I came upon a review of the Great Lake pizzeria on the Chicago North Side in an article at the NY Times online edition, at http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/travel/29choice.html?hpw
. I have excerpted below the part of the article that pertains to Great Lake:For an atmosphere as quiet as Kuma’s is loud, head to Great Lake in Edgewater, on the far North Side. Lydia Esparza and Nick Lessins opened the place last year in a tiny space with a homey feel — a mishmash of modern furniture, a few seats and a set of shelves where they sell an assortment of products they like, including wooden knitting needles. (Mrs. Esparza designed showrooms for Herman Miller before plunging into Great Lake; Mr. Lessins worked in consulting.) Mrs. Esparza said that Mr. Lessins had been working on a pizza recipe at home for years and, at a certain point, the couple decided it was time to bring it to the people. The transition from unseasoned home cook to restaurant chef has, I contend, never gone as well for anyone as it has for Mr. Lessins. This summer, Alan Richman, the food writer for GQ, called the mortadella pie the best pizza in the country. Having not visited quite as many pizzerias as Mr. Richman, I can only say that Great Lake’s pies are the best pizzas I have ever eaten in my entire life.
They hew to no traditional style — neither Neapolitan nor Chicagoan nor New York. But the crusts have a perfectly irregular crumb, pleasing but not overly chewy, with a yeasty tang, and they are crisp enough to stand up to whatever Mr. Lessins tops them with. (Digression: Chicago pizza is commonly associated with the baked casserole that is deep-dish pizza, but the more prevalent style features a thin, cracker-crisp dough, cut into a grid, not wedges.)
The toppings at Great Lake are sourced with an aggressively local bent; Dante and Mona — two cheeses from the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative — have supplanted pecorino and Parmesan, and the mozzarella is local and freshly made. Some of Mr. Lessins’s combinations look unappetizing on the menu and then turn out to be knee-weakeningly good. The heirloom squash and country ham combo, for example: razor-thin curls of squash baked into the cheese, with the ham (from Newsom’s, one of the country’s best purveyors) sliced prosciutto-thin and draped over the finished pie.
There are a few caveats: Great Lake has severely limited hours (Wednesday through Saturday at the moment, though Mrs. Esparza encourages diners to call ahead and see if they’ve changed), it is BYOB, the service can be profoundly slow (pizzas are baked to order, one at a time), and waits can be tremendous. None of these things would stop me from going back.
Great Lake, 1477 West Balmoral Avenue; (773) 334-9270. Dinner, $25. (Open Wednesday and Thursday 5 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday,
5 to 10 p.m.)