3910 West 50th Street, Edina, MN 55424 (map); 952-288-2882; mozzamia.com
Pizza Style: Neo-Neapolitan
The Skinny: Distinctly corporate restaurant show impressive creativity with high-quality toppings but comes up short on the crust
Price: Pizzas range from $10 to $15
Early last month, the topic of Ed's Cosmic Pizza Blab was whether a serious pizza-maker could have more than two great pizzerias. At the time, I didn't give the article much thought because Lou Malnati's (reviewed here) and Pizano's (reviewed here) emphatically demonstrate that the answer to that question is yes, but with the caveat that deep dish pizza does not require the same kind of attention while cooking that top thin crust pies do, particularly those cooked in wood and coal-burning ovens.
A recent trip to the Twin Cities made me revisit the idea for a couple of reasons. First, any conversation about pizza in the the Minneapolis-St. Paul area has to include Punch Pizza, a VPN-certified, seven-pizzeria mini-chain that has grown slowly and steadily since opening its first location in 1996. Second, I found myself sitting in Mozza Mia in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Mozza Mia is owned by Parasole, a restaurant group that operates ten very different restaurants in the area and is responsible for birthing Buca di Beppo. It's not quite the same idea as one pizzaiolo running more than two restaurants simultaneously, but the idea of a distant leadership exists in both cases. In any event, I was intrigued enough by a place that makes its own mozzarella in-house that I was excited to see what was coming out of the wood-burning oven. After all, if it turns out that a corporate chain with no background in pizza is capable of producing great pizza, then surely a knowledgeable pizzaiolo can do the same.
Every week, Executive Chef Heather Swan creates a weekly special that features fresh seasonal ingredients. When I stopped in, the special was a white pizza that came with peaches, fried La Quercia prosciutto, an herbed goat cheese, and onions that had been cooked in balsamic vinegar. As far as the toppings went, I thought the combination worked very well. And if I were a bigger fan of rosemary, by far the dominant herb in the goat cheese, I would say the flavors were outstanding.
There were no tomatoes on the pizza, but the sweet peaches and acidic onions paired really well together and conjured up a similar flavor profile. The goat cheese smoothed everything out, and the house-made mozzarella was very good, though anyone expecting something particularly mind-blowing because it's homemade will be disappointed. The fried prosciutto was diced into tiny crunchy bits and added another texture, some fat, and a lot of salt.
The crust was the only thing that stood between these pizzas and greatness. It wasn't a bad bread by any stretch, and it had a nice crisp exterior. The golden outer crust looked good, but the meat of the bread was too dense and chewy and there wasn't a lot of flavor to it. It didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying the high-quality, sometimes very creative toppings that made the pizza here stand out, but the crust definitely kept the pizza out of the top tier.
The second pizza was the Salumi. That pie, which came topped with finocchiona and pepperoncinisalso featured nicely balanced and really successful toppings atop a crust that should be better. The black-pepper studded fennel salami was very good pork charcuterie that was complemented, and not at all overwhelmed, by the spicy pepperoncinis. The sauce seemed fresh and was a basic concoction of crushed tomatoes and salt. And the cheese, which was piled on for a pizza of this style, was a welcome and creamy balance to the heat. But again, the crust, the most challenging part of a pizza, fell short.
So how does Mozza Mia impact the deep pizza question raised at the beginning of the review? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. On one hand, the creativity shown in the ever-changing menu would be impressive in any pizzeria. On the other hand, there are problems with the crust that stand in the way of greatness. On one foot, Punch Pizza, which turns out textbook VPN pies, shows that mini-chains can do great crusts. On the other foot, that it can be done in theory doesn't mean it will even be done in reality. Of course, Lou Malnati's, Pizano's and Punch might render the original questions and my hands and feet moot. I suppose, like all of life's deep mysteries, the ones Ed raised a few weeks ago on Slice will continue to inspire debate for generations to come.
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