Serves Perfect Crust Combined With Artful Toppings
Every time one writes about a pizzeria, a century-old debate is rekindled. We have come to a certain civilized understanding that pasta should be prepared al dente, but pizza crusts are another matter. Never has a food item been the source of such hot debate. As much as any food writer loves drama, it’s almost too bad the crust gets all the attention.
Pizzeria Lola is delightfully choosy about its toppings, and employs them artfully, but I would be remiss if I didn’t dwell on its masterful crust…and perhaps make a few enemies in the process.
Ann Kim, co-owner and certified pizzaiola, took a little more than a year to perfect her crust. The dough, however, is only half the battle. A perfect crust also requires the perfect oven, which is something you don’t exactly hide. Kim’s copper, wood-fired beast dominates the restaurant like some sort of steampunk emperor. Apart from its titanic grandeur, the oven is also an internal marvel, made with imported Terre Blanche clay for superior heat resistance.
Kim wasn’t aiming for the classic Neopolitan crust with its blistered finish, opting instead for New York’s style. Though classic crust enthusiasts may take issue with me, I am sold on Kim’s version. To be honest, I never have been enamored with the taste of charred dough, although I do understand its inherent appeal. But Kim’s crust has an intensely satisfying bite that gives way to a dense, chewy center. Sink your teeth into it, and prepare to meet your inner savage. My dining partner is a notorious crust-discarder, but at this place, no so much as a crumb was left.
Pizzeria Lola definitely has its focus, but we tried three different starters, finding each of them to be exceptional, right down to the addictively-salty Mixed Olives ($4).
A feisty Roasted Cauliflower with Calabrian chili ($8), sprinkled with sea salt and fresh parsley, is a pointed reminder of what this lowly member of the cruciferous family can do when in the right hands.
Still, Roasted Baby Beets with Mixed Greens, Montchevre, and Hazelnuts ($11) stole the show. The hazelnuts added a buttery, slightly-bitter quality to the sweet beets, and creamy, handcrafted Montchevre goat cheese is, of course, heavenly. A roasted beet salad is something I always appreciate, but in the hands of chef Chris Hinrichs, the dish had a degree of vitality one does not always find elsewhere.
The pizza menu is varied, with traditional crowd-pleasers as well as some funky little gems.
The Lady Za Za ($15), with housemade kimchi sausage, shishito peppers, soy, scallions, and sesame oil, is a must-try for the adventurous. I didn’t know that I’d fall in love with a Korean pizza, but it’s spicy and flavorful—very hard to stop eating.
The Forager ($15) followed a tough act, although the combination of truffle cheese and truffle salt over roasted seasonal mushrooms would be enough to make any foodie swoon—and that we did.
We also tried La Crème ($11), a more traditional pie with red sauce, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, cream, olive oil, and basil, as well as The Sunnyside ($15), with La Quercia Guanciale (a mild bacon), pecorino, cream, leeks, and soft eggs. If you wish, you may add ingredients like prosciutto or arugula for an additional charge. On our La Crème, for example, we enjoyed the addition of some spunky pepperoni.
With our pizzas, we drank a commendable Italian barolo ($65/bottle). The wine list at Pizzeria Lola is as varied and intriguing as the rest of the menu, but I was very glad to have the lush but dry, high-tannin red at our disposal.
Even the desserts are thoughtful and distinct. A dish of housemade soft-serve ice cream ($4) arrived with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and fleur de sel. Another soon appeared with chocolate-covered cacao nibs (either addition is an extra $1). I appreciated the lighter soft-serve, and also the change from the typical Sebastian Joe’s selections. I love Sebastian Joe’s—don’t get me wrong—but it was very nice to be offered something different.
Our other after-dinner treat was a $3 ticket to Pizzeria Lola’s photo booth. The establishment hasn’t been open long, but merry little photo-booth strips of happy, well-fed families already are decorating its walls.
In fact, for an upscale pizzeria, it’s very kid-friendly. On the night I dined there, at least one child was at almost every table. If that’s off-putting to any of you, I also mention that one impatient little shrieker immediately was calmed by the quick appearance of goldfish crackers, courtesy of some very smart staff.
Pizzeria Lola may have intended to be a neighborhood restaurant, and it certainly serves its environs very, very well. But for my money, it is also a foodie destination. Heidi Fellner
5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls.