I went to Chicago last weekend for the thoroughly enjoyable Gold Peak Tea event at Blackbird. I spent three days there and I must tell serious eaters everywhere that it may have been the finest 72 hours of eating I have done in a long, long time. Chicago has become a remarkable food city from every vantage point: from ethnic regional hole-in-the-wall joints to temples of molecular gastronomy and chef-driven new American restaurants that celebrate local purveyors to just great old-fashioned iconic American foods like hamburgers and hot dogs. Over the next week or so I'll be telling you about much of the food that I found. First up is the artisanal pizzeria Great Lake. --EL
1477 W. Balmoral Avenue, Chicago IL 60640 (map); 773-334-9270
Getting There: #22 Clark Street bus to Balmoral, walk a quarter block east, or take the Red Line to Berwyn, walk one block north and half a mile west
Pizza Style: Biancoesque
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Extraordinary in every way
Price: All pizzas are 14 inches and range from $19 to $23
Let me start off by saying I am not exactly a beloved pizza pundit in the city of Chicago. In Pizza: A Slice of Heaven I pissed off hundreds of thousands of deep-dish-loving Chicagoans when I wrote that, at best, Chicago pizza is a good casserole. I practically needed police protection when I went to the Windy City to promote the book. A Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Mark Brown, devoted two columns to my heretical statement (these were obviously very slow news days).
On my last visit to Chicago I visited Spacca Napoli, which I found OK but uninspiring (at least the day I went). With Serious Eats Chicago correspondent Michael Nagrant I tried to go to Great Lake, which had just opened, but we got there at 3:30 p.m., and it doesn't open until 5:30.
So this time, with Daniel Zemans, another of our fine Chicago writers, in tow, who had already blessed it on Slice, and with Serious Eats' Nick Kindelsperger having written me that, "I had ... a life-changing pizza at Great Lakes. Some of the best bites of my life. If you haven't been there yet, I implore you to make time for a visit (it takes a long time)," I knew I had to make time for Great Lake this time around.
Plus, how could I not go to Great Lake after my friend Alan Richman declared in GQ that the Great Lake mortadella pizza is the finest pizza to be had in this crust-and-cheese-and-sauce-obsessed land of ours: "This (mortadella) pie--creative, original, and somewhat local--represents everything irresistible about the new American style of pizza-making."