5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55410 (map)
Pizza Style: Neo-Neapolitan
The Skinny: Another mid-career shift to pizzaiolo success story, bringing excellent pies to the Twin Cities
Price: Pizzas range from $8 to $15
I never get tired of hearing about pizzerias started by people who left another career behind to follow their dreams of dough, sauce, and cheese. When I heard about Ann Kim, the founder and pizzaiola at Pizzeria Lola, who left her former career as a stage actress and took the plunge into high-end pizza, a field predominately dominated by white males, I was determined to check it out.
By the time I got to Pizzeria Lola I was running on fumes. I hadn't slept much the night before, spent the day driving from Chicago to Minneapolis, and had already eaten a full meal at Black Sheep (reviewed here) and stopped for excellent ice cream at Crema Café. But a couple of bites into my Pizzeria Lola experience and all of that was forgotten; this was some truly delicious pizza.
Kim, who graduated from Tony Gemignani's International School of Pizza in January 2010 and opened Lola less than a year later, offers 13 pizzas with preselected toppings combinations, but also has 12 add-ons for customers to choose from. Of the 13 pizzas, only 6 come with tomato sauce, 3 of which are made from crushed tomatoes and 3 that my server described as a thicker sauce closer to a marinara. I tried the Margherita but added some of the housemade fennel sausage.
The crust, which is a blend of New York, New Haven, and Neapolitan styles, is a crisp and chewy, slightly dense bread that has a very light sourdough edge. A few more seconds in the gorgeous copper Le Panyol oven might have helped with coloring but there were no problems at all with the taste of the crust; this was a great piece of bread.
The fior di late was creamy deliciousness. I would have liked a bit more or else the pieces to have been smaller and spread across more of the pie, but even the cheese-less bites were delicious. That's because a really bright, fresh tomato sauce covered the pie and the juicy chunks of fennel-packed sausage on top were excellent; they would fit in at an old-school Chicago thin crust pizzeria.
The Lady ZaZa comes topped with housemade Korean sausage, along with kimchi, serrano peppers, a soy-chili glaze, scallions, and sesame oil. With this pie, the Korean-born, Minnesota-raised Kim brings together her two culinary worlds (she reportedly considered opening a Korean restaurant before going the pizza route) and the results are very, very good even if the pizza is a bit unbalanced.
The combination of kimchi, serranos, and the chili glaze make for a delicious multi-layered wave of heat with some fermented funk in each bite, but the small bits of mild sausage get lost. There is some sweetness in the glaze to balance the spice. If the sausage was just dropped off the pizza entirely and I hadn't been expecting any meat, I would have loved everything about this pie.
Since Pizzeria Lola opened in South Minneapolis last November, it's been an unqualified success for good reason. From the artistic flair in the design of the space (light fixtures made from old tomato cans dangle from the ceiling) to the creative pizzas, everything about Lola was well-thought out and well-executed. The restaurant has been open for less than a year, but there seems little doubt that it's carved out a permanent space among the restaurant elite in the Twin Cities.