Phase 1: In which Nick Lessins and Lydia Esperanza open Great Lake, a small pizza restaurant in Andersonville, Chicago, after years in other careers and years crafting the perfect pizza. They have specific ideas of the business they want to run. The place seats 12 or so, and offers three different pizzas, depending on available ingredients. 4 nights a week Lessins hand makes every pizza of finely curated toppings, taking time to carefully construct each one.
Phase 3: in which the demand for Great Lake pizza skyrockets and yelpers go crazy over long waits and pizza dough that runs out. Follow up articles ensue about customer demands, the yelp phenomenon, and the nature of business ownership ethics. NYTimes business blogger suggests they up their prices to deal with demand. Lessins and Esperanza respond they want to offer pizza at a fair price, that is affordable to more people.
Phase 4: in which after a move to Chicago and some basic research, I try Great Lake pizza. I believe many good things are worth waiting for, but I also know I do not fare well waiting hours for food and often try to avoid such situations. And as we know, I do love unique pizza places. I had popped into Great Lake out of curiosity one Saturday night and quickly turned around. But yesterday was a special occasion, and I felt pretty confident that a rainy Wednesday evening would be much more suitable. Lowell and I arrived around 6 and could’ve been seated at the communal table immediately. I do love a good communal table, but this was date night, so we opted to wait for one (out of two) of the two seaters to open up. We headed across the street to a nearby bar and just as my champagne glass was nearly empty my phone rang to let me know a table was open. An ideal waiting experience if you ask me, multitudes better than waiting in a crowded lobby with one of those vibrating pager thingies.
We ordered the salad and pizza number 3: spinach, homemade creme fraiche, spring onions, and cumin. The salad was a simple mix of many different greens (and flowers!) with pea shoots and curls of celery in a light mustard vinaigrette that was divine and perfect to share as we chatted and happily waited in anticipation for the pizza. I, being a sucker for details, noted and loved almost everything about the place, from the aprons the pizza purveyors wore to the water glasses to the linen napkins. (However, I’m not sure why, but something always feels off to me about a small “store” section in a restaurant, even if it includes Mast Brothers chocolate. But if that is part of their vision, go for it.) And then the pizza came. We tried very hard not to be biased by the hype, but as Lowell said, the pizza was a conversation stopper. We basically ate in blissful silence. The crust was at its crispiest at the center V and progressively added softness as you worked your way to the end of each slice. It was charred in all the right places and the toppings worked in fresh and perfect harmony. They pizza was a symphony.
Phase 5: The present! in which, whilst doing pizza research right here, right now, I hear they are going to begin making breakfast sandwiches, and I almost die thinking of the breakfast sandwich version of that pizza.
Lessins in NYTIMES: I think we’re making a statement about quality of life,” Lessins said. “We don’t want to feed you as quickly as we can — to crank people in and out. It’s not about speed. But people have a warped perception of what eating out means. They expect an unlimited supply of what you make. The truth is, nothing good is unlimited. The crime here is: Why are we responsible for feeding quality pizza to this city? Every neighborhood should have a place like Great Lake. Then we wouldn’t have the masses descending on us from states beyond and every suburb.”