Like pizzolo Mark Iacono at Brooklyn’s Neapolitan pizza spot Lucali, the couple running the tiny Great Lake in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood makes their pies one-by-one (pinch-by-pinch) in a slow motion dance with flour, sauce and artisanal condiments. Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza have been compared by some to Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, a slightly exaggerated characterization for restaurateurs running a tight ship — and tightly edited menu. There are no substitutions!
Only three pies are available, with a couple seasonal salads thrown into the mix. Diners are left to battle for 14 seats, all first-come, first-served. So the majority of the business is takeout. On a late-August visit, our group tried two of the pies ($25-$28). A classic margarita was only that in name. The cheese, melty with an underlying zing, is a blend of house-made mozzarella and aged sheep’s milk from the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Collective. The six-month-aged Dante is a unique choice for pizza, but really works with the doughy pie. The crust is thicker than Neapolitan-style and baked in a 650-degree gas oven — so no charring can be found. There is a bread maker’s ethic in this dough, similar to Co. in New York City.
Our second pizza featured local sweet corn — lots of it. This is not the move I usually go for. But corn being at the peak of season (and one of few options), I relented. It was a wise move: the corn worked beautifully with hunks of salty bacon and pork jowl, red onions and a chive and crème fraîche base. Our three-top went piggy and completely polished off the two. But we all know that thick-crust pie is never great the next day. At least that was the logic at the time.
Great Lake is BYOB, so you can pair these pies with bottles and bottles of Midwestern craft beer. May we suggest one?