Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Why is Dennis reviewing Giordano's? It's a chain! Every idiot knows about Giordano's. Also, why am I talking to myself? I hate you, Dennis." Yes, Giordano's is a chain, and a beloved one at that. But it did occur to me that my office building is next to one, yet, I'd never been there for lunch. I mean, stuffed pizza? At lunch? That's a one-way ticket to a post-lunch nap at your desk!
But sometimes, you must heed the call of pizza, and if a guilty craving for a stuffed pie (or cheese casserole, according to all you haters out there) crosses your path, you can heed the call without having to order a giant pizza all to yourself.
Behold! There is a 6-inch lunch version that takes less than 15 minutes to prepare for you and your busy schedule. You can get your usual options like cheese, sausage, or spinach. The baby sausage pizza ($7.95) is a cute little iteration of the big papa version. It has chunks of peppery and fennelly (I know that's not a word, but I'm making it a word, dang it) Italian sausage tossed in there—not too much of it, mind you, it's a baby pizza and not a grown-up pizza. And remember, it's only available at lunch.
I love the crust on a Giordano's pizza. It's really it's own creature; firm and a touch crunchy on the outside, but soft, yielding, and bready on the inside. You fans know what I'm talking about. In concert with the concentrated and herby sauce, it's easy to see why Giordano's has such a big following. Lunch pizza? Yes please!
No big pizza restaurant can do without at least a few salads on their menu, you know, to make you feel a little better about eating a huge bread and cheese hubcap. The Greco Roman salad ($8.50) is your usual combo of romaine, cucumbers, olives, onions, tomatoes, and feta cheese, with the interesting addition of tart pickled cherry peppers. There's your usual oil and vinegar dressing, too. This is pretty much the same old Greek salad you see at a lot of diners. The pickled peppers are a nice touch, and they aren't too spicy; they just add extra vinegar to the party.
Now for the most intriguing sandwich on the menu: The Northside Beef Sandwich ($8.95). Hold onto your butts, people, because this is an Italian beef, stuffed into pizza dough, along with bell peppers, supremely mild giardinera, and cheese. Alongside it comes au jus for dipping, and seasoned fries. And I'm happy to say, the combination is pretty good. It's the same trademark Giordano's pizza crust, around the usual Italian beef fixings. The beef itself is surprisingly tender, even after having been baked into a crust.
The au jus is something I'm not sure about, though. It has a distinct nutmeg flavor to it, which distracts from the otherwise fun package. It's a strange interruption in taste, so I found myself skipping what's usually my favorite part of an Italian beef: the gravy. And an interesting note about the fries, which are pale, but surprisingly crisp, fast food-style fries. They're served with fried garlic, which has taken on a dark color without reaching terribly bitter territory. It's a great compliment to the fries, along with the flecks of parsley. I'm also wondering about the "Northside Beef" moniker. Last time I checked, that's not how we eat our Italian beef, unless my head's been submerged in the Chicago River this whole time.
I had to try the Margherita Artisan Flatbread ($9.95) out of total curiosity. It shouldn't have felt weird seeing another pizza on a pizza menu, but it did. I felt like I was cheating on the stuffed and thin crust pizza with that floozy pizza at the massage parlor. It didn't do so well. The crust was tough to chew, and the fresh mozzarella was sparse at best. However, the flatbread oddly did better in the refrigerator overnight, having had time to soften up with the sauce. Go figure, right? At least it was pretty.
So if you guys didn't count Giordano's as a viable lunch option, think again. The options other than pizza are actually something worth checking out, and you can get your food in about fifteen minutes (or you can call ahead). Just ignore the floozy pizza. She's not worth the hassle.