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Chicago Essential: Giordano's

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Giordano's

223 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60606 (map); 312-583-9400; giordanos.com
Pizza Style: Stuffed and Thin Crust
The Skinny: The stuffed pizza, perhaps the perfect exemplar of the style, justifies all of the raves; the thin crust is forgettable
Price: Medium stuffed spinach is $21.40; medium thin crust with sausaage is $13.65
Notes: 40 additional locations in Chicagoland and a handful more in Florida

Pizza lovers across the land justifiably view Giordano's as the premier exemplar of stuffed pizza. Tourists flock to the downtown locations, especially the flagship restaurant on Rush Street, while Chicagoans and suburbanites keep dozens more Giordano's in business throughout the metropolitan area.

Open since 1974, Giordano's was either the first or second restaurant to offer stuffed pizza. Nancy's (reviewed here) was also founded the same year, and both places trace their creation to a tomato-less Easter pie the founders' families made in Turin, Italy. (Read more about the traditional holiday treat here). Given the tremendous similarities between the timing, the story, and the final product, I suspect there's more to the relationship between the Boglio brothers, who founded Giordano's, and Rocco and Nancy Palese, the couple behind Nancy's. But that's a research project for another day. For now, the focus is on Giordano's, which is undeniably one of Chicago's essential pizzerias.

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I'm always amused by the two-part reaction when people encounter their first stuffed pizza. Seeing the two-inch tall pizza put in front of them, their eyes widen. Then awe gives way to giggling when the server pulls way the first slice, revealing more cheese than they've ever seen on a pizza. I'm talking quality whole milk mozzarella that's shredded in-house.

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I got this pizza with spinach, which manages to shine through the much more substantial parts of the pizza and gives the illusion of a healthier meal. While the cheese is unquestionably the most gluttonous part of the pizza, it's the sauce that steals the show. Made from fresh tomatoes, this tangy and herbaceous thick sauce packs a powerful tomato punch. The crust, made from a high-gluten flour dough that rises for about 4 days, gets flaky around the outer edge from a good amount of shortening, but doesn't bring a lot of flavor. I've yet to meet the person who picks the crust as their favorite part of a Giordano's stuffed pizza, but it's more than a serviceable platform for a craveworthy pie.

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I'm not going to say the thin crust at Giordano's is bad, but were it not for "research", I never would have considered getting the thin sausage pizza at a stuffed crust pizzeria. In its favor, the pepper-packed and fennel-filled hunks of juicy sausage are very good, and more than flavorful enough to stand out in a stuffed pizza. The cheese adds some needed fat and moisture to balance out the (now here's the less favorable part) too thick, dry crust; topped with a surprisingly small amount of thin sauce.

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Stuffed pizza at Giordano's deserves its status among the must-try pizzerias in Chicago. Despite a lot franchise locations, the chain has been a model of consistency. The current ownership group of the parent company is in bankruptcy right now, thanks to some ill-advised real estate ventures. The whole thing is so out of control that the current owner has actually been banned from even patronizing a Giordano's. The good news is the brand name remains strong. As long as the ultimate owner of the business remains committed to what has worked at Giordano's for nearly four decades, the delicious pizza should keep on coming.

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