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Photos by Becca Sabot
The Shroomtastic Forager from Pizzeria Lola
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Photo by Becca Sabot
The Lady ZaZa from Pizzeria Lola
Are you of the mind that when chefs take a day off they whip up some foie gras and oysters for themselves?
No, they're eating pizza like the rest of us. So it makes perfect sense that this favorite food has found its way into their professional repertoire and become a canvas for creative innovation. In other words, pizza as playground.
James Beard Award-winner Isaac Becker's basement pizza joint is called Burch Pizza, and it's essentially the pizza a chef would make for himself and his friends. It starts with a wood-fired crust that's perfect: smoky with char, buoyant, chewy, crisp. Then the pizza chefs go nuts. Literally, there are hazelnuts on one pizza with smoky pork (hazelnuts on pizza are surprisingly phenomenal: buttery, smoky, heaven-scented). Also they do raw tuna, finishing a just-cooked crust with spicy ahi, cilantro, and endive in the way that Italians traditionally finish a pizza with fresh arugula and prosciutto. And they do roast octopus, with arbequina olives and Fresno peppers. It's chef driven, absolutely—but a hell of a lot more than a fancy pizza limousine. 1933 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls., 612-843-1500, burchrestaurant.com
24154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, Minnesota 55422
First they call you crazy, then they say you can't do it, then they sing your praises—that's the roller coaster the Pig Ate My Pizza crew of lovable molecular gastronomy party ruffians ride every day. They have loony ideas. (Serving a pizza in a smoke dome? Spraying a pizza with lemon mist? Finishing a pizza with sour cream dip?) Ideas so loony you order the pizzas in question just to see if they've finally lost their minds. But then they always pull it off! Smoked salmon gravlax with fried capers, salt and vinegar potato chips, and spicy nasturtium flowers—that's a delicate whomp of good flavor. Speck, truffled peaches, pea purée, pea tendrils, and brie? That's a spring vacation no one expected. So the fun ride will continue: disbelief, denial, devouring. 4154 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale, 763-537-7267, twitter.com/pigatemypizza
Earlier this summer, the face of Pizzeria Lola owner Ann Kim could be found looming over Times Square on a mega-billboard, as part of her new connection to Wüsthof knives. After tasting one of her pizzas, you'd put her on a billboard, too. Try the Forager (four sorts of mushrooms plus two Italian cheeses make for the best vegetarian pie in town), the famous Sunnyside (dewy La Quercia guanciale with cream, leeks, and two big orange-yolked eggs sunny-side up), and of course the fearless Korean options with kimchi or braised Korean short ribs. If you're smart, you'll get your picture taken with Kim now—isn't the next step Hollywood? 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, pizzerialola.com
Tucked into Bryn Mawr is Sparks, the pizza place by chef John Hunt, known for Al VEnto and Rinata in Uptown. The secret to Sparks is thoughtful use of the wood-fired oven for prepping simple ingredients to make them shine. For instance, the very umami and deep-tasting vegetarian option of wood-fired asparagus, roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, fresh arugula, and parmesan gets its depth from wood-roasting the peas and wild mushrooms gets its good smoky flavor from this chef's insight, which is born of the primal joy of a big old oven filled with burning wood. 230 Cedar Lake Rd. S., Mpls., 612-259-8943, sparksmpls.com