Cult pizza, it’s in full flower in Minnesota now. And it’s all due to Ann Kim, and her Cinderella story—or rather, her Cinderella’s evil-stepsister story, which is what Kim played at the Children’s Theater in her first career, Ivy League-trained actress, before she started a second career as pizza entrepreneur. That entrepreneurship spawned Pizzeria Lola, the Italian-style, wood-fired, fancy-schmancy, fantastic-shmantastic, pizza place that's both the most expensive pizza spot in Minnesota, and the hardest to get into, and most nationally-acclaimed, earning nods from Food & Wine magazine, among others, as one of the best pies in America. And so it was that all of Minnesota was atwitter, aflutter, and otherwise giddy when Kim announced her intention to open a second pizza spot, this one not Italian pizza, but classic East Coast American pizza, the kind that is sold by the slice, the kind with the super-thin crust that you can fold in half and gesticulate with as you eat. (As in, scene! Assertive bottle-redhead jabs slice into space: “I told him, I told him, 'What, are you crazy?! Fuhggeddaboudit? Every ahson investigator in Longuyland knows that.'” And . . . cut!) So it opened, and: Plain, cute, spectacular. Walk into the cheerful little space tucked between local landmarks the Convention Grill and France 44, and you see a spic-and-span pizza counter, a few rows of tables, and some servers in black T-shirts ready to whisk dirty plates off the tables. You approach the counter, you take a look-see at the slices on offer, you pick. I’ve tried plain cheese, a fancy natural-casing pepperoni, and a classic sausage-pepperoni-mushroom combo, with house-made sausage.
In a word: Yum! Nicely crisp crust, lively and fresh-tasting toppings, exquisitely crisp pepperoni, flavorful, tender, not too greasy, not too salty sausage, just right in every way. The slices cost from $3.25, for a plain cheese, to $4.50 fully-loaded, and they’re classically big, bigger than a paper plate, one makes a good lunch, two an overwhelming dinner. The pepperoni slice is exquisite, crisp little circles of old-fashioned, natural-casing, densely flavored pepperoni that curl under the force of heat into little cups of super-flavored, grease-tinged goodness. The tender crust, slightly sweet and spicy sauce, and gently mellow cheese all work together to mark the far corners of sweet-spicy-salty-creamy that make a slice of pizza memorable. Do I go on too long about one pepperoni slice? It’s a good slice. I also tried a couple of the salads, served in big bowls to share, and they’re pretty fantastic too. House-made croutons on the Caesar, spiced pepitas on the ‘Smokey Greens’ salad, all of them tasting chef-made, not corner pizza throw-away. Eat healthy, why don’t ya?! Until you discover the joy of the meatball subs, which are definitely touching the hem of greatness. Hello’s difficult to say out loud “Old School Balls” showcases tender, well-flavored, but not over-flavored meatballs and red sauce in a crusty bun. I might be in the first flush of puppy love, but I currently feel very suspicious that this might be the best meatball sub in the history of Minneapolis, though I may have to drive down to Brianno’s in Eagan to see if I really, really think this. Because that’s how science is conducted. By eating more meatballs. In any event, whether science will prove this to be the best meatball sub in town or not, at Hello, Pizza you may add a pitcher of Surly Furious for $20, or a glass of Chianti, and as far as family dining, as far as good cheap gourmet, as far as aiming for a designated target and hitting it—dang. Double dog dang, even. Hello, Pizza didn’t just open strong, it crashed out of the gate to the sound of golden chariots tootling golden horns while twirling pizza dough overhead. Which is to say, behold my:
New and Revised Top 5 Best Pizza Slices in the Twin Cities*:
1) Hello, Pizza 2) Broder’s 3) Bryn Mawr Pizza & Deli/Fast Freddie’s 4) Fat Lorenzo’s 5) Victoriano’s, Stillwater *Not counting Black Sheep, which would rocket to the top of this list of slices if they only sold slices, which they don’t. Now the big question: Will Travail alter this pizza hierarchy when Pig Ate My Pizza debuts later this spring? We don’t know. Will bands of Black Sheep fans become so irritated by Black Sheep’s exclusion from this list that they just go, order pizzas, and stand outside selling slices? We just don’t know. Is Black Sheep in fact better than Hello, Pizza? Well, that’s an interesting question. And one I am not prepared to answer at this time. But this much is sure: We are in fact currently living during the triumphal apex of quality in Minnesota when it comes to East Coast-style pizza—and don’t you fuhggeddaboudit. Hello, Pizza, 3904 Sunnyside Rd., Edina, 952-303-4514, hellopizza.com
Food and Wine Lover’s Weekend at Bluefin Bay
Did you hear the big news? The guest chef at Bluefin Bay’s big spring wine weekend will be Judi Barsness! Judi Barsness, of course, is the legendary North Shore chef who just sold her claim to fame, Chez Jude, and thus left a trail of broken hearts from Canada to Duluth. (If you’re just hearing the news that Chez Jude changed hands, all true. Her cute Lake Superior Landmark is now called the Harbor House Grille, and is owned and run by Ed Straub former top toque at Naniboujou Lodge.) So how, now, can you get Judi Barnsess’s food? You can go to Bluefin Bay the weekend of May 3rd and 4th, when she’ll be in charge of the kitchens for one of our great state’s premiere weekend getaways. If you don’t know about this weekend, it almost always sells out, and for good reason. The views are perfect, just the steel gray majesty of Lake Superior and its enobling fringe of pine and big rock, it’s nestled in the middle of some of the state’s greatest hiking, right between Cascade River State Park and Temperance River, and then there’s the spectacular food. Course after course of wonderful wine dinner, and then you toddle to your room to enjoy the view. Go!