I scream, you scream, we all scream for … pizza. No, really! Just about everyone loves pizza. It is the perfect food: portable, versatile, ubiquitous and delicious—whether it’s at a swanky restaurant or from a no-frills by-the-slice counter. Pizza in all of its variations brings people together—be it a late night at the office, a birthday celebration or a home cooking project, we bond over the pie. With so many wonderful pizza joints around town, there is a pie for everyone (keep in mind that these are but a few). Come with us on our Tour de ’Za and discover what an exciting pizza community we have—then get out there and eat some.
“Our family has been having meals at home and cooking from scratch for several generations,” Roma Restaurant, Bar and Market chef and owner Brian Pilrain says. “With everything from rolling dough for breads and pizza crusts to slowly braising meats, grilling over an open fire, growing fresh vegetables, we developed a taste for the ‘real deal’; [it’s] time to get back to basics and let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.” The eatery uses small-farm cheeses from Italy that have “a creaminess that makes your very soul smile,” Pilrain says. The Vesuvio ($26), named after a volcano, is a delicious eruption of spicy marinara sauce, sausage, capicola ham and pepperoni along with caramelized onions, peppers and fresh Calabro mozzarella. Meat lovers and spice hounds, rejoice.
Pizzeria Pezzo, relatively new to the area, specializes in Chicago deep-dish pies. Each one is named after a different Chicago neighborhood: Wrigley, Gold Coast, Lincoln Park. We dig the funky-hip Bucktown ’hood and the eponymous pizza is right on. The Bucktown ($23.99) could also be called the “extra, extra extra!” since it is piled with extra fennel sausage, extra mozzarella and extra sauce. Pezzo’s approach is ingredient-driven (local, seasonal, hormone-free) and embraces the less-is-more credo. The coal-burning oven revs up an exceedingly hot fire to create a seismic crunch in every bite.
The pizza scene keeps in step with the times, picking up and discarding trends as they come and go. Wood-fired oven pizza is a hot trend (pun intended), bringing heavenly aromas, nicely charred crusts and the thrilling opportunity to watch the pizza bake among the flames. “Crave the pie!” exhorts Olive’s Fresh Pizza Bar—as if we need to be told. The square House Pizza ($23) seduces customers with pepperoni, sweet onion, sausage, mushroom, sweet peppers, black and green olives, and mozzarella. The most unusual pie is the Alaskan ($22), an orchestration of cream cheese, smoked salmon, onion, capers, fresh dill and parmesan, harkening back to Wolfgang Puck’s revolutionary pizza at the famous Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills.
Step into Pino’s Pizza and Pasta and inhale the heady aroma of pizza in progress; let yourself be wooed by the charming Italian accent of the pizzaiolo. The Sicilian ($18.95)—think tough guys, rustic landscape—is a pungent array of strong flavors: salami, pepperoni, red onions, green olives, roasted red pepper and mozzarella. If that sounds like overkill, it’s not: The ingredients are judiciously applied in just the right measure of veggie, meat, cheese and crust.
The rush for pizza innovation has created some outrageous and delicious pies, to wit: Donatelli’s Bacon Cheese Burger Pizza ($24.99). This monster is topped with nicely browned ground beef, smoked bacon, a scattering of pickles and onions, and a smothering of melted mozzarella and cheddar—picture a big, juicy cheeseburger on top of a thin-crust pizza. It’s like the best cheeseburger you’ve ever had.
Tullio Pizzeria has moved into the former location of Wildwood Pizza, the late Brian Bell’s lively joint for 30-plus years. New owners Kim Swails-Dunn and Mario Gambino have taken over, with Bell’s kitchen secrets in hand. Swails-Dunn describes their pizza as New York-style thin crust “like that great big slice you can eat while walking down the street.” The pie of choice here is the San Gennaro ($17), a doozy of a combo of pepperoni, sausage, mushroom and onion. There are no cans or jars in this kitchen: Everything is made on site from scratch. The mushrooms fairly melt in the mouth; the savory Roma tomato sauce strikes a fine balance of sweet and spice.
Roadside Pizza and Wings keeps it real, offering straightforward slices for when you’re on the run and need a good pizza fix. There are always cheese, sausage and pepperoni slices, and then there is the slice of the day: Canadian bacon on Sunday; meat lovers’ on Tuesday and Thursday, and the special deluxe on Mondays and Friday, a knockout combo of Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and green pepper—all your food groups in one go. The crust is sturdy, the tomato sauce light, and the mozzarella is copious: the Platonic ideal of pizza.
Papa Murphy’s corners the take-and-bake pizza market, though you may wonder why the papa in question has an Irish last name. This is what happened: Papa Aldo’s and Murphy’s Pizza almost merged 20 years ago, struck a harmonious chord and grew into the large network that it is today. Their focus is on customization. Start by choosing your favorite crust: thin and crispy, traditional, pan, or stuffed. The stuffed crust is one pizza with another crust with toppings on top, “like a double decker,” says White Bear Lake resident and franchisee John Goetteter. The five meats stuffed-crust pie ($17) weighs a hefty four pounds.
Holy pizza, Batman! Bryce Johnson, pastor at the United Methodist Church, built a brick wood-burning oven in the churchyard and hosts regular community pizza nights (around $10 each). “We are re-envisioning our church around bread, and the idea of providing nourishment for the hungers of life,” Johnson says. The pastor knows his pizza. “We subscribe to the philosophy that less is more—it gets soggy with too many ingredients.” Johnson’s favorites pies are the classic Margherita—fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella— and a dessert pizza with pear, gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar drizzle.
Places to Pie One On
Roma Restaurant, Bar and Market
460 Stillwater Road
2143 Fourth St.
White Bear Lake
Olive’s Fresh Pizza Bar
4746 Washington Square
White Bear Lake
Pino’s Pizza + Pasta
2018 E. County Road F
White Bear Lake
2692 E. County Road E
White Bear Lake
468 Stillwater Road
Roadside Pizza and Wings
1971 Whitaker St.
White Bear Lake
Papa Murphy's White Bear Lake
2699 E. County Road E
White Bear Lake
White Bear Lake United Methodist Church
1851 Birch St.
White Bear Lake
Don’t have a wood-burning pizza oven in your back yard? You can make the whole shebang yourself—it’s easier than you think, and makes for a super-fun date night or family activity.
Here is White Bear Lake resident chef Greg Knothe’s recipe for homemade pizza.
2 Tbsp. or 2 packets dry yeast
1 c. warm water
1 tsp. sugar
2½ c. flour
1-2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. olive oil
1 15 oz. can tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Fresh basil leaves
Prepare the crust
Pour one cup of warm water in a bowl. Make sure the temperature is 100 to 105 degrees. (If it’s too hot, you kill the yeast; too cold and it’ll just sit there and stare at you.) Add dry yeast and add sugar—you can eyeball it. Yeast loves sugar. Let it sit 20 minutes.
Measure all-purpose flour into a mixing bowl for a stand mixer; add the salt. When the yeast water gets bubbly and wants to climb out of the bowl, add the flour.
Mix on low, or you’ll be wearing it; once mixed a bit, turn it up to medium. Stand by your mixer. It all depends on where you live—the temperature, the humidity, all that other stuff. You want it firm, not sticky; add more flour or water as needed. Add olive oil and mix for 10-15 minutes. Stop the mixer and peel off some dough and stretch it to make sure there’s enough gluten in it. If it breaks, mix it more.
Put the bowl in a warm place (on top of the stove is good) with a towel on top and let it rise for about an hour; have a drink—or you can make your tomato sauce.
After an hour, dump the dough on a lightly floured counter top and knead it, stretch it, play with it, just like on TV. But don’t throw it around your house.
Make the sauce
Take one can of undrained diced, crushed, I-don’t-care-what-they-are tomatoes, add crushed garlic cloves, a few torn fresh basil leaves and some oregano and salt to taste. Simmer in a pot for a half-hour; stir it now and again. If you have a stick blender, buzz, buzz, buzz, then let it cool down. Spread it on the dough—not too much and not all the way to the edge of pizza; once that’s done, sprinkle on the best-quality parmesan you can get.
Assemble your pie
Pile on your toppings: cooked, not raw, sausage; sautéed mushrooms or onions; maybe red and green peppers. Use as good as a mozzarella as you can find—I love buffalo—and cut it into thin slices and put as much on top as you would like.
Cook the pizza
Put your pizza stone into a cold oven and turn the oven on as high as it will go—most go up to 500 degrees. When the stone is hot, take it out carefully and slide your pizza on top. Yes, it’s a pain and it hurts if you burn yourself; use a pizza slider if you have one. It’s done in 12–14 minutes. Check the bottom, not the edge, to make sure it’s brown and crispy.