5959 Main St, Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Great Northern Pizza Kitchen
Rating: [learn more]
Some of the area's very best salads and pizza slices are found here, highly customizable and served alongside soups and simple cookie desserts.
Pricey. Not every pizza or salad is created equal; some are nothing special given the prices. Custom order slip-ups occasionally disappoint, particularly in take-out orders.
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Pizza Salads Sandwiches Williamsville
"Not every item here is a winner, but once you find your groove, you'll find it difficult to go elsewhere and enjoy the same items without making reference to Great Northern's version."
As a rule, we are not impressed by mere salads, but there are exceptions to the rule: notably, the garlicky Caesar Salad at the Grand Lux Cafe in Las Vegas, the Chinese Chicken Salad at its sister restaurant The Cheesecake Factory, and - surprisingly - several of the salads at the Great Northern Pizza Kitchen in Williamsville. Part of a small chain that's best known for its large individual slices of gourmet pizza and sizable lunchtime crowds, this shop's salad prices are on the high side, but we keep coming back for more on a bi-weekly basis - especially when the crowds die down during dinner hours.
The Story: Designed to streamline customized orders from a large line of hungry customers, the Great Northern Pizza Kitchen is set up as a variety of glass receiving counters with salad components, soups, pizzas, and desserts on display. Several staffers man computerized order stations specific to these items; one person takes soup and salad orders, while another takes pizza orders, and a third adds drinks, desserts, and other items before tallying everything up.
Pizza fans can select from roughly 70 different pizza toppings, ranging from different cheeses to meats, sauces, vegetables, herbs and fruits, or go with one of a number of pre-configured, or pre-made pizzas; you can order by the slice, the medium 13" pizza, or the large 17" pizza. Salads and sandwiches offer plenty of customization options as well, though not as many as with pizzas. After you're done picking your items, you're handed receipts for your ordered items, and ultimately a total that might be a little surprising - roughly $8 per salad, and $5 per slice of pizza, such that a two salad, one pizza slice lunch for two can run around $28 after tax. As an offset, the chain offers discount cards that allow repeat visitors to knock dollars off of their orders; on average, we save $3 per meal thanks to the cards.
Highs: The Great Northern Pizza Kitchen offers a huge and almost crazy variety of pizzas. One of our favorites, the Fresh Mozzarella ($14 medium, $17 whole), is quite literally better than we've had at any other restaurant - quite possibly the best vegetarian pizza around. With mostly sweet but slightly tart tomato sauce, globs of completely fresh white Mozzarella cheese, big slices of tomato and significant, edible basil leaves, this pizza uses a delicious whole wheat dough and comes lightly dusted with specks of Parmesan cheese. Even as avowed carnivores, we pick the Fresh Mozzarella over any of this restaurant's numerous meat pizzas because it's at least equally satisfying and substantially healthier. Other people swear by the Meditteranean, which is described as a Greek salad on a whole wheat pizza ($14.50 medium, $17.50 large); the sheer number of options provides plenty of opportunities to debate which is the best.
In the salad department, we've been hooked on two items: the Nutty Goat ($7.50), which mixes field greens with colorful, sweet cranberries, apples, and candied walnuts, then tosses in goat cheese and a cider vinaigrette as tangy accents. Even when you change up the Goat with custom changes, such as a raspberry vinaigrette, feta cheese, or almonds, it remains a strong, satisfying meal in a bowl.
Also impressive is the Classic Chicken Caesar ($7.75), which as expected combines romaine lettuce with grated parmesan cheese, croutons, slices of chicken breast, and a dressing. Normally, this salad wouldn't be worth writing about, but Great Northern's ingredients are consistently excellent: the croutons are toasted to perfection, the chicken breast pieces are chunks rather than thin slices, and the dressing is intoxicating without needing to resort to creaminess for consistency. We'd rate it as one of the very best we've ever had, anywhere.
It's also worth noting that the salads are always packed with pieces of garlic bread that we continue to enjoy as a guilty carb pleasure even when we're trying to diet. For many moons, the bread was a knotted breadstick, brilliantly textured and glazed on the outside while soft and doughy on the inside. In recent weeks we've been served less impressive but still tasty slices from a large garlic bread loaf. Our hope is that Great Northern switches back to the superior original version; it made the salads' prices almost tolerable.
Lows: Not all of Great Northern's pizzas are appealing or interestingly presented; part of the issue is that many of the pizzas sold by the slice are pre-cooked and reheated to order - unless you're willing to wait 15 minutes for a fresh slice, which is always an option, though time-consuming. Some of the pizzas, such as the Mountain High Pepperoni Pizza ($12 medium, $15 large), haven't struck us as much better than cafeteria food, while others that might appeal to us - a Buffalo Wing pizza, for instance - are smothered in sauces such as Bleu Cheese that would turn us off.
A mixed high and low is Great Northern's limited array of desserts. The restaurant offers oversized, homemade cookies in several flavors - chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and chocolate chip oatmeal - for $1.15 each. We find ourselves adding a cookie or two as an impulse buy more often than we'd normally care to admit; they taste good, but we would really prefer to have more post-meal options.
Finally, we're a little concerned by the restaurant's occasional failure to honor requested item customizations, an issue that will more likely impact carryout diners than people dining in. On a number of occasions, we've arrived home with a takeout bag only to discover a mistake in salad dressing or toppings, even when we've asked for confirmation at checkout that the items were prepared as ordered. These mistakes are hardly fatal, but they take away from what could otherwise be perfect meals.
The Verdict: Despite the fact that we weren't huge fans of the traditional salad and pizza or sandwich lunch concept, the sheer quality of Great Northern Pizza Kitchen's offerings has made us into true believers; taste alone has made us willing to eschew larger, less healthy meals in favor of these comparatively nutritious items. Not every item here is a winner, but once you find your groove, you'll find it difficult to go elsewhere and enjoy the same items without making mental reference to the delicious Great Northern version. That's the mark of a great restaurant, and the reason this place earns both our repeat business and our high recommendation.