After Surly Brewing shuttered the Brewer's Table – its upscale, multi-course restaurant – last spring, owner Omar Ansari and his staff set out to solve the next big task: identifying its replacement.
Ansari and hospitality operations manager Dan DiNovis and chef Ben Peine mulled a taco concept. They toyed with the idea of barbecue. Then came the winner: a pizza joint.
"When it came up it was just like yeah, pizza and beer," Ansari said. "That's kind of a natural. It's not hard to explain."
Surly Pizza Upstairs, which specializes in New Haven-style pies, will debut Friday in the newly brightened space upstairs from Surly's beer hall in Minneapolis.
The pizzas, made with the same Dry English Ale Yeast used to make Surly's beer, are all named after a movie or TV reference involving a saucy pie.
There's the Walter White – graced with garlic, parmesan, rosemary and paper-thin potato slices – named for the scene in "Breaking Bad" in which the namesake character tosses a pizza on the roof of his house. There's the 4 Stars, a fig and prosciutto pie with ricotta, blue cheese and arugula, named for the television review in "Mystic Pizza." And you can't forget the Spicoli, fennel sausage and grilled radicchio with red sauce, named for a character in "Fast times at Ridgemont High" that orders a pizza from class.
"New Haven-style," by the way, essentially means it's a thinner crust cooked in high heat with a bit of char. Its claim to fame: two old-school pizzerias – Frank Pepe's and Sally's – on tiny Wooster street, boasting what they call apizza.
Looking for the New Haven signature clam pizza? You won't find it here. It's just the style that Surly is seizing on, not so much the toppings.
"We think of it as a dirty Neapolitan style," said Ansari, pictured above. "You can't take the pizza out of the place, but you can be inspired by it."
Diners will get a view of the action in the process; the open kitchen, including the wood-burning oven, extends along the back wall, which serves as the ordering counter. Guests can select their food, find a table and listen to hear their order number called.
The menu also boasts a handful of apps: oysters on the half shell – which will be offered at half price on Mondays – as well as a garlic-and-parm baked variety, giardiniera, meatballs, a few salads and a handful of desserts.
And of course, there is no shortage of Surly beer. The large bar in the middle of the space sports 10 taps, and 16-ounce cans can also be purchased at the pizza counter.
It's a far cry from its predecessor, Brewer's Table, which was run by James Beard nominee Jorge Guzman and the definition of fine dining. Menus were prix fixe and pricey; there were only a handful of seatings and it was an experience vs. a quick stop. Everything about Surly Pizza Upstairs, from the ordering process to the 7 percent service fee implemented in lieu of a tip model, screams fast casual.
"I felt like we accomplished what we set out to do – to show all that we can do with beer and food and high-end pairings," Ansari said. "But I remember coming back from the Beards and there were 10 people here, and downstairs there was an hour and a half wait.
"At that point I was like 'What am I trying to prove? At the end of the day, we want to give our customers what they want."
Surly Pizza Upstairs, 520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., opens this Friday and will be open Mondays through Thursdays, from 4-10 p.m., Fridays from 4-11 p.m., Saturdays from noon-11 p.m. and Sundays from noon-10 p.m.
(Photos by Tom Horgen)