Remember 2009, when it felt as if the Twin Cities was being inundated by burger chains? It seemed as if a diner couldn’t turn a corner without running into a Smashburger or a Five Guys.
In 2014, it’s the pizzamakers who appear to have all landed, en masse, in the metro area. Here’s a quick rundown.
Leave it to Byerly’s, the Nordstrom of supermarkets, to conveniently insert a better-than-decent slice shop into its midst. Well, inside two of its stores, anyway, most recently its just-opened, yup-to-the-minute grocery palace in Edina.
As the Tucci Pronto name suggests, it’s a branch of Tucci Benucch, the Mall of America stalwart run by Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (which also manages another Byerly’s staple, Big Bowl Chinese Express).
The toppings selection isn’t huge, just a few basics sold ready-made (coarsely ground sausage, pepperoni that zips with personality) and also available with a handful of familiar add-ons, including green pepper, onions and black olives. (One wish: a lighter touch with the cheese, which overwhelms the more-than-adequate red sauce.)
The clincher is the crust: wonderfully crispy and sturdy on the underside, leading to chewy, puffed-up edges. The price is right, too, with a single jumbo slice clocking in at $3.50, or two for $6.
Whole pizzas — a significant improvement over the pickup pizzas at the Little Caesars and Papa John’s of this world — start at $10.99.
As for the baked pastas, they don’t live up to the pizzas. Skip the fried ravioli. But come back for this very traditional pizza. Often.
13081 Ridgedale Dr., Minnetonka, 952-541-1414 and 7171 France Av. S., Edina, 952-831-3601, www.tucci pronto.com
A trio of newcomers all offer slight variations on the same theme, with surprisingly copycat formats.
At all three, those familiar with Chipotle will immediately grasp the ordering process, where diners can point and pick from a long list of toppings, which can be heaped on with abandon in any combination, or in preset formulas.
Plate-size pizzas usually fly out of the oven in a few minutes, and prices don’t vary much, either, typically falling in the $6-$8 range. Still, there are subtle differences, and they’re worth exploring.
What sets PizzaRev apart from the pack is its highly appealing crackerlike crust, nicely crisp on the bottom and blistered around the edges. Among its like-minded competitors, it’s definitely the standard-setter.
Other standouts include a well-seasoned red sauce, the availability of a (not bad) vegan cheese and some less-generic toppings, including arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and a peppy chorizo. Another asset is the short beer and wine list.
Dessert? Go elsewhere. Still, this is the chain to beat.
7529 France Av. S., Edina, 952-831-0337 and 525 Blake Road N., Hopkins, 952-938-2408, www.pizzarev.com
Running a close second is Pieology, which launched its first Twin Cities franchise this week. With pizza, it’s all about the crust, and this one is an oddity — it’s pressed, tortilla-style, before being laid out on coarse cornmeal, brushed with olive oil then baked to a deeply golden brown.
It’s not nearly as delicate as the PizzaRev version, but it has its virtues, the main one being the way it holds up to the crushing amounts of cheese heaped upon it.
Topping options mostly follow the straight and narrow, although it’s nice to see sweet roasted red peppers and cilantro. Instead of a white sauce, there’s an herb-flecked compound butter, and this is a kitchen that isn’t shy with the black pepper or garlic.
The grab-and-go leafy salads do the trick. Welcome touches include helpful calorie counts (1,050 for sausage-meatball-pepperoni, yikes), and the stylish chain certainly wins in the ambience department, right down to the wallpaper covered with inspirational utterances, reading material for those waiting in line.
My favorite? Helen Keller’s, which says, “The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.” Right?
2111 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul, 651-340-4096, www.pieology.com. A second location is opening at 7860 Main St. N. in Maple Grove in November.
Finally, there’s Pizza Studio. If it were to be rated strictly upon its Mall of America location, then it does well because, let’s face it, the competition at the megamall isn’t exactly rigorous. But compared with PizzaRev and Pieology, it comes up lacking.
Sure, there’s plenty to appreciate here, including the widest range of toppings (chicken sausage, nitrate-free pepperoni, basil pesto, chèvre, caramelized onions and zucchini are some of the stars) and a handful of pump-it-up flavorings that range from truffle salt to Old Bay. Kudos to the handful of affordable $5.99 options, and to the super-enthusiastic staff.
Minuses? It’s a big one. The “traditional” crust (there are several options), which came out of the oven on life support, was disappointingly limp and flavorless. When it comes to the gluey gluten-free version, well, I just can’t.
The chain’s second Twin Cities outlet (1415 SE. 4th St., Mpls.) is opening soon in Dinkytown.
Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-229-4441, www.pizzastudio.com
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