Living in south Minneapolis has its perks. With just minutes from downtown, one would think that you’d have a major advantage getting to some of the city’s most popular food joints. While most major cities boast some of their best restaurants in the heart of their being, Minneapolis seems to boast just the opposite with some of their best in the small neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Without much that excites me in the downtown area for food outside of Vincent a Restaurant and (sometimes) the Westin’s B.A.N.K. Restaurant, I’m much happier in south Minneapolis as a foodie.
Seems almost weekly now something is poppin’ up new in my hood. Cafe Ena on 46th and Grand Ave S along with Scott P’s Corner Table over on Nicollett Ave seemed to have set the trend a few years ago with real food joints that produce unbelievable meals at a great price. These days, we have La Chaya, Blackbird, Beaujos, Salut, Jack’s Cafe, Piccolo and more. Yet, the newest and the coolest thing to do is Pizza. And, a good thing because my husband is practically a pizza critic. You can only imagine with the number of nites that a sommelier works, that a husband ends up resorting to take out pizza for many of them. Lucky for him we have everything from Fireside Pizza and Michaelangelos to Lake Harriet and Dulono’s. All some of the best pizza joints in the neighborhood…until now.
The two new hot spots to enjoy great pizza eats are just around the corner. Pizzeria Lola and the new Edina Mozza Mia.
Pizzeria Lola, a fun SW Mpls pizza joint with great eats. The owner, an actor gone pizza artist – actually, a certified pizzaiola. Pretty cool. And, the wood burning pizza oven, one of only a few in the U.S. You have to see this thing. A great visual treat as it takes up about 50% of the restaurant space. And the most important part – the pizza is really outstanding. I mean really good. I had a breakfast pizza which features a raw egg cracked onto the pie right before being thrown into the oven, that ends up cooking on top of all the lovely ingredients and bites that the pizza has to offer. Really outstanding. In addition, their traditional caprese along with many others on the list seem to hit the nail on the head when it comes to combining the right toppings.
A few things that seem to feel off about this joint… Coming from a restaurant background myself and spending years opening, refining and managing many from a bartender’s kid to a 5 star restaurant manager – there are quite a few features that a restaurant must hold in order to complete it. One, the staff. If you’re a fun open family style pizza joint, make the staff young and fun. You know – bouncy, yet professional. The staff at Lola, from what I’ve seen so far, needs to lose a few years. I don’t want a 48 yr old woman serving me pizza. No offense, but I want someone right out of college ‘jogging’ my pizza over to me. Fresh faced and ready to throwdown a pizza themselves. (Hard criticism, I know, but true!) Two, if your main focal point is a wood fired oven, make the rest of the joint match the couch, if you know what I mean. While the antique-y grandma plates are cute for serving, and the mason jars along with the hello kitty type do-dads and the Asian cartoon playing in the background are close to the owners as personal likes – my advice is to lose it. It’s only confusing your repertoire. Really. It doesn’t match. After sitting at the bar and watching the kitchen hustle to make pie, make the rest of your joint visually appealing. Put something on those top mental shelves that match your expensive ass pizza oven. That’s all.
And lastly, the wine list. Yikes…. The first time restaurant owner was had. Had by one distributor (or two). The list should have some traditional wine picks that actually GO WITH the food. Like Chianti or better yet, a fat Primitivo from Italy. Instead your weird Spanish blends, and Carmenere for $12 a glass -that just don’t make the cut. Not to say that the wines are bad, but again – just don’t fit the bill of fresh new pizza joint catering to younger families and neighborhood hipsters. And the prices of the wines by the glass, come on. Take it down a notch. But, the beers on tap, some great selections. They are on the right path there. Again, hard criticisms I know – but after spending years in the restaurant industry, you pick up on all the things that could and can go wrong with restaurant openings.
Next, Edina’s newest latest crave…Mozza Mia. Another Parsole group restaurant, set up in the heart of Edina’s downtown. Location, location, location – isn’t that what they say? Well, Mozza Mia has it. Famed as a fresh mozzarella bar – the joint sets up like a trendy suburbia pizza joint. Parasole always seems to the get the decor right with all the bells and whistles. Old fashioned chalkboards, piney stools, a pizza bar and more – yet it strikes me that these guys keep opening restaurants and not one of them really offers super duper outstanding food.
Last nite was our fist visit in. Obviously having head in at just the right time, the rush that proceeded to follow us just 15 minutes later took the restaurant from empty to a 30 min wait. Crazy for a Monday nite. We chose to sit at the bar. The bartenders, super helpful. Giving recommendations on the food, apps and fresh mozz. After hearing some of their favorites, we opted for the fresh mozz, caprese surrounded, prosciutto wrapped app. Having had fresh pulled mozzarella many times, my mouth watered waiting for our appetizer. The presentation was nice, and the overall consensus of the food – good. Not great, but good. Not like the others I’d had, but good. Moving on to pizzas, we ended up having a spicy fennel sausage, chile, swiss chard topped pizza. Great flavors, good use of spice and seasonings, yet I was a little bummed out with the crust. The pizza was good – but if you’ve had the soft, pliable crust at Lola, then you know what I mean. This crust was more of a crunchy, slightly thick at the rim style. The second pizza was a fig, prosciutto, blue cheese number. Again, great flavors but the crust left me feeling short. Overall, great presentation and good service.
My one downer about this pizza hot spot is again, the wine list. Who picks these wines?! With what seems to feel more like a pizza house, the list was set up with a Chianti, a Cab, a Soave, a Chard and a Valpolicella (withsome others, including a jugged house red and white). The presentation was right on with service of a quartino and a juice glass for pouring into. Perfect. Yet, the glassware reekedso bad of chlorine and bleach that I had to ask the bartender to replace my glass twice. Opening with a fresh Soave to wash my mozz down, I looked forward to my next glass. A lover of Valpolicella, I thought the rich oozy wine would match the fig and prosciutto pizza we ordered. The wine was basically cooked. With notes long over a traditional Valpolicella, the wine smelled of rotting port and oxygen. Moving the wine aside, I opted for a ‘by the glass’ Cab. Again, disappointed with a candied, almost sweet, flimsy profile at a price-point of almost $10- I sat and wondered, who actually sits down and picks these wines for these restaurants? Did they actually ‘taste’ the wines or did they let their distributor pick them off the ‘close out’ pile?
The hi-lite of my ‘drinking’ experience here was the cute house-made limoncello presentation that the bartender set down just as we were paying the bill. Kind of made me forget about my bad wine choices. Well done.
Overall, I can’t dog these joints too bad. Pizzaria Lola is outstanding pizza, yet the wine list and the atmosphere need to be fine tuned. And Mozza Mia, it will be a home run project for Parasole- due to the fact that their location is perfect, the atmosphere is exactly what they said it would be, they have good food and it seems rather accessible with staffing and more. And because they are located in Edina, where families flood in after soccer practice, movie theater pick ups and shopping, they’ll do well. What else is there to eat in downtown Edina really? Beaujo’s? Hmmm….that was another blog, check back a few months to that posting.
Both seem as though they are well liked and I’m sure will do just fine – yet, I’m a sommelier and a true ‘value driven’ lover of wine. If you’re going to give me a $12 glass of Carmenere (really??), then it better taste like it. And when you’re trying to pull off the juice glass Italian wine theory, make sure you’re not feeding your guests a cup of bleach to wash the wine down with it. Clean these wine lists up folks, give the peeps what they want. Then again, Mozza Mia might be, as most of the folks eating in an Edina pizza joint are not exactly picky foodies. They may tell you they are…but are they really? I’ve found a lot of ‘trendy’ food and wine drinkers in the area. They tell you that they know but when you ask them what they drink, most will say…”Napa Cab”. Suspect.
Good luck to both restaurants and here’s to happy eating pizza eating in the hood!