The Twin Cities' Best Pizza
We came. We saw. We conquered the entire pizza landscape, from gourmet to greaseball, in the name of research. You’re welcome.
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Why Single Guys Like Pizza
There are only two kinds of pizza: the kind you eat in an aromatic pizza parlor with caffeinated kids in soccer togs and the kind you eat alone. Most of the pizza I’ve eaten has been alone-pizza. Because I was alone a lot, single for the better part of 40 years. And no one eats pizza like single guys. Single guys eat enough pizza to keep a lot of other single guys afloat. Pizza is a whole single-guy industry, from the acned stoner making it to the older acned stoner delivering it. It’s marketed that way, too. Red Baron: so you can pretend (while sitting on the couch in your underwear) that it’s heroic to consume 110-percent of your daily-fat allowance in one sitting. Tombstone: so you can pretend you’re a gunfighter. Or dead. I was a connoisseur of alone-pizza, though I settled pretty quickly on Red Baron Classic Crust Supreme: 24.2 ounces of sausage, pepperoni, green and red peppers, and what the package describes as low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese—the biggest pizza at Rainbow, two for five bucks. Even the instructions were dude-friendly: preheat oven to 400 degrees, place pizza on rack, bake 17 to 21 minutes. Easier than opening a bra. Pizza is the foolproof date, nearly impossible to mess up and reliably satisfying: the worst frozen pizza you ever had was not that different from the best frozen pizza you ever had. It’s all good. Like illegally good, which isn’t surprising since cheese contains small amounts of morphine and phenylethylamine, the amphetamine-like compound that’s also in chocolate. That pitiable dude eating an extra-cheese pizza alone on a Friday night is having a wild-ass party in his mouth. I’d always save a little for breakfast and eat it cold on the counter, like the party had raged till dawn. And then I’d be sated for a week or so, until a date canceled or I didn’t feel like karaoke, and I’d find myself alone again in the frozen-foods aisle, inviting the Red Baron over for dinner. You could go there right now and find a guy like me wandering back and forth, scoping the deals. The secret of alone-pizza is that you’re never really alone. You’re part of a vast fraternity of single dudes the world over, linked by the understanding that if you had to you could eat like this for the rest of your life—and the hope that you won’t have to.
The Cult of Heggies
Here’s the thing about Heggies: you either know about it and you love it, or you have no idea what I’m taking about and clearly haven’t spent enough time in Minnesota’s dive bars. Heggies pizza has been around since the ’80s, though even many of its fans don’t know how to pronounce its name (it’s “h-egg,” not “h-edge,” and often such disputes are settled by after-bar phone calls to the company’s voicemail). Don and Polly Hegedus—Heggies was based on a nickname—ran a pizza restaurant in Anoka before launching a frozen-pizza business out of their garage in Onamia, where, according to legend, it was the smallest USDA-inspected facility in the country. They supplied pizzas and countertop pizza ovens to lake resorts and bars that didn’t have a full kitchen or closed theirs after the dinner hour, but were obligated to serve food in order to sell alcohol.
Over the years, Heggies developed a fervent following yet managed to stay under the radar. Even now, the company’s bare-bones, three-page website gives no indication of where the pizzas might be purchased, besides the factory. (Their primary market is restaurants, bars, and bowling alleys, but they’re also sold retail at grocery stores and gas stations.) The pizza’s scarcity may be part of its appeal. Bar patrons have been known to greet Heggies drivers with honks, bear hugs, and beer, and take pictures of the trucks. Cops pull them over so they can buy pizza on the side of the road.
Eight years ago, when Don and Polly wanted to retire, they sold the company to Shawn Dockter, who had a career in aerospace engineering before he followed in his parents’ footsteps and became a small-business owner. During his second day on the job, Dockter says one of the veteran delivery-truck drivers called him with a problem: a customer wanted to buy five times his normal order, well beyond the company’s order limit. This was precisely the kind of problem Dockter wanted to have. He’s since moved the business to a new facility and grown the company to about 40 employees. “I just kind of took the reins off it,” he says.
The hiding-in-plain-sight secret to Heggies success is the quality and quantity of ingredients. The pizzas are piled so high with toppings that they barely fit on the crusts. The cheese is actual Wisconsin cheese. The chunks of sausage and bacon are recognizable as such. Dockter says Heggies pizzas are one of the most expensive in the market—on purpose. He has turned down requests by national retailers over concerns that they’d want him to change the Heggies formula.
On the day I visited the factory, Heggies was making chicken-alfredo pizzas, and I watched as a conveyer belt lined with crusts inched its way under a shower of white sauce, past employees heaping on cubed chicken, and then under a waterfall of cheese, before sliding into a negative-70-degree freezer. Dockter says he relies on his staff to make sure the customer gets a good value. “I tell my employees, ‘If you wouldn’t pay 10 bucks for this pizza, don’t let it go out.’”
Pizza & A Pint
20-plus taps, including many locals. pizzaluce.com
Leaning Tower of Pizza
Eight taps, from Surly to Stella. leaningtowermpls.com
A small, well-curated list with local all-stars. blacksheeppizza.com
House of Pizza
21 taps in St. Cloud and Sartell. houseofpizzamn.com
110 beers on tap. Enough said. oldchicago.com
The State of Frozen ’Za
Minnesota has nearly as many frozen-pizza makers as frozen lakes. We taste-tested a shopping cart full before naming our unanimous favorite.
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