Diners frequently show up in sizable groups to eat the heavy, Windy City-style stuffed pizzas made here by the real McCoy
With its name gracing more than 60 pizzerias, Giordano's is a large restaurant corporation. So you've got to hand it to the Chicago-based company: Its branding and reputation as a Chi-town classic have helped make it a local sensation. This is apparent to anyone who's visited the first Giordano's in Ohio, on Polaris Parkway, where streams of patrons routinely face considerable waits.
The affable staff in this Giordano's branch is clearly trained to explain wait times to hungry customers. After a few visits, I've become proficient at it, too.
As a rule of thumb — and expect a sauce-and-cheese-covered thumb — budget at least two hours to eat here. This span accounts for a possible hour or more to get seated, especially if dining on a weekend or other times when the often-crowded pizzeria is swamped.
It also factors in the 45 minutes or so it takes, after ordering, to receive Giordano's specialty: a heavy, Chicago-style stuffed pizza. As a courtesy to customers, and to give the busy kitchen a jump on the lengthy cooking process for its popular deep-dish pies, orders can be taken while diners wait on a table.
The spacious bar can mitigate seating delays, especially if stools are available. You can eat there or just pregame with a menu look-see accompanied by something from Giordano's modest adult beverage selection, such as a glass of Caposaldo chianti ($7.50) or CBC beer ($6).
In the roomy, modern restaurant's multiple other dining areas, expect windows galore; bright but not harsh lighting; sports-tuned TVs; simple tables and padded booths; and white brick decorated with “Giordano's” written in giant script and “Eat Pizza” illuminated by light bulbs.
I'll cut to the chase — or what the menu calls its “World Famous Stuffed Deep Dish Pizza.” These feature extra-thick, flaky, golden-brown crusts that taste and look like enormous, cored-out biscuits. Topmost on the bread bowls is a load of chunky, tart, oregano-scented tomato sauce resting atop a paper-thin dough layer. Bottommost: more thick crust.
Pizza toppings are baked inside the pies along with a virtual mountain of mostly melted mozzarella. This leads to the cheese forming extraordinarily long strands when servers — who are obviously instructed to do this — theatrically elevate slices before plating them.
The “Chicago Classic,” with sausage, and “The Special,” with pepperoni, are two specialty deep-dish pizzas I tried that also feature interior-dampening mushrooms, green peppers and onions. Both pies had attractive but somewhat dry exterior crusts (cost $20.75 for a feeds-three “small”) and are good if hardly transcendent.
I also tried a Giordano's “hand-stretched thin-crust” pizza ($14.50 for a small one-item) on which delicious Italian-style chicken sausage outshone the bland, crackery crust.
Giordano's corporate roots are especially evident in other items I sampled from its large menu. These include Minestrone Soup ($5) that probably didn't come from a can but could've; lackluster Lasagna ($10.95) with a side of spongy, salty meatballs ($3 for three); and an Italian Beef sandwich ($8.25) with tender, warm roast beef but also cold peppers and jarringly salty au jus oddly served on the side.
Salads are a better bet. My favorite was the pleasantly salty Italiano ($4.95) — an antipasto-like production with kalamata olives, banana peppers and slices of salami, provolone and pepperoni. The House Salad ($3.95) with fennel curls and radicchio isn't bad. And except for its soggy diced chicken and a long wait, I enjoyed the hearty Chopped Salad (5.95).
Waiting, and sometimes more waiting, is part of the Giordano's experience. But if you get a “city of the broad shoulders”-style hankering for loaf-of-bread-sized crusts and gobs of gooey cheese, waiting here might be worth the effort.