Pizzeria Lola in Armatage, Minneapolis
The new Pizzeria Lola is barely open, and it’s already packed. In fact, if the initial weeks of business, food, and service are indicative of the restaurant’s trajectory, it will be probably be scouting around to open second and third new locations sometime in late 2011.
They’ve earned it; the pizza is unambiguously good.
It’s worth noting that pizza, like hamburgers, pie, and bagels, is a food that lends itself to eternal deconstruction and debate. It’s a deceptively complicated thing that can be interpreted in a hundred different styles, and the lines between “I personally like it,” “It’s objectively good,” and “It’s authentic” are numerous and always up for discussion.
Therefore, if I write that the newly opened Pizzeria Lola is one of the three best pizzerias in the Twin Cities (along with Black Sheep and Pizza Nea), I understand and sympathize with the coming counterattack. (Punch partisans will likely be leading the angry mob.) But it’s written, so let’s deal with it.
Here’s a quick summary of what’s great about Lola. First of all, they’ve got a Le Panyol oven. It’s a big, gorgeous, wood-fired copper monstrosity that must certainly be among the loveliest pieces of working kitchen equipment in the Twin Cities. It’s also made with Terre Blanche clay from France, oft-praised for its kickass thermal properties. The oven is the understandable focal point of the restaurant’s design, which is warm and modern with charming touches such as coffee-can light fixtures and vintage cigarette boxes in lieu of leather folders for the check.
The restaurant also boasts a lovely, lovely pizza crust, the key to pizza bliss. It’s exceedingly chewy while retaining crispiness, and while it could be more carbon-kissed (as per my own preference), the oven does give it some nice spots of browning. It’s also got a perfect level of salt — you can taste the salt, but it doesn’t crowd out other flavors or parch your mouth.
Here’s one subjective breakdown of bad versus good versus great crust: After you eat a slice of pizza, bad crust gets discarded, tossed aside like chicken bones. Good crust gets finished. Great crust is eagerly anticipated, a reward even after you’ve polished off the deliciously cheesy and saucy bits of any given piece of pizza. Pizzeria Lola has great crust.
City Pages described the restaurant’s co-owner, Ann Kim, as a pizzaiola certified by the International School of Pizza, the only school in the United States affiliated with the Scuola Italiana Pizzaiolo in Italy. Credentials like these always warrant further investigation, but if Kim’s output at Lola is indicative of what they’re teaching, it’s a degree worth being proud of.
The ingredients at Lola also merit a mention. A touch of real parmigiano-reggiano on the Caesar salad brought an already good salad to a new level; the use of La Quercia meat products on various menu items is both high class and regionally appropriate. The fancy stuff is used sparingly, and to great effect, as a way to finish a piece of pizza as opposed to crushing or dominating it. (The fig and prosciutto pizza at the newly opened Mozza Mia also uses La Quercia meat, but in such quantity that the saltiness of the meat crushed any flavor from the cheese, and overwhelmed the sweet depth of the figs.)
In an effort to thoroughly review Lola… and, hell, because we fell in love with it, the Heavy Table staff turned this place into our unofficial clubhouse. We ordered up and down the menu, meeting consistently good results — “OK” was about as bad as it got, and “superb” was not an unusual verdict to hear. A Caesar salad ($10) was classic, well-balanced, and perfectly seasoned; The Breakfast pizza ($15) combined La Quercia guanciale, pecorino, cream, green onion, pepper, and a very soft egg to make a rich and swoon-worthy dish; a Boise (with still-crisp disks of potato, fontina, caramelized onion, and rosemary, $14) was entertaining and popular.
A special-of-the-week Meatball and Ricotta pizza ($15) started out pretty good, but as it cooled, the flavors developed and sharpened and it became tremendously tasty; a writer ordered one of these to go, planning to enjoy it cold for subsequent lunches.
And the classic Margherita ($12), earned praise from staffer (and noted pizza blogger) Aaron Landry, who praised its “stripped down, basic style,” and for being “very well balanced.”
But by general consensus, the favorite dish was a pizza called the Hawaii Pie-O. Hawaiian style pizzas tend to suffer from sloppy pineapple and big sheets of low grade ham — this version went much lighter on the toppings, meaning that crisp little bites of pineapple shone alongside a meaty Berkshire bacon, both of which felt both supported by and integrated into the high quality mozz atop the pie. Salty, sweet, chewy, cheesy, meaty — this is a pizza that has it all, but in moderation and balance.
Lola’s dessert is also nicely executed, consisting as it does of crispy and substantial chocolate chip cookies, and an interesting housemade soft-serve ice cream. We tried the latter with olive oil and fleur de sel and really enjoyed how the soft and creamy texture played up the sensually rich olive oil; the tiny bits of salt were a great counterpoint. (A qualifying note: We also tried the chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich and thought the ice cream, which had gone hard and flavorless in the freezer, was a “scrape-that-crud-off” downer.)
Even if the crowds at the door continue to swell, there could be a second side benefit — the criminally underappreciated Cave Vin is right next door waiting to accept the spillover. So if you can’t get your wood-fired slice, bop one door over and do it up French bistro style. And then come back to Lola with renewed determination the next night, and order a pizza. You’ll thank us for it.
BEST BET: The Hawaii Pie-O. Extraordinary balance and restraint makes for a pizza that’s as classy as it is delicious.
5557 Xerxes Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55410
OWNERS: Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur
BAR: Beer and wine
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No