Photo by Katherine Harris
Rushing this way and that and doing our own thing could, more or less, be said to be the American identity. So when a few hundred thousand people decide to do the same thing, it’s always remarkable. Why did everyone in Chicago decide that pizza would be unreasonably deep and rich? Why did everyone in New York decide that pizza would be thin circles 16 inches across, served by the eighth? No one knows, but it was collectively decided, and it made the cities easier to understand for both visitors and the residents themselves.
Minneapolitans and St. Paulites have been reluctant to come together under a single flag when it comes to pizza styles: The cracker sweetness of a Red’s Savoy Pizza and the Neapolitan purity of a Punch pizza have coexisted, without any particular partisanship, conflict, or friendship, for as long as anyone can remember. But something different seems to be crackling across the Minnesota pizza-scape lately, as a new crop of pizza places have thrown open their doors to debut some truly bizarre, and often fantastically delicious, new pies. Has Minnesota decided on a style, and is that style throbbing innovation? The evidence seems to be mounting that when it comes to pizza, we’ve all decided that we agree with Prince: Let’s go crazy, let’s go nuts, look for the purple banana ’til they put us in the truck!
Pig Ate My Pizza
The Travail Kitchen and Amusements merry gang of madmen recently shut down their improvisational, famous, sloppy, bold, shoestring-budget, ambitious first restaurant in order to open it in a brand-new space a few doors down (expected open date is sometime this fall). They repurposed the old restaurant into a new spot called Pig Ate My Pizza, a name derivative of the restaurant’s twin enthusiasms: pizza and all things pork, from pizza-topping sausages and dry charcuterie to appetizer chicharrones.
The pizzas . . . ah, the new Pig Ate My Pizza pizzas. How to characterize them? You know those clichéd old bumper stickers that read “No Fear”? These are the No Fear pizzas. There are a dozen, and sometimes more, and they change constantly. They tend to be around 10 inches across and are available with gluten-free or ordinary crusts. I’ve had one topped with crisp sections of farmers’ market asparagus and ramps, micro-herbs and cured pork belly, pesto and egg, and misted at the table with alternating spritzes of tangerine oil and thyme essence. My favorite is a taco-pizza variation called the Raphael in which the pizza is domed with a see-through cloche (actually, a vintage cake-carrier cover) filled with wood smoke. The dome is lifted at the table, and the smoke spills into your lap and allows you to eat some really great guacamole in avant-garde style. Another beauty is the Piggy Pie, a sweet and rich brioche dough topped with too many house-made charcuterie components to count, including sausage, ham, bacon, and pepperoni, a sweet and spicy tomato sauce, fresh herbs, and plenty of well crisped cheese, all of which come together to give the impression of a super-intense Chicago deep dish, without the goo and mess. I was less thrilled with the one topped with small mounds of micro-diced potato salad, which looked something like a southern picnic for dolls and tasted like a dish meant for a plate but served on a crust.
The spot offers two options: first, à la carte individual pizzas, priced from about $10, and appetizers and desserts, priced from about $5. The other option is to go for a multi-course chef-propelled pizza feast, starting at $25 for two people. My strong advice: Go for the feast because it allows you to sample the things Travail does best, the Chinese soup-spoons of pork loin with ginger and finger lime vinaigrette, the exquisitely delicate pastas, the hilarious and delicious desserts, especially the nitrogen-frozen banana split bomb, which is dropped into a bowl in front of you and shatters into diverse shrapnel of chocolate, cream, and fruit. If you go for the à la carte option, it’s easy to come away with a feeling of is-that-all-there-is/that’s-too-much-for-me, because of heavy, greasy appetizers like the ham-tots and the chance of ordering pizzas that are more sizzle than steak, as it were. The multi-course feast is a penny-pincher’s delight— surprising, companionable, tasty, done!
That said, this new Pig Ate My Pizza doesn’t compel trips across town the way the old place did. There’s a certain safety net inherent in a pizza crust that seems to anchor them too securely to earth: Does anyone want to hang with daredevils on their day off? The brashest pizzas, though, like the smoke-cloched ones, might remake pizza in our time.
4154 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131, facebook.com/pigatemypizza
Chef Isaac Becker has three of the toughest-to-get-into, most critically acclaimed restaurants in town, with 112 Eatery, Bar La Grassa, and now the fantastically popular Burch Steak. In the basement of Burch Steak is a wood-fired pizza restaurant, which, when it first opened, I visited and found nothing very special at. The pizzas seemed by-the-book and dull, cafeteria mac-and-cheese for the well-heeled.
A few months in, the place has become downright exciting, assuming the early spirit of 112, and jaunty: This is what chefs eat, and if you don’t like it, jump in a lake. . . . I mean, there are hazelnuts on one of these pizzas! Hazelnuts, smoked pork shoulder, wood-roasted peppers, and mozzarella, all of which come together in a way that is part cake, part spice, and exceptionally pleasant next to a glass of something dark and smoky—the restaurant has a particularly beautiful syrah list. The octopus pizza is spicy with fresh fresno peppers and a smoky crust, which together create that certain deeply chef-smart and intuitive thing that Becker at his best does so well. The tomato-free options, like the one uniting speck ham and a gruyere-rich Mornay sauce, have an indulgent, informal quality—they’re the pizza equivalent of kicking back to relax in the penthouse suite.
Burch Pizza offers a few other relaxed and opulent dishes: buttery, smoky, and enormous wood-roasted bone marrow, a romaine salad vivacious with lime and ginger, grilled asparagus luxuriating in a cloak of soft-boiled egg. I cannot for the life of me decide which of these two rebellious new pizza spots is most revolutionary: the one that sets out consciously to break the rules or the one that knows the rules and leaves them in the dust when uninterested?
1933 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls., 612-843-1500, burchrestaurant.com
The most normal of the new flush of pizza joints is Hello Pizza, the quick-serve slice shop by Ann Kim, of the wood-fired sensation Pizzeria Lola. This new spot, steps from the Convention Grill, is both preschooler-friendly and pizza-adventurer-welcoming, selling $3 to $5 East Coast standard-sized pizza slices. The plain cheese slices perch on that perfect pivot of creamy and robust and crispy, while boundary-pushing options such as Smokey the Pig (barbecue sauce, house-cured bacon, smoked cheese, and maple syrup) or a rapini and Calabrian chili pie keep boredom at bay.
Oddly, my favorite thing about Hello Pizza is not any particular individual thing about the pizza, but the whole-family, real-world friendliness of the place: The Caesar salad is first-rate chef-driven restaurant fare, the Old Skool Balls hoagie achieves perfect balance of spice and meat and buoyance, and the cheese pizza slices and housemade soft-serve are about as kid-friendly as possible. It’s heartwarming to score a table at five o’clock and watch the place fill up with families dashing from soccer to piano lessons, or vice versa, because there’s nothing more American than rushing from here to there while pursuing your own thing—even when you’re 9 years old. And this rushing is made better by pizza, and specifically by pizza that all of your neighbors have collectively decided is a food best governed by the rule: Anything goes, as long as you can dazzle.
3904 Sunnyside Rd., Edina, 952-303-4514, hellopizza.com