Di Noko’s Pizzeria in Nokomis, Minneapolis
You wouldn’t necessarily expect good deep dish pizza from a neighborhood pizza joint in South Minneapolis. You certainly wouldn’t expect it from a place with a gargantuan delivery zone that stretches from Uptown to downtown to Bloomington and Richfield. In fact, you might not even expect it from Chicago, since the very idea of deep dish pizza — an almost lasagna-like two-inch layering of red sauce over a heavy band of cheese and a thick (and potentially pepperoni-stuffed) crust — flies in the face of received East Coast pizza wisdom, which worships at the altar of the Thin Crust.
And yet, the delivery-and-takeout-only Di Noko’s Pizzeria is making good deep dish, and driving it all over creation.
Speaking personally, I’ve had enough run-ins with bad Chicago-style pizza to give up on it — it tends to be a gloppy soup of crap cheese and over-sweet sauce, fit only for a Hefty sack. Even the stuff in Chicago proper can seem overpriced and overhyped. But when local chowhounds began whispering sweet nothings about Di Noko’s pizza, it seemed odd enough to check out.
Quality deep dish pizza: confirmed. Di Noko’s 12″ deep dish ($13 + $2 a topping) has a strong point of view. The sauce is balanced, not oversweet, and it’s defined by chunks of tomato married to a pleasantly spiced flavor. The sub-sauce cheese layer is substantial but not unpleasantly gooey, and like all of Di Noko’s cheese, it has a real dairy kick that makes it a joy to eat. In a nutshell: Di Noko’s deep dish is the kind of pizza that will turn skeptics into converts. The only minor knock is that it takes 45 minutes to make, but that’s the nature of the beast.
And while the whole pie works well, the cheese is the lynchpin. Owner Rich Moore, who bought Pizza Joe’s in July of 2010 and turned it into Di Noko’s in November of that same year, credits the team at Burnett Dairy Cooperative in Alpha, WI.
If you’ve been to the Burnett Dairy Cooperative and met their master cheesemakers (see above: Steve Tollers, left, and Bruce Willis), you know that they mean business; that quality shines through atop Di Noko’s pies.
As for toppings: Following the chowhounds’ lead, we tried the pepperoni and sausage deep dish pizza and were pleased with both toppings, but particularly with the latter. The sausage was tender and moist and had a fennel kick to it that was a fine counterpoint to the tsunami of sauce upon which it rode.
The overall package prompts a query: Why deep dish pizza … in Minneapolis?
“I was inspired by the pizza that I used to love getting over at My Pie,” said Moore, referring to the pizza place that used to co-exist with the Edina location of the Original Pancake House. (When the brunch / lunch hour ended, the restaurant would turn over and do dinner service as a pizzeria featuring Chicago-style deep dish.) Moore goes on to explain that the shop’s name is a tip of the hat to Cafe Di Napoli and also a salute to the Nokomis neighborhood.
Di Noko’s thin crust ($9 plus $2 a topping for a 12″, $11 plus $3 a topping for a 14″) is also a pleasure to eat and far less of a commitment. For a mere $13, a Di Noko’s deep dish may provide the most food bang for the buck in the cities … but then you’re locked into to eating it for a solid week, unless you’ve got an army on hand. The crust on the thin variety is simple and Midwestern — no fancy carbon-kissing, and it’s mostly chewy rather than being a complicated chewy-crispy hybrid. But the sauce is still balanced (although far less chunky than that of the deep dish) and it’s still topped by that same Burnett Dairy Coop cheese. Add toppings with some meaty depth and acid — we tried pineapple and Canadian bacon — and you’ve got a tasty supper on your hands.
Wings tend to be an obligatory afterthought at pizza places, and they taste that way. But even Di Noko’s wings ($5.49 for six) are worth ordering. The buffalo wings we ordered had a Frank’s Red Hot-like heat to them — mildly spicy, yes, but balanced with some vinegar bite and spiced depth. The chicken itself was moist and tender, and while the exterior of the wings could’ve been crisped up more aggressively, the overall package was pleasing.
Were Di Noko’s simply a humble neighborhood eatery with a 10-block delivery range, it would be worth noting, but ultimately just a Nokomis curiosity worth visiting on the way to or from the airport. But their willingness to drive pie wherever it’s needed could be the secret weapon that turns them into a local pizza superpower — or it may just run their delivery guy completely ragged. Time will tell. In the meantime, this writer, a Longfellow resident, has a new favorite neighborhood place to order pizza from. It just happens to be located in a different neighborhood.
Di Noko’s Pizzeria
Delivery and take-out pizzeria in Nokomis, Minneapolis
5501 34th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55417
OWNER: Rich Moore
Sun 3pm-8pm or open one hour before Vikings games
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $9-17