3 Twin Cities approaches to pizza

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 5, 2013 - 10:07 AM

A look at three very different approaches to pizza, all impressive.

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Hello Rita pizza, at Hello Pizza in Edina, photographed on 6/28/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune.com bbisping@startribune.com

Photo: .Bruce bbisping • bisping@startribune.com,

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An affection — and a longing — for East Coast slice shops encouraged Ann Kim, the force behind Pizzeria Lola, to open Hello Pizza.

Her instincts proved right. Here’s hoping that Hello Pizzas will proliferate across the Twin Cities. Why can’t the shop’s droll logo — a clever play on those awful “Hello, My Name Is” name tags — be as ubiquitous as Domino’s or Papa John’s? We would all be the better for it.

Rather than attempting to impersonate a Manhattan slice shop — a losing proposition — Kim borrows many of the genre’s key elements and filters them through her own spot-on sensibilities. A practiced doughmeister, she has come up with a doozy for Hello Pizza: a thin, chewy, crisp-on-the-bottom beauty that bubbles up nicely on the edges and holds its shape; no greasy-sliced droop here.

She also takes pains to top her pizzas with both decent ingredients and admirable restraint, two traits that rarely reside in the slice-shop world. The tomato sauce, nicely lumpy, exudes a bright, clean taste. The house-made pork sausage has a feisty fennel zing, and the excellent natural-casing pepperoni curls up just as it should, the oven’s heat burnishing its edges into a bacon-like crispiness.

The rich mozzarella boasts a fine melting character, olive oil is tantalizingly fruity and dried oregano is intensely flavorful. Olives are legions above the dreary canned variety that plagues so many in-and-out pizza joints, the anchovies sport a clean, delightfully salty bite, and the kitchen has a free hand with garlic and other seasonings.

There are a half-dozen by-the-slice options always at the ready — which can be fortified with a long list of add-on toppings — all landing in the $3.25 to $4.50 range, a tad higher than Kim’s competitors, but true to that whole you-get-what-you-pay-for adage. Whole pies are available, too, and trust me: As leftovers go, this is a pizza you’ll want to encounter in the refrigerator on a drowsy morning.

Non-pizza items include a pair of addictive meatball sandwiches, including a marvelous banh mi-esque version with tender orbs of ginger- and soy-accented pork and beef. One Pizzeria Lola carryover is the divine house-made soft-serve ice cream; get it drizzled with a buttery caramel sauce and flecks of sea salt.

The cheery, stylish setting is a (highly) idealized New York City subway station, the all-smiles counter staff works fast, and aside from a lousy fountain-style iced tea, the soft drink and beer and wine lists show imagination and effort. Now, if only a Hello Pizza would land in my neighborhood.

3904 Sunnyside Rd., Edina, 952-303-4514, www.hellopizza.com. Open 11 am.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m. -11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Robbinsdale remake

There are few certainties in life, but this surely is one: Pig Ate My Pizza is the only pizzeria — certainly in the Twin Cities, but possibly anywhere on Earth — where spritzer-brandishing servers appear tableside for a dramatic finishing touch, releasing a gentle mist over a hot-from-the-oven pizza.

It’s a hoot, and the nose-tickling theatrics are just one of the many ways in which the maverick crew at Travail Kitchen and Amusements has enthusiastically hurled headlong into the pizza-making process.

The results remain recognizably pizza-like, yet also manage to reflect the Travail formula of nuance, razzle-dazzle, innovation, painstaking attention to detail and a commitment to unabashed excess. Yes, all that, with pizza.

The menu’s signature item, “Cider Ham Rules,” is a triumph, a rapturous array of interlocking flavors and textures, all lavishly laid out on the kitchen’s slightly chewy and beautifully browned crust.

A rich mushroom purée stands in for marinara, and it’s covered in a molten mozzarella-fontina-asiago cheese blend. That’s sprinkled with chunks of ham braised in apple cider and garlic-kissed pan-seared oyster mushrooms.

Drops of a black garlic purée, tiny nasturtium leaves, vinegar-salt potato chips, a swirl of rosemary-garlic oil and a parchment-thin dried apple slice — oh, and that honey-vinegar spritz, a lingering but low-key sweet-bitter finish — complete the picture. It’s spectacular.

“Less is more” is so obviously — some might say gleefully — not the mantra here. The “Piggy Pie” lives up to its name, and then some. It’s a play on deep-dish pizza, and it starts with a crisp brioche-style crust (turns out the pan is greased with bacon fat) and a generous sweep of an herb-packed marinara sauce.

It’s a total pigfest, literally. Out comes the pork — pulled pork shoulder, pork belly, bacon crumbles and pepperoni two ways — and some of that robust cheese sauce, followed by two palate-cleansing grace notes: rosemary-infused olive oil and an out-of-the-oven sprinkle of fresh oregano. That it’s cut into smallish slices indicates that the kitchen possesses a modicum of self-awareness.

Yes, there is a danger of overkill; the fat content on a riff on sour cream and onion potato chips probably rivals that of an entire cheesecake. On the flip side, when this adroit cooking ensemble attempts restraint, it can’t help but do it with gusto.

Case in point: a gutsy pepperoni sausage lies under that wicked cheese blend, sliced pepperoni rests on top, along with the flavors of green garlic (in the splash of an infused oil) and a small garden of fresh oregano. It’s a mouthful, and it just might change the way the world — well, this corner of it, anyway — regards everyday pepperoni pizza.

The raft of uncharacteristic ingredients — chermoula, scallops, mussels, peaches, all harmoniously showcased — only underscore the place’s inherent let’s-have-fun-with-this nature. Expect to find roughly a dozen selections at dinner, and half that at lunch. Prices for plate-size pizzas range from $10 to $17.

Leave it to the ownership trifecta — Mike Brown, James Winberg and Bob Gerken — to convert their crazy-popular restaurant into a pizza joint while waiting to break ground on Travail’s newer, larger quarters; construction is set to start any day now, just down the street from Pig Ate My Pizza.

Fortunately, the kitchen’s superb charcuterie remains available, along with a short list of tricked-out appetizers and desserts. Pizza-centric (and pork-heavy) tasting menus ($60 for two, $110 for four) are also on the docket, and the bar continues to revel in craft beers and value-driven, drinkable wines.

The room’s quick makeover is all about black tiles and wall-to-wall chalkboards, with plank-topped communal tables (yes, reserved Minnesotans are forced to interact with one another) arranged to afford dinner theater-worthy views of the open kitchen and its hardworking crew.

Fortunately, the infectious Travail playfulness remains front and center. One example: Haul in a pig-themed trinket — plush toy, piggy bank — for the dining room’s ever-growing collection, and receive a free beer. How fun, and how very Travail.

4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131. Open noon-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Monday, Monday

Meanwhile, Sun Street Breads has revived the dinner service that it dropped late last year. Well, sort of. It’s a Monday-night-only event, and a short one, starting at 6 p.m. and ending at 8. During those two frenetic hours, baker/co-owner Solveig Tofte and her staff turn their formidable bread-making skills to pizza.

Why weren’t they doing this before? For starters, the crust is terrific, both chewy and light, with an almost buttery burnish and blistered, blackened edges.

Tofte offers a handful of options each week, both basics — mozzarella with basil, pepperoni — and a few ever-changing varieties. Simplicity is the key. One week she was deftly combining sweet potatoes with slightly bitter turnip and mustard greens; on another, it was a treasure trove of morel mushrooms with curly-edged kale and strings of tangy red onions.

Last week’s favorite was a pairing that normally sends me running for cover, the dreaded ham-and-pineapple combo. Not here; just a thin brush of the kitchen’s brightly flavored red sauce, and a sparing use of mozzarella, chunks of tart, juicy pineapple and a savory house-made spin on Spam.

It only slightly bested another beauty, which started with a not-timid chipotle-fired red sauce and blended broccoli florets and a hearty sausage, purchased from a fellow vendor at the Kingfield Farmers Market, where Sun Street got its start.

Let’s see, what else? Tofte pulls together a few simple salads, and husband/business-partner Martin Ouimet taps a short list of local craft beers and stocks first-rate bottled brews. The dinner plate-size pizzas run $7 to $12, the staff is super nice and dessert could mean fyrstekake, Tofte’s beyond-awesome almond-filled shortbread. In a word, go.

4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3414, www.sunstreetbreads.com. Pizza night is Monday only, 6 to 8 p.m.

Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib

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  • Ann Kim, owner of Hello Pizza in Edina, held a Sicilian pie and a Hello Rita pizza.

  • Hello Pizza in Edina, photographed on 6/28/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune.com bbisping@startribune.com

  • 1: Getting a look at the by-the-slice selection at Hello Pizza. 2: Dessert at Hello Pizza means vanilla soft-serve ice cream, dressed with olive oil and fleur de sel. 3: Classic pepperoni pizza at Sun Street Bread’s Monday evening-only pizza service. 4: Deep-dish style pizzas lined up for the oven at Pig at My Pizza.

  • Hello Trinity, fennel sausage, pepperoni and drimini mushroom pizza at Hello Pizza in Edina, photographed on 6/28/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune.com bbisping@startribune.com

  • Pizza by the slice, from Hello Pizza in Edina. From left: chicken adobo, mozzarella and basil.

  • Pizzas wait for the oven at Pig Ate My Pizza

  • The extraordinary Cider Ham Rules pizza at Pig Ate My Pizza.

  • Sun Street Breads gets into the pizza Business

  • Adobo Chicken pizza at Hello Pizza in Edina, photographed on 6/28/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune.com bbisping@startribune.com ORG XMIT: MIN1306281648252434

  • Hello Trinity, fennel sausage, pepperoni and drimini mushroom pizza at Hello Pizza in Edina, photographed on 6/28/13.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune.com bbisping@startribune.com ORG XMIT: MIN1306281648332436

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