Meeting Minnesota Pizza

As far as trendy foodie obsessions go, I am more of a pizza guy than a hamburger guy. I’m not as die-hard as some, but I have observed a number of the pizza-nerd pieties: I’ve eaten D.O.C. Pizza Margherita at Antica Pizzeria dell’Arte. I’ve waited two hours in line to try Roman pizza at Da Baffetto. During a short trip to New Haven, I ate at both Frank Pepe and Modern Apizza. I once walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in 100° weather and spent all the cash in my wallet to eat at Grimaldi’s. I have also spent a significant amount of time trying to perfect Neapolitan pizza in my home oven; some of these efforts are documented on this very blog.

Minneapolis, my home of one and a half years, is not known as a pizza city, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the pizza available here. First and foremost there is Punch Pizza, which makes the best pizza I have ever had outside of Italy–possibly even inside of Italy. I have eaten at Punch more times than anywhere else;we are very lucky in the Twin Cities to have not just one  great Neapolitan pizzeria, but a whole chain of them. I have also tried and enjoyed Galactic Pizza, which has the advantage of being close to my house and delivered in electric cars by superheroes.

My preferences in pizza run strongly Italian, but I’m definitely not one of those jerks who doesn’t consider deep-dish to be real pizza (in fact I strongly recommend the deep dish from Little Star in San Francisco). I like to keep an open mind; Dara’s pizza personality test classified me as ANCS-The Different Drummer. Apparently my  ideal Twin Cities pizza comes from Crescent Moon. I have yet to take the Afghan pizza plunge, I do like to try as many different kinds of pizza as I can. With that attitude of openness and thirst for discovery, this afternoon I tried for the first time what I have heard referred to as “Minnesota-style” pizza, courtesy of Red’s Savoy Pizza.

Red's Savoy Uptown

I’ll admit that my decision to try Red’s was largely a matter of convenience; I had been somewhat intrigued by the restaurant after reading a review on Slice, but it was not until they opened a location in the Golooney’s space only a few blocks from my apartment that I decided I would go and try it. I walked there, ordered a sausage pie (for control purposes, when tasting a new non-Neapolitan pizza I order sausage or pepproni, for Neapolitan pizzas Margherita) and after waiting a while I eagerly walked home with a piping hot pie.

The pizza box fills me with anticipation

Opening the box, I made two observations: one, this pizza was cut into squares. Apparently, that is a Minnesota thing–maybe they wanted make pizza more like bars. The problem with cutting a pizza into squares is that it creates awkward little corner pieces and a number of pieces that don’t have any crust to serve as a handle, necessitating the use of a fork. I was also surprised to see the giant brown spots in the center of the pizza; at first I thought they were some unrequested topping but then realized it was just huge swaths browned cheese.

WTF are those huge brown patches??! AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

CrustCrust. If I had to compare the crust of Red’s Savoy’s pizza to any, I’d say it reminded me most of cheap frozen pizza crust. That is not a bad thing; I like cheap frozen pizza. And I’m not saying that it was actually frozen: I saw them tossing the fresh dough. Whatever is in that dough, it produces no puffy cornicione; rather, the crust is cracker thin and quite crispy and burnt on the edge. As one approaches the center, the crust becomes soggier, chewier and more cardboard-like.  Charring was limited to the edge, with the rest of the crust a pale brown. The crust was more of a vehicle for the toppings than an end in itself, but I did really enjoy the crispiness of the edges. I also thought it was overfloured, but I can forgive that because I am myself often guilty of using ample flour to ensure smooth separation of the dough from the peel. Still, raw flour isn’t especially tasty.

She got sauceSauce. This pizza is heavily sauced, so much so  that great pools of the stuff are visible on the edges and spill onto the pizza box. That’s okay since the sauce is delicious; very thick and meaty, like a red sauce you would eat on spaghetti rather than a pizza sauce. Its texture at times was almost squishy. It had good flavor: a little cooked-tasting but pleasantly spicy.

SO MUCH CHEESE Cheese. The first thing to be said about cheese on this pizza is that there is a lot of it. I mean a lot of it. There is so much cheese that it bonds with the box and slips off of the crust as you try to pull a piece a way. There is so much cheese that it forms its own super-layer that is independent of the rest of the pizza. In fact, if there is one thing that seemed to distinguish this style of pizza it is the amount of cheese. As long as the cheese remained warm and gooey it was good and comforting but it became a bit disconcerting as it started to congeal. Must eat faster!

Sausage. The sausage was spicy and had the right amount of grease, which is to say plenty of grease. Red’s puts toppings on top of the sauce and covers the whole thing with cheese, rather than putting toppings on top of the cheese. I favor the latter approach since I think it actually binds the toppings in better (the cheese bubbles up around them). As it was, it was hard to keep the toppings and cheese on top of the crust without using a fork.

Layer of crust, sausage, layer of cheese, but little unity.

From the breakdown above you might get the idea that I didn’t like Red’s Savoy pizza, but actually I thought it was pretty good; definitely a case where the experience of eating it makes it more than the sum of its parts. Red’s Savoy probably won’t unseat Punch in terms of my favorite pizza in the Twin Cities, but I would eat it again. Particularly if I had been drinking. Based on this experience, my overall impression of ‘Minnesota’ pizza is: cracker thin crust, lots of sauce and even more cheese, and squares.


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7 comments on “Meeting Minnesota Pizza”

  1. Martha 29 June, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I want to eat this. But I think I want to eat Punch tonight.

  2. Lily 29 June, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    You should really try Red’s in St. Paul–it’s SO much better! I’ve heard rumors that the Uptown location is owned by different people who just paid to use the name, maybe they’re just working out the kinks at the new spot, but seriously, try the one in St. Paul.

  3. bearing 30 June, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Hmm. It looks a lot like Dayton-Ohio-style pizza to me — that’s where I’m from originally — right down to the square cut, which I like. The big difference I can see is that back in Dayton, the pizza peel release agent was coarse cornmeal, not flour, which works better because raw cornmeal doesn’t have the raw taste of flour and adds a bit of crunchiness to the bottom of the crust. I would expect slightly less sauce, too. Otherwise that pizza looks a lot like home. I might have to stop up there and check it out!

  4. Chuck Terhark 30 June, 2009 at 11:40 am

    An overly long, loving treatise on this very subject was published in METRO last January:

  5. Casey 30 June, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Hey Guys- Very nice article, Tom. I think you have captured the heart and soul of MN pizza which actually makes me a little sad (sob)…to think you could summarize it so eloquently after only one pizza, perhaps it’s a more shallow and less hallowed regional treat than I thought it was. Definitely to be found in all bowling and drinking establishments in our fair state. The lack of stability and adhesion between strata is a big problem indeed- the slippy spaghetti sauce necessitates lots o’ napkins. Worse than ribs really. Do you think it’s possible that the meat under the cheese makes it saltier? The level of sodium is really off the charts in those kind of pizzas. Indeed, the Lowertown location is not to be missed for its “charm” (a little sketch- definitely adds to the food experience). Plus you can get a t-shirt, I get a lot of use out of mine.

  6. Tom 30 June, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Lily- That’s interesting about the possibility of different management; the sign says “Original” on it. Might this be the making of a Minneapolis Famous Ray’s-type controversy? In any case, I will have to at some point make the trek to St. Paul to try the original original.

    bearing- I also prefer cornmeal as a peel lubricant, though I think pizza purists would complain about the addition of a new grain. Then again, nothing about this style of pizza suggests any concern for ‘purity’.

    Chuck- I really enjoyed your article; Peter Reinhart’s book was a big influence on me (as you can probably tell from the list of pizzerias in the first paragraph; he recommends almost all of them). Interesting to know that Broadway is such an important Minnesota pizzeria; it is my Northside workplace’s pizza of choice.

    Casey- Yes, I can see the need for napkins in a bar-like environment, but luckily I was in the safety of my own home and had access to a fork. It was still pretty mess though. I don’t think the sodium level is affected by where they put the toppings; I think it’s pretty well established by the fact that the pizza is loaded with tons of (inexpensive?) cheese and cured meats.

  7. jane 1 July, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I’m from MN but only occasionally have had square-cut pizza. I do like it, for some reason. Recently it occurred to me I could cut pizza I make at home into squares, and pathetically, that makes me really happy.

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