EDITOR’S NOTE: Palumbo’s Pizzeria is closed.
It’s hard not to love an independent family restaurant with a good story. Palumbo’s Pizzeria co-owner Peggy Palumbo pinged us after their recent opening, writing: “My husband’s grandparents immigrated from Montagano, Italy and settled in Irvine Park. A few years back we visited Montagano and toured the country. We had four teenagers with us, so we ate a lot of pizza. We fell in love with the pizza and the family owned cafes and trattorias. We dreamed of some day opening such a restaurant in St. Paul.”
Thus: the newly opened Palumbo’s. We visited this week, and fell in love with the place. Well, significant parts of the place, which isn’t too bad right out of the gates. Here are the critical headlines:
The Pizza Works…
The crust at Palumbo’s is chewy and substantial, with a pleasant, almost sourdough-like flavor — that the restaurant talks up their Caputo 00 pizza flour is a good sign. And while the “Neapolitan” description implies something both thinner and more aggressively scorched with carbon, the version served at Palumbo’s is good eating. The restaurant’s red sauce is similarly credible, not overly sweet and boasting bright tomato flavor; on the margherita al prosciutto ($8) with melted fresh mozzarella, it made for a tasty relatively classic pie (although the underpowered prosciutto was sort of a non-factor.)
Also: Check that price. $8 for a tasty large personal pizza that could be split between two light diners is a seriously sweet spot from a value perspective, particularly when compared to similar pies at Pizza Nea (about $12) or Punch (about $11).
But that said…
…The Salad Doesn’t Work
Our tired-looking Caesar salad ($4) came out with slightly wilted lettuce, overly moist, under-flavored Parmesan cheese and straight-from-the-Newman’s Own-bottle dressing. Would that every pizzeria took a page from Black Sheep’s book and knocked the salads out of the park with farmers market ingredients.
Marketing Advice: Less Like Punch, More Like Fat Lorenzo’s
Palumbo’s is selling itself as a purveyor of “authentic Neapolitan pizza,” and it probably shouldn’t. Punch, Pizza Nea, Bricks, Lola and other VPN (or VPN-clone) restaurants have thoroughly penetrated the Twin Cities area, leaving diners with an indelible idea of what sort of pie to expect. That’s not quite the pie that Palumbo’s is making — with its cooler (about 600 degree) oven, it’s turning out a thoroughly tasty halfway point between VPN and a good-old fashioned Italian-American pizza. While there’s nothing wrong with a compromise pizza (and plenty right with it), Palumbo’s is going to dash the hopes of some overly fussy local gourmands.
But reinvented as a soulful neighborhood pizzeria and gelateria (and maybe dumping the calzones for some hearty hoagies), Palumbo’s is likely to dig in and win over a core constituency of hardcore local supporters.
Turn the Meat Up to 11
Bland sausage and floppy, under-flavored ham-like “prosciutto” represent two small but important flaws in the Palumbo’s game plan. These two weak ingredients both showed up in the calzone di verdure e carne ($9), which featured an enormous surplus of bland ricotta and an oddly light, delicate exterior. On the plus side, the Palumbo’s calzone didn’t in any way resemble the five-pound East Coast-style grease-bomb calzones many of us have grown to fear and loathe. On the minus side, it was eerily like a Leeann Chin cream cheese wonton hit by an enlargement ray. Bold sausage and robust, flavorful prosciutto would have gone a long way toward cutting through the creamy dullness.
But the Gelato Needs No Fixing
Palumbo’s offers Ring Mountain Creamery gelato from Eagan, MN, and it’s good stuff — smooth, rich, creamy, and deeply flavored. We sampled the pistachio and a stracciatella (chocolate chip) flavors, and found both to be drink-the-dregs-out-of-the-bowl delicious. And at $3 a pop (for the small size), the value prospect is good here, as well.
Palumbo’s picked a challenging time to open. The state budget shutdown means that this fledgling business can’t offer beer or wine, two beverages notoriously well-suited to pairing with pizza. But, God or gods willing, the shutdown will eventually end, and friends and neighbors of Palumbo’s will no doubt soon come to appreciate the place for what it does well: good simple food with heart and soul.
BEST BET: Pizza and gelato, easy as that. The margherita with prosciutto is a solid choice, as is the pistachio gelato.
Neapolitan-style pizza in St. Paul
454 Snelling Ave S
St. Paul, MN 55105
OWNERS: John and Peggy Palumbo
Tue-Thu and Sun 4pm-9pm
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $6-10