That's what the text from Steve said. Tall order. I mean, how do I distill the Middle Coast pizza experience down to one place? There are so many pizza places here that I like, and I have different reasons for liking all of them.
|Ah, St. Paul.|
I was able to eliminate a lot of choices by ruling out anything in Minneapolis. Sure, there's good pizza in Minneapolis. But Minneapolis doesn't have the magic that St. Paul has. St Paul is the kind of town that still has corner bars, in residential neighborhoods. St. Paul is a small town that got big. And, of course, there's the adventure of finding your way in St. Paul. I have, in the past, told people to take a specific exit in St. Paul and to then simply trust the St. Paul magic to get them to their destination.
Which, by the way, got them to our rendezvouses on time, every time. That doesn't happen if you try to actually give someone directions through St. Paul.
So I'd managed to narrow down the where to St. Paul. But that still left the question of which place to go to. There are a lot of opinions about which pizza place in St. Paul is the best. Many of them are wrong. Some are only misguided. Some are entirely dependent on the personality, predilections, and perhaps the happy memories of the people who love them. And a couple of them are actually, really, really good representations of what a Middle Coast pizza is supposed to taste like.
Because here's the thing: a Middle Coast pizza is not a Chicago pizza. It's not a New York or California pizza. The only thing like a Middle Coast pizza is a Middle Coast pizza. Thin crust, tons of cheese, tons of sauce, well-done*, and cut into two-bite squares. That's what a pizza is supposed to be. And it needs to be served in a place with wood paneling and low, low lights. Really, a pizza parlor should be little more than a dive bar clean enough to eat in.
|It's like the Platonic ideal... of pizza.|
And if someone is about to have their first experience with a Middle Coast pie, I want to make damn sure they're going to have the right experience.
My immediate thought for a good pizza place with a bar was Red's Savoy Pizza, on 7th Street. Dark. Old school. Has a full bar. And, unfortunately, has a very difficult parking lot to get in to. Worth it? Yes, I think so. But I'm not willing to make a couple of road-weary bikers deal with that mess...
My next thought was Cossetta's. I'm going to have to do a write up on Cossetta's. Many people think this is the best pizza in St. Paul. I do respect and understand their opinions, but I disagree. The pizza is good, yes, but the hassle and chaos of the restaurant puts me off. By the time I get my hot and fresh there, I just want to eat it as quickly as I can and escape. I've just now had a look at their website, however, and I see they've expanded. Perhaps the things I disliked about Cossetta's are now less of an issue. I'll have to visit again and see. But, again, I wasn't willing to drag a couple of potentially tired and hungry bikers to a place where there was a good chance I wouldn't even be able to hear them talk. Also, their style of pizza, although tasty, is not a brass-knuckled tongue punch of flavor like a Middle Coast pizza should be. It's not even cut into squares.
So, I thought long and hard about St. Paul pizza tradition. There's the Green Mill. I don't get why anyone goes there, frankly. There's Davanni's. I dunno about them, they're better than the Green Mill, at least.
|Revel in the glory before you|
And then there's Carbone's. They've been around forever. And they do Middle Coast pizza right. A quick search on Google turned up a Carbone's in my favorite part of St. Paul (though, how do you narrow St. Paul down to a favorite part?), one that has been around for a while. And, although they don't have a full bar, they do have wine and beer. So, Carbone's on Randolph was where we were going. I sent the address to Steve.
I arrived before the Road Pickle crew, and I circled the block twice looking for the best spot to park. Luckily, there was room for a couple of bikes pretty close to the entrance. I had just determined my optimal parking place when Steve and Sash rode up together on Steve's bike.
Steve and Sash's personalities appear to balance each other. Steve is friendly, but reserved. He seems content to stand back a little bit and observe, chiming in with a well-timed observation or bit of wisdom now and then. I felt like I'd met him before. Sash, on the other hand, is a pink-topped whirlwind of enthusiasm and mischief. Where Steve is reserved, Sash is outgoing. Good folks, I liked them both immediately.
I'd been hoping the Carbone's on Randolph would have Grain Belt Premium beer, because if you're going to have a traditional Twin Cities pizza, you need a traditional Twin Cities beer to go with it. Alas, they had Summit (which is fine, I guess) and Grain Belt Nordeast. Nordeast is the new hotness, it seems. I don't get the appeal. Steve ordered one to be a good sport, but refrained from commenting on it, so I suspect his opinion matches mine.
|This photo was taken at Psycho Suzi's |
just moments before Minneapolis was discovered
to have been inexplicably painted red
On to the pizza. Did I mention Carbone's does it right? A perfect circle with just enough crust to hold up massive amounts of sauce, cheese and meat (and vegetables, if you're in to that sort of thing). Huge flavors balanced with other huge flavors. Grease. Strechy, chewy cheese. Glorious, spicy sauce. And did I mention the piles of meat? There is nothing subtle here. This is how Viking raiders make pizza.
Steve and Sash mentioned that they were going to be visiting the Minnesota State Fair, which just so happens to be in full swing at the moment. It was all I could do not to spit out a list of everything I felt they needed to see and eat at the fair. Instead, I only mentioned one ride that they had to experience: Ye Olde Mill. Ye Olde Mill is a place out of space and time. It changes people. It will entirely change a person's outlook on life and the world. It's a spiritual retreat condensed into a three minute ride. And it's only two bucks a ticket. It would be cruel not to mention it.
|Fried, cheesy, covered in gravy and on a stick. |
The four basic food groups.
Well, in all of the excitement of meeting new people and having pizza, I entirely forgot to take pictures of anything except - surprise! - the pizza. So, no pictures of Steve and Sash, no pictures of the bikes, no pictures of the restaurant...
And, unfortunately, I had to call it a night fairly early. So I wasn't able to join them as they set off to find some of St. Paul's finest watering holes
Lucky for me, I didn't scare the two of them off with my bad attitude, awful table manners and general tendency towards being unpleasant. So a couple nights later, I was able to meet up with them at Psycho Suzi's.
Psycho Suzi's is Minneapolis's finest Tiki bar. It may also be the only Tiki bar in Minneapolis. Their drink menu indicates** the strength of each drink with a little cartoon Tiki man who is alternately waving, wearing a lampshade, or swinging his clothes over his head and covering himself with a tiki mug. They've got totally decent food, excellent drinks, and a generally tacky atmosphere that I just really like, personally.
|Tell me you wouldn't eat that after you'd been drinking.|
No one can resist potatoes fried, covered in cheese
and then smothered in gravy. And look, chives!
See? It's healthy!
We got a few appetizers to nosh on, which turned out to be plenty of food. We had Astro-Tots (Tater tots covered in cheddar cheese and sausage gravy, which are way better than they sound), Potluck Pickle Roll-ups, and Grain Belt Battered Cheese Curds. Really, a perfect, healthy dinner.
Over our vegan-friendly and environmentally conscious snacks, we talked about religion, politics and money. There was very nearly a brawl when Steve failed to adequately appreciate the glory of Grain Belt Premium beer, but cooler heads prevailed and I was reminded that some poor souls haven't had the good fortune I have in life, and therefore might not appreciate what it is to have had Grain Belt Premium, and then to have had it taken away for far too long, only to finally get to enjoy it once more.
But explaining my feelings about Grain Belt Premium will be a post in and of itself.
Too soon it was time to call it a night again, and now Steve and Sash are on their way once more. I'm glad I got to meet them on their epic road trip!
*It's not a Middle Coast pizza if the cheese around the edges hasn't gone past golden brown to burnt umber, and the crust ought to be charred in a couple places.
**Or at least it used to. On the menu on their website, it appears they just use skulls and crossbones now.