Apples and oranges. Cats and dogs. Cumulus and cirrus clouds. The urge to categorize things is hard-wired within us. The information begins in the visual cortex and then is shuttled to other portions of the brain to trigger appropriate reactions. Our very survival could depend on it. Kitchen table or tiger? Telephone or scalding hot iron? Allowing things to scuttle into the wrong categories could prove catastrophic.
And so, when Giordano's moved into town, every food critic and pizza snob, ourselves included, howled. That isn't pizza! For the love of all that is good and holy! It might be lasagne at best, a vat of molten hot goo at worst, but pizza? No.
No, no, no, no, no.
But you know what else ought to get a firm and resounding "No"? The urge to categorize Giordano's in the first place. The question is not whether this is pizza. The question is: Whatever it is, do you want it?
To keep an open mind about the Giordano's experience means there's an opportunity to enjoy it. To be presented with what amounts to a buttery bread bowl filled with the warm flow of sauces and cheeses and meats is the culinary equivalent of watching topless Icecapades mashed up with giant panda robots while drinking flaming martinis. We don't know what it is, but we like it. Life doesn't always have to be about elegance and nuance.
The deep dish crust here is a sculptural fascination, a tremendous, sturdy yet flaky, reasonably tender picture frame for the main event. The marinara is good in that it's not complicated; it's not overly sweet or overly spicy; it's balanced and innocuous and should please most. The gooey layer of cheese is fine, though if you're the sort of pizza cognoscente who only takes yours with in-season buffalo mozz and the finest Reggiano, your nose may twitch a little. Industrial cheeses have a certain aroma, one that stands up and bellows like a drunken lout: Where's the nearest frat house, Chuck E. Cheese or frozen pizza aisle?! That said, it flows like Vesuvius and hey — it's melted cheese. It's what you came for. Toppings favor the meat-eater's palate. Indeed, there is a "Meat and More Meat" option, with pepperoni, salami, sausage, and bacon.
A meal here can hit all the lizard-brain grace notes — salt, hot, umami, cheese, fat, meats. But it's important to keep your eyes on the prize and to choose correctly, or things can easily and quickly go astray.
Since a large pie is roughly the depth and circumference of a kiddie pool, it's wise to show ordering restraint. Salads, sandwiches, and entrees are hit-or-miss, and even when they hit, they're not worth much more than a cursory glance unless some digestive system-balancing lettuces are in order.
The Chicago Chicken Chopped Salad was entertaining, with the church-basement charm of tiny pasta, blue cheese, green peas, bacon bits, and greens. Antipasti and Caesar Salads were both reasonable renditions of the classics, if a bit watered down. The Caesar lacked the biting depth of anchovy and tasted more mayonnaise-based than anything. These are salads for people who don't really like salads.
And so it can be at Giordano's — if you think too much rather than let yourself be awash, you can begin to not like it. You know how you're always admonished not to watch sausage being made? It's like that. Don't look too closely.
By day, the place is a relatively urbane, sleek city pizzeria, but by night the atmosphere is designed to turn tables. Lighting is oppressively bright in all the wrong places, the bar stools intentionally uncomfortable, the Muzak reliably shitty, and the service staff harried. Even on a weeknight, waits can stretch beyond a half-hour, and lingering isn't really encouraged, especially considering that it takes about an hour for one of the mammoth pies to arrive at the table.
In the meantime, you might be tempted, hungry as you are, to try out an appetizer, a sandwich, or even a bruschetta. Need we even say that this is folly? Buckets of deep-fried things do not make a good stomach-lining base for an entree of melted cheese gravy. But hey! You've come this far, you say to yourself, and life isn't always about restraint.
The cautionary tales: Fried calamari are like someone dropped the potpourri basket into the deep fryer — for some reason green beans, lemon wheels, fennel, and hot peppers are tossed in among the squid with wild abandon. Actual calamari is tough and off-putting, if one can in fact find any.
An Italian Market Deli sandwich is all bread, and not very good bread, with precious little of the promised salami, pepperoni, smoked ham, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onions, and Italian dressing. Bruschetta was surprisingly palatable with good summer tomatoes, high-quality mozz, fresh basil chiffonade, and balsamic glaze. But again, if you've made it this far into bready things on top of fried things before your pie has even arrived, you've already miscalculated.
Once the pizza has arrived at long last, if you've preserved your appetite, a first slice can be like landing the phone number of a long lusted-over crush. Gushy and melty; hot, soul satisfying, and electrifying. But a crush can easily turn into a drag, and suddenly, the thrill is gone. Go beyond two slices of the stuff and Thanksgivingesque gut doldrums begin to seep in. You'll have an eye out for mom's couch.
Just as one doesn't go on a bender because the morning after feels good, one doesn't climb into a deep dish for distinction. Sometimes the best thing to do is clobber yourself over the head with excess, and then, like discovering a tiger in the kitchen, get the heck out of there — no questions asked.
2700 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis