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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great Northern Pizza Kitchen, Monroe Ave.

Great Northern Pizza Kitchens on Urbanspoon
I’m not too interested in reviewing chain pizzerias, but as long as they’re not national chains, I’ll give them a try. So while I haven’t exactly been in a hurry to check out Great Northern Pizza Kitchen, I finally got there the other day.
GNPK is actually one of the smaller chains around, with just six locations, four of which are in Monroe County (the others are near Syracuse and Buffalo). Somehow, though, it just feels like a big chain. Maybe it’s the slick-looking logo, or the name, or the layout of its shops, I don’t know.
At any rate - what Great Northern is probably best known for is the wide variety of its pizzas. I count 42 different pizzas on its menu, and 57 available toppings (which includes 12 different cheeses), plus six separate sauces.
If you just go in for a slice, you won’t find 42 pizzas to pick from, but there will be a pretty wide variety. I opted for one cheese slice, to serve as kind of a benchmark, and one specialty slice.
The cheese slice was thin and foldable, with a medium-soft crust. The underside was dusted with cornmeal and was browned, not charred. It had no real crispness to speak of; there was no “resistance” to my teeth when I took a bite. The crust became gradually thicker and chewier the closer I got to the edge, which, finally, had a bit of crispness to it.
The dough was topped by a moderate layer of thick, tomatoey sauce. The cheese, which was applied in proportion to the other components, was slightly browned and chewy, and bland, without much cheesy tang. The whole slice was dusted with dried herbs.
I had a hard time figuring out what it was, but overall this slice seemed to me to have an odd, slightly sweet flavor. I presume the sauce had something to do with that, or maybe it was the combined flavor of all the ingredients, but I didn’t especially care for it. I wish I could explain it better than that.
Anyway, who goes to Great Northern for a plain cheese slice? The specialty pizzas are the big draw here, and for mine I got a Mediterranean slice, which had been recommended to me by an acquaintance. This consisted of a whole-wheat crust buried under a mound of fresh spinach leaves, feta cheese, whole (pitted) kalamata olives, slices of red onion, artichokes, diced tomatoes and red bell pepper.
This one’s actually pretty easy to sum up. It was good. It just wasn’t much like pizza. It looked, roughly, like pizza, in the sense that it was a more or less triangular slice of dough with toppings on it, but it tasted more like a big piece of whole wheat pita bread with a Greek salad on top.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And the menu’s pretty upfront about it, describing the Mediterranean as “Greek salad meets a pizza.” It’s just that it wasn’t very pizzalike. The crust was very soft - again, more like pita bread than pizza crust. Part of that may be from the use of whole wheat flour, but I’ve had whole wheat pizzas that were crisper and crunchier than this. The toppings were also raw, which was fine - I mean, I don’t think I’d want a baked Greek salad - but the overall effect was simply fundamentally different from what I would call pizza.
I won’t bother trying to list all of GNPK’s specialty pizzas or pizza toppings, but the menu also includes calzones, deep dish pizza, wings, soup, salads, sandwiches and wraps, and cookies baked on the premises. They also serve wine and beer, and they deliver (free within a 3-mile radius).
It’s hard to judge a place that offers 42 kinds of pizza (and a practically infinite number of make-your-own combinations) based on just two slices, but what I get from these is that Great Northern’s pizza is all about the toppings. No big surprise there, I guess. But what I mean is that this isn’t a place to go for truly great, simple pizza: pizza so elemental that it embodies the Platonic ideal of pizza in its most basic form. In other words, this is not a place for pizza purists. But if you want a dizzying array of toppings to pick from and aren’t too hung up on the semantic issue of whether it is or isn’t “pizza,” it’s pretty good.
So again, a tough one to grade. Judging this as pizza, I wasn’t too impressed, but that’s not to say that some of these aren’t pretty tasty. So, somewhat arbitrarily, I’ll put it at slightly above average overall, or C+.
Great Northern Pizza Kitchen, 1918 Monroe Ave., Brighton 244-PIES (7437). Other area locations in Bushnell’s Basin, Henrietta, and Pittsford.
Sun. noon - 9 p.m., Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.


  1. They seemed to switch crust recipes since they were Rocky Mountain Pizza 15 years ago. Slices didn't seem as wheaty and herby as they used to be. I gave them my opinion and they said they would look into it. My friends ordered a pie recently and I had a slice, which was great. Just like I remembered. Corn meal on the crust was a bit too much though. In my opinion, they were the best in Rochester. Until I try a few plain slices on their own, I can't say for sure if I feel the same today. In any case, EVERYONE should splurge and order a goat pizza. My absolute favorite combo of toppings.

  2. I assume "goat" refers to the cheese, not the meat. Or does it? Either way, I'll try it sometime.