanted a stuffed pizza while my dad and sister-in-law wanted a thin crust. My mom didn’t care. She’d eat either and ended up eating the stuffed crust with us. We ordered a medium sausage stuffed crust pizza and a medium sausage thin crust. The stuffed crust takes about a half hour to bake, so we had some quality family time while watching my 18 month old niece play with anything we threw at her.
So, here’s my deal with Chicago pizza. It’s just better. It doesn’t matter where you get it or what you get, it’s going to be better. I don’t know why. Maybe because there’s so much pressure on Chicago pizza shops to be better because of all the great competition. Most of the time, J and I order pizza from Palermo’s 95th in Oak Lawn. We always get the thin crust and, in my opinion, there is no better thin crust anywhere in the world. I crave Palermo’s all the time. When it comes to the traditional Chicago-Style, I go back and forth between Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s. The pizzas are so different, it’s hard to compare them. There are some things that make a pizza a “Chicago-style” pizza and both seem to do those, but after that’s, it’s all different.
A big identifying feature of Chicago-style pizza is the crust. The crust is fat-heavy which makes it more flaky and a lot more crunchy. The other big feature is the sauce. Instead of a pizza sauce that is cooked for hours, Chicago style sauce is a cold chunky sauce. It’s cooked for the first time on the pizza. Then, of course, there’s the obvious feature. The toppings are upside down. Meat first. Then cheese. Topped off with the sauce.
Where Giordano’s and Malnati’s differ is on the last layer. Giordano’s adds another crust creating a stuffed pizza. Like I said, both are delicious and when it comes to choosing who to mail order from, it’s almost a coin flip.
About a half hour after ordering, our pizzas came out. The waitress put the stuffed pizza in front of my brother and served up slices to the three of us. The thin crust was put in front of my dad and sister-in-law and they got their own slices.
The stuffed crust is delicious. While it may be a “deep dish” pizza, most of the height comes from toppings, not the crust. The bottom crust is actually a very thin layer. It’s then pushed up the side of the pan to hold in the toppings. After the toppings are placed on the bottom crust, another crust is layed on top then the sauce is ladled on top. The sauce is what really makes the pizza for me. It has such a fresh taste to it….something you can’t get from a stewed sauce. Unlike most pizzas, Giordano’s is a knife ‘n fork pizza. It’s just not practical to try to pick it up and eat it like a New York style slice. You’re going to have more problems if you try that.
We all sort of helped on the thin crust. We figured the stuffed pizza could go home and make great leftovers. We ordered the thin crust for my dad, but he was “unimpressed.” Not too surprising. I picked up a slice and thought it was pretty good. I’m not a huge sausage fan, but I still liked it. The crust was nice and crispy all the way through..something joints outside of Chicago can’t seem to master. When I go to Giordano’s, I go for the stuffed pizza, but the thin crust is really good if stuffed pizza isn’t your thing.
The bill for five of us was just a little over $50. I was a little surprised because I always think of Giordano’s as expensive, but that’s really not bad. We all left full and actually had leftovers, so ten bucks a person isn’t bad. Everyone except my dad seemed happy. My brother was really impressed with the pizza which is what really matters since he was the one who wanted to go there. Giordano’s pizza is an indulgence and not something I get that often, but when I do, it makes me happy to be home in Chicago.