If I lived in Elk River, Minn., Pompeii Pizzeria would definitely be one of my go-to dining destinations.
Is it the best Neapolitan-style pizza in the Twin Cities? No. But the nearest Punch outlet is nearly 30 miles away, far too distant for taming an urgent pizza craving.
Besides, taken on its own terms, Pompeii has a lot going for it: a cute and historic downtown storefront setting, hyper-friendly staffers, affordable prices and an obvious commitment to quality.
The room's focal point is a busy gas-fired pizza oven, where a constant parade of single-serving pies, dressed with either crushed tomatoes or creme fraiche, go in and out.
The crust sports a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior, its edges slightly bubbled and charred by the oven's intense heat.
The kitchen offers nearly 20 topping combinations, along with a create-your-own option utilizing a long list of anti-Dominos ingredients, including a flurry of fresh herbs and greens, top-quality olive oil and mozzarella that's prepared on the premises.
Salads are impressive for both their size and their nod to the calendar; right now it's all about oven-roasted beets, garden-fresh spinach, chunks of sweet pumpkin and crunchy pepitas. One complaint: more garlic and anchovy flavor notes for the Caesar, please.
A wider beer and wine selection would also be an improvement -- there are just four moderately priced picks in each category. Sweets include cheesecake or eclairs, but the far more interesting choices come out of that oven in the form of dessert pizzas.