A Minnesotan traveled around the U.S. to 700 pizzerias. Here are his favorites.
Can there be such a thing as too much pizza?
Scott Poepard has sampled the goods from some 700 pizzerias across the U.S., and he's not even close to reaching his limit.
A driver of a refrigerated van, Poepard, of White Bear Lake, rescues unused food from large food distributors in the Upper Midwest and gets it to restaurants that can use it. While hauling pallets of meat or bananas across the plains, he always makes time for a pizza stop.
In Minnesota alone, he's eaten at 360 pizza places. And he has some thoughts.
Poepard tracks his tastings on a spreadsheet, and began publishing his rankings online at trockpizza.com/pizza.
But his quest isn't only about surveying the region's pizza landscape. Trying all of those pies has refined Poepard's palate, and he has taken the best aspects of his favorite pizzas — the brightness of the sauce, the choice of the herbs, the texture of the dough, and refined them into the perfect recipe.
Scott Poepard’s Top 5 Minnesota pizzerias
Pompeii Pizzeria 315 Jackson Av. NW., Elk River, pompeiipizzeria.net
ElMar’s NY Pizza 15725 37th Av. N., Plymouth, elmarsnypizza.com
Wrecktangle 729 Washington Av. N., Mpls., wrecktanglepizza.com
Forager Brewery 1005 NW. 6th St., Rochester, foragerbrewery.com
Burch Restaurant 1933 Colfax Av. S., Minneapolis, burchrestaurant.com (currently closed)
Now, he's using that recipe, backed by more than a decade of meticulous pizza research, for good. (And he's keeping that recipe close to the vest.)
Poepard, 46, launched the nonprofit T-Rock Pizza with friends. He bought a portable pizza oven and parks it outside shelters, food banks and transitional housing programs. The self-funded project provides free, fresh hot pies to anyone who wants one.
"We're just a few people that want to give back to the community, and pizza is my passion," he said. "It's a way to spread some love and some joy to people who need it, and let them leave with a full belly and maybe a pizza in a box to go."
We spoke to Poepard about his personal favorites, what makes a great pizza, and where this culinary journey might take him next.
Q: How did you start eating and tracking so many pizzas?
A: Back in 2011, a buddy of mine and I were sitting around and talking about how cool it would be to go around to all the different stadiums and try the different food. That morphed into pizza. And that went into, "What can I do for humanity with pizza?" Then we thought, we're going to need a great pizza recipe, so we're going to go around and find the best pizza. Here we are 10 years later, and it morphed into — not an obsession, I guess, but let's take the best pizza and do that for the community.
Q: How do you decide which pizzas to try?
A: I drive for a living. When I go to a new town, I pull out my phone and say, "best pizza in Podunk, Iowa." If there's something there, I'll grab it. Sometimes, three, four, five places. I will call them all and get a small pizza to go.
Q: How do you keep track?
A: I have a spreadsheet: ame of pizza, location, city, state and rank. I'm respectful of everyone that makes pizza. They're doing it for a living, and whether I like it or don't, I don't really talk down on anybody. There are better and worse, favorites and ones I don't like. I rank them from 0 to 10, in half-point increments.
Q: Who has earned a 10?
A: I don't give 10s. My pizza someday is going to be a 10.
Q: What qualities do you look for in a good pizza?
A: I like a nice simple sauce, personally, and I don't like a ton of herbs. A little garlic in there. And just a good-tasting, well-fermented, proofed dough.
A: I always go simple when I'm rating them, but my go-to is pepperoni, black olive, green onion. But whatever you throw on a pizza, I'm going to eat it. Even pineapple.
Q: Do you have a favorite regional style?
A: I always thought I liked thin crust — Carbone's, Savoy, the Minnesota style. I thought it was my favorite. But as I've eaten different pizzas, they're all great. I don't think there's any right or wrong. New York versus Chicago, I don't think there's any debate, because you just love them both.
The surprise of styles is Detroit style. That's maybe the best. Wrecktangle, I think, may be my favorite pizza. I don't go into a place looking at a fat square like that, thinking it's going to be my favorite pizza at all, because it's so different. From the dough, to the almost-burnt cheese, it's phenomenal.
Q: Who else's pizza would you recommend?
A: In Elk River, Pompeii, on Main Street. It's more Neapolitan style, wood-fire oven, high temperature. There's something about the flavor. All Neapolitan pizza to me tastes the same. The Punch Pizza style with the soft pillowy crust. But this one, it was my favorite, till I ate Wrecktangle. Two completely different pizzas, tied for first.
Dave's, up in Virginia is just the simplest, easiest. I'll buy 15, 20, throw them into the refrigerated van and drive them home. A number of friends want them now.
All the ones you read about — the Young Jonis, the Pig Ate My Pizzas, all those are really good.
Burch, that was just a good, solid pizza. Pizza Nea. Oh, man, all the good ones closed.
Q: Was this really about hunting for the best recipe, or was that just an excuse to eat more pizza?
A: It started as that. Really, it's become a passion, or borderline obsession, continuing to try different pizzas. I don't know when it'll end. I guess when I'm in my grave.