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.
12 BEST OLD SCHOOL PIZZERIAS
Classic // Red’s Savoy
May Red Schoenheider’s pizza empire remain forever untouched by the influence of Foodspotting and arugula. His signature square-cut pizzas—lumpy, oozing sauce, and crowned with well-browned cheese—arrive on cafeteria trays, and they taste exactly as terrific as they did back when you were in elementary school. Red’s secret weapon is sauerkraut, its acidic bite expertly cutting through the bland drifts of cheese. • Various locations, savoypizza.com
Leftovers // Old World Pizza
Bacon on pizza is a no-brainer, but Old World’s genius was to cover the salty meat bits in fresh diced tomatoes and crisp iceberg lettuce. This BLT ’za doesn’t reheat well, but is one of the rare pizzas that tastes just as good cold as it does straight from the oven. • 5816 Blaine Ave., Inver Grove Heights, 651-455-1551, oldworld-pizza.com
Hospitality // Mama’s
“My heart belongs to Mama’s,” reads the pizza box, which also lists the pizzeria’s phone number sans area code, an indication that Mama’s isn’t much frequented by anyone outside the 651. At this North End institution, regulars, as well as newcomers, are treated like family. (On my very first visit, to pick up a pie, co-owner Tony Mudzinski was already calling me “Rach.”) Mama’s warm hospitality remains its constant, even with the arrival of menu additions such as the “New” Flavor Explosion: a meatstravaganza of sausage, pepperoni, and bacon that’s enhanced with pineapple and banana peppers. • 961 Rice St., St. Paul, 651-489-2005, mamaspizzaparlor.com
Family Ties // Jakeeno’s
Founder-and-namesake Jake Keegan has since passed the family business on to his daughters, but his inventive spirit lives on in the form of Jakeeno’s Favorite: sweet onions, salty Canadian bacon, and ground beef. Father knows best. • 3555 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-825-6827, jakeenos.com
Clam Pizza // Fat Lorenzo’s
Fat Lorenzo’s reputation centers around its hearty, meaty pies and colorful murals of flying tomatoes and cherubs. It’s lesser known for being one of the few spots in town to find a New Haven–style clam pizza, which tastes as if it were FedExed from the coast. If seafood on pizza isn’t your thing, there’s always hazelnut gelato. • 5600 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-2040, fatlorenzos.com
Relaxing // Fireside Pizza
Between the life-size plastic trees canopied overhead, the curtained booths, and, of course, the fireplace, Fireside is one of the few pizzerias with a relaxing ambiance. The kitchen bakes its thin crusts with all the standard toppings, plus the likes of Buffalo Chicken Ranch and Bacon Cheeseburger. • 6736 Penn Ave. S., Richfield, 612-869-4040, firesidepizzausa.com
Bikers & Bluegrass // Dulono’s
The lovechild of a dive bar and your grandma’s house, Dulono’s worn carpet and knickknacks appear to have been collecting dust and powdered Parmesan since the place’s inception. (One patron aptly described the furnishings as “garage-sale rejects or stuff left on the side of the road.”) But as soon as the leather-clad bikers arrive, the bluegrass band starts tuning, and you dig into a Kurtz Special, all this will fade. My waitress explained that the sausage-and-mushroom-topped thin crust—it tastes almost like lasagna, due to a hefty ladle of extra sauce—was the creation of a long-time regular, though she wasn’t sure if he was still around: “We’ve been here since the ’50s, so a lot of the original customers are dead.” • 607 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-827-1726
Kid Pleasing // Broadway Pizza
At Broadway Pizza’s original north
east Minneapolis location, not only can you watch a model train chug through the bar, but you can dine inside an authentic caboose. These things should keep the kids captivated long enough for you to nurse a craft beer while you wait for your pie to arrive. • Various locations, broadwaypizza.com
Competitive Eating // Randy’s Premier Pizza
Randy’s Premier Pizza scarcely looks large enough to contain the shop’s famous four-foot-diameter pie, whose 12.5-square-foot surface stretches well beyond most tabletops—and the bounds of good taste. The pie makes a mockery of the USDA’s portion-control suggestion; it looks more suited for parasailing than dinner. But if nine people can put the thing away within 30 minutes, the pizza is free. (If three people miraculously accomplish the same feat, Randy will cut the team a check for $1,000.) For mortal appetites, go with the deep dish, which is one of the best in the metro, sporting a robust, buttery crust and thick layer of gooey cheese that’s topped, Chicago-style, with tomato chunks. • 6030 N. 50th St., Oakdale, 651-777-1400, premierpizza.com
A Taste of Minnesota // John’s Pizza Cafe
John’s Pizza Café should be as famous for its Hog in the Bog as its pie-shaped dining room. The pizza tastes like Minnesota—or at least more so than either lutefisk or SPAM—with a spongy layer of mushrooms, wild rice, and cheese, studded with bratwurst sausage and fragrant with garlic sauce. • 616 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651-488-1922, johnspizzacafe.com
Cheeza // DiNoko’s
DiNoko’s deep dish arrives at the pickup counter in one uncut round, looking like a 12-inch kiddie pool of red sauce, and weighing as much as a baby. When sliced to reveal its geologic strata, a solid inch of mozzarella slumps out and pools onto the plate. Herein lies the controversy of DiNoko’s pizza, er, cheeza: if you believe there is such a thing as too much cheese, then this may turn your stomach; but if you love cheese the way dogs love bones and kids love candy, then there’s absolutely no better pie. • 5501 34th Ave. S., Mpls., 612-727-2424, dinokos.com
Deep Dish // Tommy Chicago’s
Tommy Chicago’s deep dish is good enough to forgo a 400-mile jaunt to the Windy City. The bowl-shaped crust is crispy on the bottom and chewy on top, covered in mozzarella cheese and a bright, chunky tomato sauce. (If you really want to stuff yourself, try the double-dough version.) • 730 Main St., Mendota Heights, 651-209-7701, tommychicagos.com
6 BEST NEW SCHOOL PIZZERIAS
Authenticity // Punch
Punch introduced Twin Citizens to authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza and taught us that good ingredients don’t need to be buried under cheese. On the classic Margherita, there’s just enough of the white stuff to balance the pluck of the fresh basil, without overwhelming the crust’s subtle smoky char. And be sure to order extra crushed tomatoes and olive oil—the wetter the better. • Various metro locations, punchpizza.com
Tender Crust // Element Wood Fired Pizza
Element’s wood-lined dining room is cozy as a sauna, warmed by a wood-burning pizza oven. The crusts come out mild in flavor and super soft, but sturdy enough to stand up to the weight of the toppings on the shop’s titular vegetarian pizza, the Element: sun-dried tomatoes, roasted eggplant, arugula, and basil. • 96 NE Broadway St., Mpls., 612-379-3028, elementpizza.com
Mozz // Mozza Mia
Edina’s hippest pizza shop has its own mozzarella bar, serving silken cheese that’s made on site. Eat it fresh or on the Meat-a-Ball pie, which is spiked with red onion and hot peppers. Then ward off heartburn with a few sips of the house-made limoncello, or, better yet, the Sgroppino, which blends the sweet lemon liqueur with lemon sorbet and cream so it tastes rather like an adult slushie. • 3910 W. 50th St., Edina, 952-288-2882, mozzamia.com
Fresh Thinking // Pizza Nea
What is a pizza without tomato sauce? And piled with a heap of salad? Pizza Nea’s Rucola—baked with smoked mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano, then topped with prosciutto and arugula as soon as it comes out of the oven—helps broaden local conceptions of Italy’s best-loved export. • 306 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-331-9298, pizzanea.com
Coal-fired Cooking // Black Sheep
The garden-level digs of the Twin Cities’ first coal-fired pizza joint, in Minneapolis’s North Loop, make it feel more connected to its urban, East Coast origins. The pizzeria has since expanded to St. Paul, where the char-flecked crusts are just as good—and best when topped with spunky ingredients, such as the No. 5’s fennel sausage, hot salami, onion, and green olives. • 600 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-342-2625 • 512 N. Robert St., St. Paul, 651-227-4337, blacksheeppizza.com
Mod Nostalgia // Pizzeria Lola
The pizza you said ewww to as a kid is back, but Lola’s Hawaii Pie-O has better ingredients attuned to a sophisticated sweet-savory–loving palate: house-cured bacon, fresh pineapple, and serrano peppers. For dessert, there’s one more thing your teenage years lacked: luscious house-made vanilla soft-serve, daringly topped with sea salt and olive oil. (Lola's owners are growing their empire by opening a second shop at Edina’s 44th and France commercial node. The new Hello Pizza will offer a different style of pie and is expected to open in March.) • 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, pizzerialola.com
Pile It On
Pepperoni is so passé. From mock duck to mac 'n cheese, here's where to find some of the most unconventional pizza toppings.
 The Reuben proves that sandwiches can make excellent pies. Umbria Pizza, various metro locations, umbriapizza.com
 Dan's Balsamic includes a splash of Italy’s famous vinegar. Pizza Biga, 4762 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-7333, pizzabiga.com
 Macaroni and Cheese makes pizza even more carb-tastic. Mesa Pizza, various locations, mesapizzamn.com
 The Galactic features homemade hemp pesto. Galactic Pizza, 2917 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-9100, galacticpizza.com
 The Rustler pairs vegetarian mock duck and pineapple with barbecue sauce. Pizza Luce, various locations, pizzaluce.com
 The Lady ZaZa piles on the kimchi for a spicy, fermented-cabbage kick. Pizzeria Lola, 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, pizzerialola.com
 The Quattro Stagioni has a soft-cooked egg in the middle. Mozza Mia, 3910 W. 50th St., Edina 952-288-2882, mozzamia.com
 Thai Chicken offers a taste of Southeast Asia. Quick Fire Pizza, 116 South Main St., Stillwater, 651- 439-7009, quickfirepizza.com
 Hashbrown Palozza is breakfast pizza. Italian Pie Shoppe, various locations, italianpieshoppe.com
Star pizzaiole and pizzaioli share their secrets
By Zoë Francois
Mike Sherwood, Pizza Nea
Mike Sherwood developed his pizza dough recipe while at his St. Paul Bagelry before opening Pizza Nea in 2002. He says low-protein flour—less protein than all-purpose flour, but more than cake flour—makes the crust soft and delicate, as does fresh cake yeast and a three-day refrigerated rise. Nea’s oven dome heats about 70 degrees warmer than its deck, so the pizzaiolo lifts the pie up to finish the crust with flavorful bits of char.
Jordan Smith, Black Sheep Pizza
Coal-fired pizza ovens are common on the East Coast, putting an American spin on Neapolitan tradition. Jordan Smith’s oven at Black Sheep Pizza uses Anthracite coal that’s low in moisture and burns cleanly at temps that can reach 1,500 degrees. Smith says his dough’s high-hydration level and flour combo creates a complex air-pocket structure and flavor, given an additional boost by a 36-hour ferment.
John Soranno, Punch Pizza
As the legend goes, Punch Pizza founder John Soranno spent three years working on his dough before narrowing it to two recipes. He taste-tested both with a group of family and friends—and then went against their unanimous recommendation. The dough he selected was fussy and complicated, but he believed it made the better crust. Soranno is such a stickler about his dough that, early on, he would close the restaurant when he didn’t like the way a batch turned out.
Ann Kim, Pizzeria Lola
Ann Kim, co-owner of Pizzeria Lola, found inspiration for her dough recipe from the crisp, slightly charred, coal-fired crusts of New Haven, Connecticut. Starting as a wet mix of flour, yeast, and water, the dough is allowed to ferment to improve its life and flavor. The sticky dough can be difficult to work with, Kim says, but it responds better to the hot, wood-fired oven.
Carrie Nielsen, Mozza Mia
Mozza Mia’s dough contains the standard elements—Caputo 00 flour, fresh yeast, Sicilian salt—and one special flavor-boosting ingredient: Surly beer. After a three-day ferment, the dough is cooked in an oven that burns oak and cherry wood.
Ismail Karagoez, Element Wood Fired Pizza
The type of flour used in pizza crust, says Ismail Karagoez, isn’t as important as knowing how to handle the dough. (He uses high-gluten Pillsbury flour, for the record.) A wood-burning oven made with Italian firebricks cooks the pizzas in less than two minutes.
Flatbread is a catch-all term for any thin, flat bread with toppings, and several metro restaurants top these pizza-like creatures with creative flavor combinations.
Red-wine poached pear with prosciutto, spinach, caramelized onion, and chevre. • 125 SE Main St., Mpls., 612-379-3138, aster-cafe.com
Sliced apples, dried-cherry relish, and candied walnuts. • Various metro locations, craveamerica.com
Bacon, apple, walnut, and blue cheese • 318 Water St., Excelsior, 952-401-7902, three-eighteen.com
Café Maude at Loring
North African spiced lamb and beef with onion, Aleppo, halloumi, parsley, and walnut yogurt. • 1612 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-767-9080, cafemaudeatloring.com
A tarte flambé (a.k.a. Alsatian pizza) of the day is offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. • 4552 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3257, patisserie46.com
Shrimp and chorizo with onions, peppers, ricotta, and baby arugula. • 215 S. Fourth St., Mpls., 612-340-0303, therestaurantmax.com
Fire Lake Restaurant
Rotisserie duck and fig with caramelized onions and Amablu cheese. • 31 S. Seventh St., Mpls., 612-216-3473, firelakerestaurant.com
Red Barn Farm of Northfield
The Making of a Pizza Farm
A few years ago, Pat and Tammy Winter bought a hobby farm near Northfield and caught the gardening bug. Soon they were selling their pickles and salsa at the farmers’ market and building a brick oven in which to cook pizzas topped with their homegrown vegetables, including eggplant, spinach, squash, and cabbage-come-sauerkraut. On Wednesdays, the Winters’ farm became a social gathering place for pizza-lovers: on some nights, they served 200 pies. At that point, the local health and agriculture authorities informed the Winters that their pizza operation could no longer be defined as a neighborhood “club.” So last winter, the family invested about $150,000 to upgrade their agro-tainment infrastructure with a new commercial kitchen and accessible restrooms. With these pieces in place, the Winters can now sell their value-added garden goods at retail, host and cater private events (“We had no idea that people wanted to get married in barns,” Pat says), and continue their Wednesday pizza-night tradition. The Winters’ teenage children, Hanna and Max, work beside their parents, picking crops and shaping dough, to help keep up with the community’s farm-pizza demand. “We can’t hardly grow enough tomatoes and basil for pizza,” Pat says. • 10063 S. 110th St., Northfield, redbarnfarmofnorthfield.com
From farms to fire trucks, these pizza makers think outside the cardboard box.
A to Z Produce and Bakery
The A to Z experience compels Twin Citizens to cut out of work early on Tuesday nights and drive 90 minutes—to eat a meal they might just as easily have had delivered directly to their doors. But the “pizza farm” experience, which A to Z helped pioneer, possesses a bucolic charm that metro-area dough slingers can’t match. Diners picnic on the farm’s picturesque grounds, eating pies topped with homegrown ingredients and fired in an outdoor wood-burning oven: the food doesn’t travel, you do. Upon arrival, some diners simply spread a blanket on the grass. Others unfold chairs and tables, setting them with colorful cloths, fresh-cut flowers, candles, wine, and stemware. All order pizzas from the chalkboard menu and pay for their meal with cash. Most pies cost close to $30, but they’re easily large enough to feed three and nearly all their ingredients came fresh from the farm—including the lamb sausage, which was roaming the acreage just a few days ago, according to the order-taker. A to Z reminds urban-dwellers that they, too, are part of nature’s cycle, as they eat their pizza right alongside grazing cattle and a farm cat assassinating a mouse—please warn the couple that’s about to set their blanket down. • N2956 Anker Ln., Stockholm, Wisconsin, atozproduceandbakery.com
The sheep’s milk cheese produced by Dave and Mary Falk is often available at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. But to get a true sense of what it requires to make an award-winning, cave-aged fromage, visit their farm outside Grantsburg, in western Wisconsin. The Falks regularly welcome visitors to their 200-acre property for Pizza by the Pond, churning out perfectly charred, freshly topped, piping-hot pies from a tire-insulated shack fitted with a pizza oven. Pack a lawn-chair, bring a Frisbee, and plan to eat like a goat. • 12413 County Rd. Z, Grantsburg, Wisconsin, 715-488-2966, lovetreefarmstead.com
The owners of the Stone Barn don’t produce all their pizza toppings (they grow their own herbs and make their own sausage), but they do offer an amenity that most of their cohorts lack: an airy dining room built on the remaining stone foundation of an 1896 farm. The compound also includes an old grainery-turned-antique store. • S685 County Rd. KK, Nelson, Wisconsin, 715-673-4478, nelsonstonebarn.com
Suncrest Garden Farms
A young family’s working farm serves wood-fired pizzas, picnic-style, topped with homegrown ingredients, including pesto that changes with the season: spinach in the spring, basil during summer’s peak, and kale as the growing season wanes. Suncrest offers beverages, snacks, and desserts for purchase (soda, beer, chips and garden salsa, homemade cookies) and is very accommodating to kids—often campfires are lit for s’more-making as soon as the sun goes down. • S2257 Yaeger Valley Rd., Cochrane, Wisconsin, 608-626-2122, suncrestgardensfarm.com
Nate Lane, owner of Thyme to Entertain catering, outfitted two vintage fire engines (purchased on Craigslist, natch) with 2,000-pound wood-fired pizza ovens to create Streetzza. The 1,000-degree ovens can cook about 150 pizzas an hour, and Lane’s team will top ’em with cheese for your kid’s birthday party or house-cured bacon, quail eggs, and arugula for your foodie wedding guests. Just don’t expect him to rescue your kitten. • 612-871-2199, thymetoentertain.com
Olives is the classiest eatery in quaint Marine on St. Croix, Stillwater’s sleepier cousin, with a respectable selection of tap beers and wine to pair with gourmet wood-fired pizzas—try the Alaskan, topped with cream cheese and wild-caught smoked salmon. • 11 Judd St., Marine on St. Croix, 651-538-2124, olivesmarine.com
Frank Galli, founder of Elk River’s Diamond City Bread, brought Neapolitan-style pizza to the outer metro when he opened Pompeii in 2010. • 315 Jackson Ave. NW, Elk River, 763-633-1222, pompeiipizzeria.net
Sven and Ole’s
The BWCA-bound know that the hearty, pillow-crust pies at this Grand Marais pit stop contain enough fuel for a trek to the Canadian border. • 9 W. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1713, svenandoles.com
Duluthians regularly make the hour-long trek to Biwabik for Vi’s pizza. The crisp-chewy crust, tangy-sweet sauce, and ample ingredients—not to mention the full bar and cozy quarters—are a few hints as to why. • 107 N. Main St., Biwabik, 218-865-4164
This pizza-and-Mexican mini-chain is northern Minnesota’s go-to watering hole for hunters, jet skiers, and snowmobilers from Grand Rapidz to Detroit Lakez. • Various locations, zorbaz.com
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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