I remember the taste of Broadway Pizza from after little league games. When I see that cheesy, square-cut beauty, I can still feel the infield dirt trapped in the toes of my stirrups. I’d never argue that it’s objectively great pizza, but it will always be great to me.
As the most ubiquitous food in America, pizza gets weighed against personal history, and there’s just no accounting for taste. Even bad pizza, even frozen pizza, with the right point of view, can magically transcend the sum of its parts (see Rocky Rococo or Heggies, for example). The question is: Is Giordano’s your kind of bad pizza?
The first Minnesota outpost of the Chicago-based chain opened Wednesday in Uptown and has been flooded to the tune of three-hour waits at every dinner rush since. The staff predicts that things will settle down in a few weeks, and we’ve noticed that the restaurant is only sporadically populated during lunchtime. This is good, because waiting three hours for any pizza is slightly crazy. But for this pizza, it’s certifiable lunacy.
What usually dooms a deep-dish is the cheese — too much of it, or too low quality, usually both. With Giordano’s signature stuffed pizza ($22.25, small special), the cheese may in fact be the best part, sufficiently stringy and flavorful enough to pass. The problem is the crust — it’s as thick, structurally sound, and tasty as mortar. And it’s especially galling that a pizza that takes 45 minutes to cook arrives partly underdone. The crust transitions from rock solid, to pleasantly moist, to nearly raw inside.
The crust does a spectacular job as a presentation piece; the pies look wonderful as the servers hoist above you the first slice from the deep pie, like proof of cheesy concept. But with the texture of hardtack and roughly the same flavor, it has a strange, insulating effect. It renders the mushrooms and peppers on the inside slimy to the touch, not so much cooked as slightly warmed. The mushrooms have no choice but to leak into the filling, which is a one-way ticket on the L train to Glop City.
A return visit confirmed that veggies are a problem in these pies. A pepperoni ($17.75, small) arrived much better balanced, but with the same unfortunate crust. And if you’re imagining an abundance of meat in a “stuffed” pepperoni pizza, you’d be mistaken. A few pepperoni slices dot the raw surface beneath a chasm of cheese. In our special, the sausage was almost entirely absent.
Our advice: get a veggieless version and nibble at the interior, stopping before the edges get too thick. Then, you’ll get (at best) mildly flavored, dense, cheesy deep dish. This might be your idea of good “bad pizza,” and if it is, we can’t fault you. But at around $20 for a small — plus a potential three-hour wait, and another 45 minutes for it to cook — it’s not ours. (Note that the menu lists a small as feeding 2 to 3 people. The thought of eating a third, or even second, slice of those stuffed pies is terrifying.)
That same problem-crust isn’t limited to pizzas; it plagues the “Northside” Italian Beef sandwich ($10.25) as well. True, our expectations weren’t sky-high when we saw the sandwich on the menu accompanied by the word “beef-za.” The sliced beef remained dry, grey and lifeless inside its doughy fortress. Giordano’s “dipping gravy” tasted like little more than salt water. The garlic-Parmesan fries were McDonald’s-like, and in the context completely fine.
But the truly asphyxiated canary in Giordano’s coal mine was the extra-thin Margherita ($18.50, medium), a pie so simple, so routine, it’s hard to imagine how it could possibly go wrong. Here’s how: the strangest tasting crust in recent memory. A tanned, chewy undercoating, somehow unevenly cooked despite being millimeters thin, with a sauce that tasted like little more than canned tomato sprinkled with dried oregano. Excellent pizza is hard to produce, but mediocre pizza is easy, making this pie a travesty.
The appetizers are mostly of the “50 Shades of Brown” variety — not Sysco’s best, but also not Sysco’s worst. We liked the cheesy garlic bread in the sampler platter ($13) in about the same way we appreciate Domino’s cheesy bread. If we come back, it’ll be for a full order of cheesy bread and a tall Mich Golden Light in front of the big screens at the bar. The meat in the fried ravioli may seem to be either a Chef Boyardee-like comfort or more of an Alpo texture, most likely depending on your age. You can see the breaded mushrooms (above, center), and the less said about them the better.
The cannoli ($4) suffered from a cottage-cheese-like lumpiness in the filling, and the shells were turning the corner into staleness. Probably our favorite item was a chopped chicken salad ($6.50, starter size), a comforting, church-basement-like workup of industrial lettuce mix with tubetti noodles, bacon, and tomatoes in a mustard vinaigrette. It’s an able stab at the Tucci Benucch classic and comes up not terribly short.
Look, we know the formula: a focused concept plus great customer service can gloss over poorly executed food. And the staff was unquestionably the highlight of both our visits. From the host who had to greet the hungry hordes, gallantly informing disappointed families about the three-hour waits, to the cheery and prompt waitstaff and bartenders, all were unflinchingly courteous and helpful in the face of an insane opening week.
But with beer selections that don’t get much more adventurous or local than Surly Furious, and “craft” cocktails that include citrus Smirnoff shaken with frozen lemonade, it’s clear Giordano’s isn’t trying to ingratiate itself with the neighborhood. Perhaps with Hennepin-Lake looking more like Southdale every month, it was inevitable that something like Giordano’s would come to 27th Street. It doesn’t look like the crowd from the CC Club are the ones clamoring for Giordano’s. No, that crowd will stick with the perfectly raunchy thin crusts over at Leaning Tower, which remains the neighborhood’s damn respectable bad pizza.
This opening comes smack in the middle of a Twin Cities pizza renaissance. From the continued excellence of Lola, Hello, Black Sheep, Nea, and Burch, to exciting newcomers like Red Wagon and Big River, not the mention all the corner cafes that bake a tasty pie or two in their bread ovens, we’re overflowing with great pizza right now. And it’s not as if chains can’t be part of that — Punch being the prime example, but Blaze Pizza’s new St. Louis Park location is getting some early plaudits as well.
On our walk to and from Giordano’s, we passed by Green Mill, just a block up Hennepin Avenue. We overheard people at many of the sidewalk tables grousing about the wait at Giordano’s, and with their hearts set on pizza, they settled for Green Mill. It might surprise them to know they’d inadvertently made a wise decision.
Chicago-style stuffed pizza in Uptown
2700 Hennepin Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m.-midnight, daily
Vegetarian / Vegan: Limited / No