Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, was on the road the last couple of weeks. This week, he checks in with a piece of intel from the Twin Cities. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. —The Mgmt.
Red’s Savoy Pizza
421 East 7th Street, St Paul MN, 55101 (map); 651-227-1437; theoriginalredssavoypizza.com
Pizza Style: Thin-crust, tavern-cut
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: A welcoming mountain of sauce, toppings, and cheese on a crust that exists solely for functional purposes
Price:10-inch pizza with two toppings, $9.35
After a successful visit to Milwaukee for last week’s review, I hit the road again this weekend. This time, I immersed myself in all things Minnesotan with a trip highlighted by ice fishing on Lake Minnetonka, an exciting hockey game, fabulous ice cream on Saturday and Sunday, and, of course, pizza.
I thought about going to Black Sheep, which was recently discussed on Slice here. But for my one pizza report from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I wanted to go to a place that was uniquely Minnesotan. And so it was that I ended up at Red’s Savoy Pizza.
To some outsiders, Red’s Savoy is infamously known only as the pizzeria where former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman’s 81-year-old father was arrested for making whoopee in the parking lot (please, no sausage jokes). But to the people of St. Paul, Red’s Savoy has been known as a go-to place for good pizza since 1962. Well, good pizza and being the place where Norm Coleman’s 81-year-old father was caught having sex in the parking lot.
Despite being dominated by two large dining areas, Red’s looks and feels like a bar. The first thing I noticed when I walked inside was that I couldn’t see a thing. It was bright outside and Red’s has few lights and no windows. I should say there are no windows that allow light through - they appear to have been covered from the inside years ago. The second thing I noticed about Red’s is that before the smoking ban was enacted, I’m pretty sure breathing would have been a challenge there. The low ceilings, dim lights and vinyl booths seemed to be begging for a return to the smoke-filled days of yore. The third thing I noticed was that despite its location on the edge of downtown St. Paul (a decidedly not hopping area) and the fact that it was the middle of the warmest day in the Twin Cities since November, Red’s was packed. I knew that I was in for a treat.
I am of the belief that when a restaurant has the decency to make its own sausage, I owe the place the respect of ordering said meat. The only question was what other toppings we’d get. Pizzas come in two sizes, regular (10 inches) and large (14 inches). We opted for a regular with sausage and pepperoni and a regular that was half sausage and half sausage and sauerkraut; we received two ten-inch circles of deliciousness.
The crust at Red Savoy’s is clearly the least important part of the pizza. It is very thin and is pretty bland. There is absolutely nothing resembling char and, while it does break if folded, it is far from crisp. The crust is purely functional, and its job is to hold up massive amounts of sauce, toppings and cheese. As is the case in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago, traditional thin crust pizza in the Twin Cities is cut into squares. At Red’s Savoy Pizza, each square has more cheese, more sauce and more toppings than a full-sized slice in most places. I did not even bother trying a typical upskirt shot as everything would have immediately fallen to the table. My only chance of getting a picture of the greasy toasted bottom was to turn a piece upside down.
The sauce at Red Savoy’s, which is poured all over the crust by someone who clearly enjoys the art of pouring sauce, is thick and is heavily-seasoned with oregano and something that gives it a little kick. The cheese, which is also more than generously applied, is decent mozzarella. The house-made sausage was, as expected, the star of the show. The sausage had a good amount of fat and was spicy, something particularly surprising in an area where folks tend to like their food on the blander side. There was no noticeable fennel in the sausage, which is usually a red flag for me, but this was so well seasoned that that did not matter.
As with the sauce and cheese, the sausage was all over the pizza – there was a hunk of it in virtually every bite. The pepperoni was ordinary pepperoni, which is to say not much more than a salt lick, the difference being that if Red’s, like so many other places around the country, uses
Hormel pepperoni, they are using a locally made product.
The sauerkraut was a pleasant surprise on the pizza. I ordered it because I have trouble resisting trying new toppings, and also because I love sauerkraut. But I had some doubts about how it would do when mixed with tomato sauce. I was happy to discover that the tanginess of the kraut stood up well to the seasoning in the sauce. I was not at all surprised to find that the kraut went perfectly with the sausage. In some pizzas, adding sauerkraut would run the risk of adding too much moisture, but this crust, which could double as a sponge, had no problem handling the sauerkraut juice in addition to the abundant sauce.
Red’s Savoy Pizza serves up pies that will make pizza purists cringe and the rest of us very happy. The toppings/cheese/sauce to crust ratio is way out of whack, but the pizza works well. And despite its location in a less than desirable spot on the edge of downtown and far from much of a residential area, Red’s has a feel of neighborhood bar (albeit one with multiple security cameras). There is actually a Red at Red’s. He is Red Schoenheider, he’s in his seventies, and when I was there at noon on Sunday, he was sitting at the bar drinking booze weakened only by ice and referring to Minneapolis as Murderapolis (for those unaware, there’s a bit of a rivalry between the two Twin Cities). The staff at Red’s Savoy has a reputation for being cranky, but I did not find that to be the case at all. Our server, Claire, has worked at Red’s for 19 years and could not have been nicer. And on this Pro Bowl Sunday, she showed up for work wearing an Adrian Peterson jersey, a Vikings hat, and a purple flower in her hair. Red’s Savoy Pizza screams Minnesota, and in my book that is a very good thing.
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