The history of pizza is almost synonymous with that history of Mediterranean cooking, although the former wasn’t given much thought at first. Flatbread dough with assorted toppings merely was used to test the temperature of an oven. If the pizza baked correctly, then the “real” dishes could be prepared.
Pizza didn’t receive any more epicurean notice until the late-1800s, when Italian immigrants were arriving in droves in the United States. Their newly-popularized dish came with them, and the rest is foodie history. By the mid-1900s, pizza had evolved into a truly American food.
Jakeeno’s founder Jack Keegan, whose family was Irish, was not a descendant of those poor, tired, pizza-eating Italian immigrants. In 1975, he opened his eponymous restaurant (“Jakeeno’s” is an Italian-sounding merger of his first and last names). His family, including his daughter, Patty, has been serving pizza, pasta, and salads ever since.
Pizza dough and sauces all are made in-house, relying on smaller vendors and organic products whenever possible. If that statement conjures up a stuffy, fussy image, fret not. This is a neighborhood restaurant. The atmosphere is ultracasual. The dishes taste like something your parents could have prepared—that is, if they had that kind of time and access to organic produce.
However, Jakeeno’s is not just any home-style pizza joint. For one, not many offer a Baby Greens Salad ($3.95/$6.50 full). With homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing, asiago cheese, and walnuts, it makes for a nice change.
Jakeeno’s customers take their loyalty to a level beyond what most pizzerias experience. Our server told me that some regulars go so far as to order their favorite dish four or five times a week, sometimes calling ahead to see if it is still available.
I would imagine that Garlic Provolone Cheese Toast (four pieces for $4.25) is one of those call-ahead items. It is just the right balance of garlic with enough cheese to please but not overwhelm. The bread is soft in the middle, with a crust that offers a bit of a bite without being too harsh in the mouth. I appreciate texture in food, perhaps because I am an avid baker, and it is always a treat to visit a kitchen that pays attention to this important detail.
In this sense, Jakeeno’s also nails its pasta dishes, which arrive perfectly al dente. Chicken Florentine ($10.50)—made with homemade white butter and cream sauce, mostaccioli pasta, fresh chicken breast, spinach, and cheese—is pure Minnesotan comfort food. A little kick of red pepper flake is always an option at the table.
The Pasta Combo ($9) offers a bit of everything if you cannot choose among stuffed shells, cannelloni, or mostaccioli. It’s a bit of a childhood treat, really—a bunch of different shapes and flavors all in one meal.
With our pastas and salad, we sipped the generously-poured Pinot Grigio ($6/$20) before moving on to Sangiovese ($8/$26). Daily happy hour specials are 4-6 PM and 8-10 PM, slashing the already-affordable wines by half (beer is two-for-one).
The Big Red Monster ($7/glass), a new offering and still off-menu, was our table’s clear favorite for its full body and clean finish. It also holds up beautifully against the House Special Pizza, with sausage, pepperoni, and mushrooms (10” for $12.79/13” for $17.24/15” for $19.79). The pizza dough is thin-crust perfection for this texture-fan—some bite in the crust, not too chewy, and soft enough to be foldable.
Wanting to sample some of Jakeeno’s more nontraditional pies, we opted for a half-and-half of Rosemary Potato ($12.79/$17.24/$19.79) and Barbeque ($12.79/$17.24/$19.79). The former uses hashbrown-cut potatoes to soak up the olive oil and fresh garlic base without becoming too heavy. The latter, offering chicken, red onions, and cheddar cheese in a sweet and tangy barbeque sauce, responds well to some added red pepper flake.
Chocolate Mocha Layer Cake ($4.25) is another call-ahead item, and I can understand why it is the perfect ending to a comforting home-style meal. The taste is honestly reminiscent of an upscale Ho Ho—light and chocolatey—but its impressive four layers are much more moist.
One of the most important aspects of the Jakeeno’s success story remains outside its menu. The restaurant has a dedication to its location that goes above and beyond, working with such organizations as Pillsbury House and The Aliveness Project, along with nearby schools and churches. The corner restaurant that formed around a simple dish has done much more than nourish its generations of fans. It has helped the area remain a vibrant and flourishing South Minneapolis neighborhood.
3555 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls.