Food Recalls
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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Pizza’

Basils Pizza Review, an Homage to Joe Szabo (Northfield, MN)


40 years ago, it was called “Bill’s,” and it was in the same location.  Hasn’t changed much, same counter, same booths, now fairly worn, the faux leather brittle with age.  The home-spun murals of scenes of Italy on the walls are fading.

But would the pizza hold up?   Did we love it because it was great?  Or because at the time, it was the only show in town?

My sophomore roommate was a guy from Chicago named Joe Szabo.   Nice guy.  Talented artist.  Wanted to grow up to be a famous talented artist.  Hope he made it.

Most college roommates experience the “either / or” phenomena, meaning that it’s pretty normal that one roommate has some money, and the other doesn’t.  The cycle reverses on a regular basis.

In our dorm room, whoever had the money had the power to dictate toppings:  Joe always got ground beef and diced onion; for me it was Italian sausage and sliced green olives.    Neither of us minded the other’s selection.

There were a couple of great things about rooming with Joe.   He had a car.   And a very tasty morsel of a girlfriend.   In a college dorm room, it’s hard not to become somewhat “familiar” with everything that goes on and Sara was, well (swoon).

One night Joe let me use his car (unheard of) so he and Sara could have a special “moment”.  He flipped me a sawbuck, too, and said “go have a ‘za’, and take your time.

I started off down College Avenue, it was winter, there were patches of ice, I was very careful with Joe’s pride, a green Beetle.   I stopped at the RR crossing for a slow moving freight, minding my own business, anticipating the ‘za, when WHAM!  I got re-ended.   As you probably know, the Beetle has the engine in the back, so a whack can cause serious damage.

No one was hurt, someone summoned the police, who informed me the drunk driver who just plowed into my roommate’s car was “so and so’s son”, and there was never, ever anything going to come of it.

And nothing did.   I got a pizza all by myself, Joe and Sara had their special moment, and if Joe was ever pissed about the accident, he never let on.

So nearly 40 years later, I show up at Basil’s, order a medium of (my) sausage and green olive, and (Joe’s) ground beef and onion, to compare and contrast as it were, to see if this is great pizza, or just a glorified memory.

I did notice a couple things while the dude is making the pie, things that (for me) are critical for a good pie: 1) sliced cheese, not shredded, and 2) bulk sausage, pinched by hand, in nice sized pieces.

The old Baker’s Pride ovens had lost some oomph, it would take a full 15 minutes to bake, with the requisite occasional door opening, and paddle spin.

I took my hot pies back to my motel room.   I tried one, then the other.  Then the first, then the other.  They were superb. Great melted cheese that clings to the crust, a cracker like crust, a big of tang to the sauce, and quality toppings.

Could I eat two mediums all by myself?  Nah. But 40 years ago I could.

Basil's Pizza on Urbanspoon


Basils Pizza Review


Sven & Ole’s Frozen Pizza Review

Sven & Oles Frozen Pizza Review

Condiments at Centerfolds

It’s one of those places that people would describe as “it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.”   Grand Marais, Minnesota, on Lake Superior almost at the Canadian border, an early French fur trading post, the translation of the town’s name is “Great Marsh.”  The town is accessed via US Highway 61 (yes, the Bob Dylan one), and is approximately three hours north of Duluth and forty minutes south of the Canadian border.  It’s an ideal jumping off spot to explore the magnificent Boundary Waters Canoe Area, national park.

It was 1981 when two brothers opened what we’d now call a “pop up” – a snack shop for the local Grand Marais summer celebration.  It went so well, they reopened the next year and stayed open, expanding their menu to include pizza.

“Sven & Ole” are fictional characters in Scandinavian lore, and the frequent target of self-effacing jokes, much like “Boudreaux and Thibodeaux” are in the Louisiana area.  Ole & Lena gags are another variation of the northern-European humor.  (example: “Ole and Sven are at a funeral. Suddenly it occurs to Ole that he doesn’t remember the name of the dearly departed. Ole turns to Sven and asks: “Sven, could you remind me again who died?” Sven thinks for a moment and says, “I’m not sure,” Sven points at the casket, “…but I think it was de guy in de box.”)

Sven & Ole’s  pizza has taken on a somewhat legendary status in Northern Minnesota, and has launched a campaign to be provided in regional bars and groceries.  Like so many national brands that started in Minnesota and Wisconsin, using bars as outlets is a great way to build name recognition.

One of the few outlets our reporters have found so bar is a Superior, Wisconsin, gentlemen’s club, Centerfolds Cabaret  (opens daily at 5 PM) on the main drag of Tower Avenue.  Centerfolds bakes up frozen versions of Sven & Ole’s, and Kawika and the Minnesota burger posse were quite impressed with the pie.  They liked the crispy crust, high quality pepperoni and sausage and ample cheese.  Centerfold’s offers a number of condiments table side if you want to amp up your pie. Hot sauces are not advisable for application to other pies found in the club, tho.

If you live in Northern Minnesota or Wisconsin, you might start seeing Sven & Ole’s frozen pizza in your grocery.  Ask for it by name(s).

Need another reason to visit Grand Marais besides pizza? (I don’t, but you might).  Head up for the annual Fisherman’s Picnic at the end of July when the town really goes “wild.”   You’ll also have the change to partake in the local favorite, deep fried herring on a bun!  Herring used to be a major cash crop from Lake Superior –  but not so much these days.  Or try some smoked Lake Trout from the Dockside Fish Market(summer and fall only).

Superior, Wisconsin, appears just far enough away from Madison that it remains out of the clutches of Wisconsin’s nuttier than a fruitcake governor Scott Walker.

Sven & Oles Frozen Pizza Review
Sven & Ole's on Urbanspoon
Sven & Ole’s Frozen Pizza Review


Heggies Pizza Review


Heggies Pizza ReviewIf you look at the history of frozen pizza in the U.S., many of the largest brands started out as “bar pizzas” in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Small manufacturers  made frozen pies, sold them to bars, to which they furnished a counter top oven free of charge.  (There used to be laws that a certain percentage of sales at a bar came from food).

Manufacturers in the two states today sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pizzas per year, from many of your favorite brands.  I’m written about quite a few of them, these are the Minnesota ones:  Totino’s Party Pizza and Jeno’s Crisp ’n Tasty Pizza, Red Baron, Tonys, Freschetta, BernatellosBellatoria, Orvs, Roma, Brew Pub,  Green Mill, and literally dozens of single brand independents, like Kettle River, and pizzerias that make frozen pies to sell in-house.

Today’s sample is a regional favorite, in mid-Minnesota, which was spawned out of an Anoka restaurant, before hitting the bar and club circuit with frozen pies. Heggie’s Pizza is heavy on ingredients and mystery.  Started in a garage, but now operating out of a newish plant in the middle of the state, an hour north of Minneapolis, the family run operation doesn’t talk about it’s ingredients or methods.

I don’t know if you can find them in a lot of local grocers, but I did see them in quite a few gas stations in the Twin Cities.  They are a little spendy compared to most local frozen pies  ($6 – $10).

They make a dozen varieties, and I started out with the “Six Pack,” which has sausage, pepperoni, bacon, Canadian bacon, cheddar and mozzarella cheese in ample quantities. (It’s their best seller).

In my opinion (the only one that counts here)  Heggies makes one of the very, very few frozen pizzas that equals a pizzeria pie, in flavor and texture. Good sauce, good crust, great cheese ( a lot of it!), good toppings.

I only have two minor gripes about the Six Pack;  even tho everybody loves bacon, the bacon “flavor” is the overwhelming one on the Six Pack. It is very similar to the taste and aroma of “bacon flavored” items.  Also, for me, the sausage doesn’t have enough texture. It is reminiscent of institutional food service, pre-cooked sausage crumbles that some pizza shops use.

The gas station clerk that sold me the pie said she was an expert at cooking them, and baking them at a lower temp for longer than the directions would bring the best result;  but I followed the package directions and it was just swell.

Neither of these are deal killers.  If these pies were sold in my area, they would be my regular go-to frozen pie.  No question.

Pies are made in Milaca, Minnesota at USDA est. M15816-P15816.  Pic below.

Heggies Pizza Review


Heggies Pizza Review

Heggies Pizza Review






Heggies Pizza Review


Pizza Sizes Keep Growing!

Basil's Pizza Northfield

Northfield, MN – Used to be “Bill’s”

Pizza Sizes Keeping Pace Or Causing American Waistline Growth??

Back in my day, there were two sizes of pies at most pizzerias, small and large, and due to commonly available industry tools, they were 12” and 14” in diameter, respectively.

At some point, “personal sized’ pizzas, generally 6” or 8” were made available, as a way for pizza joints to capture the lunch and snack market, at a lower price point. It also enabled some operations to have ‘ready-to-go’ takeaway pizzas always ready.

Now, it’s quite common to see larger pizzas, I regularly spot 16”, 18”, and even 20” pies. That’s a lot of pizza, and a lot of dough — the money kind. At most ‘mom and pop’ pizzerias I frequent, a “large” (14” or 15”) will run to $25 or more, making it awfully tough to compete with national chains offering LTO deals like $5 or 2 for $12.

The largest regularly available pizza in the US has been at the Big Mamas and Papas mini chain (20 locations) in Los Angeles. A square pie, measuring 4′ 6” square, rings the cash register at $199.99 plus tax. This is for a cheese pie, naturally. Additional toppings? $15 each! And yes, they can be delivered. They claim is that it serves “70.” On the ‘regular’ menu, the pies top out at 36.” (about $50.)

There are a number of pizza places in the US that regularly offer 42”, 50”, and 60” diameter pies, but even the largest 60” is 2827 square inches of cheesy deliciousness, whereas the Big Mamas  monster is nearly 3000 square inches. So if you’re contemplating, the 60” round is a better deal.  I think I deserve one for my birthday.  Robin?  To the pizza mobile!

In college, my go to pizza was at  a place named “Bills,” and in fact it was the only place in town for the first couple years of school. It’s still around, but under a different name, (pic at left) and I stopped by last year and enjoyed the pies just as much as I had four decades earlier. (AND……they were less than $15 for a large!)

On a “good” night back then, I could damned near put away two large (14”) all by myself. I don’t know what’s changed (certainly not my love for a great pie), but today a large will last me at least two days, if not longer.

Today I mis-ordered, and got an 18 incher, which was $15 but only because I had a $10 coupon. It’ll take me a few days to work through this beauty….with pleasure….  Wanna have some Chicago style pizzas delivered to your door?  Or other Chicago food?  Do it!


Giant Pizza

18″ of Cheesy, Sausagey Goodness!






Pizza Sizes


Superior, WI – VIP Pizza


VIP has three locations in the Twin Ports, two in Duluth, and this one in “Soup Town.” I remember the first Duluth location from a couple decades ago, on East 8th Street, across from Taran’s market. I was never in VIP that I recall, but I remember getting sent to the predecessor store, a little deli, whenever my mom needed some kosher grub.

The Gebackene  (“baked” in German) Pizza has an “interesting” variety of toppings:

Russian dressing-flavored sauerkraut, mushrooms, black olives, fresh chopped onions, and green peppers,topped with mozzarella, Swiss cheese and spicy Italian sausage.

I’ve made pizzas with kraut at home before, but never seen it offered at a pizzeria.  It’s an interesting topping, adds a whole new dimension of flavor and texture.  But thousand island?  Not for me.

The Minnesota Burger posse was out socializing after another Todd Eckart show, and they reported that the Gebackene was enjoyed by the entire crew.

Minnesota Burger Posse

VIP Pizza on Urbanspoon


Kettle River, MN – Tower Tap & Restaurant


Kettle River Minnesota lies beside the Kettle River, and was settled by Finnish immigrants in the years just prior to WW 1, and their influence is still noticeable today. Every summer, the good folk of Kettle River hosts Ma & Pa Kettle, which includes street dances, a pancake breakfast, the Miss Kettle River pageant, and a parade.   Kettle River sits in Carlton County, much of which was wiped out by a raging forest fire in 1918; only one building survived in the town, a brick bank which is still in use today.  Coming quickly on the devastation of the fire, an outbreak of Spanish Influenza took many more lives just a few months later.   The resilient people of K.R. rebuilt and thrived.  The 148 mile Soo Line North ATV trail passes through the Kettle River area, and the town is a good jumping off point to the Willard Munger State Trail, 100 miles plus for hiking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, cross country skiing.  There are developed and undeveloped camping grounds in the area, and a number of pleasant motels are nearby.

Tower Tap is a local “institution” in the burg of Kettle River, Minnesota. Like most public houses in rural communities, the Tap serves as a gathering place for locals for fun, frolic, discussion.

The Minnesota Burger Posse rolled into the Tap in pursuit of another nite of entertainment courtesy of Todd Eckart.  Before diving into the great menu, patrons at the Tap Sunday enjoyed a complimentary buffet courtesy of area radio station WKLK/WMOZ.

They were delighted by the hospitality of their hosts, proprietors Jane & Trey Morgan, with children McKayla and Eddie helping out.  There’s a special kind of feeling generated by small town family business owners in Minnesota, and the Tower Tap was no exception.

Minnesota Burger Bureau Chief went with the pizza, pre-visit rumors had proclaimed it a good one, and he thoroughly enjoyed it, which is big praise, and he’s picky about his pizza.   On a slightly thick crust, with fresh Italian sausage, Tyson’s premium Bonici Pepperoni, the posse thoroughly enjoyed this pie.

We’ve added their menu to our menu section.

Tower Tap Kettle River Minnesota

Todd Eckart Rocking the River

Tower Tap on Urbanspoon


Minneapolis, MN – Patriot Cafe at the VA Center


The head of the Minnesota Burger Posse, Kawika, hit the Patriot Café at the VA center in Minneapolis today, in hot pursuit of their made to order pizzas.

From their own description: “We serve a 16” pizza made fresh daily, whole or by the slice. We use the highest quality sauce, meats, cheeses and toppings. Daily offerings include cheese, pepperoni, sausage, combination and vegetarian on wheat crust.”

Kawika went with the personal sized pepperoni, and he said that the pie was loaded with pepperoni, but it was hiding under the cheese. At $3.69, he was happy with the product.

Canteen services are apparently part of the group that operates retail shops, emergency mobile food units for disaster relief, and a wide range of other services in VA centers, from barbershops to dry cleaners to florists.

Map of where the VA is located in Minneapolis:

View Larger Map


Duluth, MN – Sammy’s Pizza (Downtown)


Not much more I can say about Sammy’s, the small regional chain in the Upper Midwest, I’ve written about them a couple times.   Here’s the point:  I’ve had pizza all over the world, from Naples, Florida, to Naples, Italy;  from Boise to Beijing.  And Sammy’s is still my favorite, and worth a couple day drive on occasion to reacquaint myself with the cracker crust, savory sauce, and quality toppings.


Sammy's Pizza - First Street on Urbanspoon


Duluth, MN – Sammy’s Pizza


Sam Parella started Sammy’s Pizza on Minnesota’s Iron Range over 50 years ago. Today, Sammy’s locations are scattered across the Upper Midwest, and although each restaurant is independent, they are all owned by a relative of Sam or his best friend Nick Jerulle.

You’ll find no fancy artisan crusts, or fusion ingredients here. Sammy’s is basic thin crust pizza, with quality ingredients and toppings, and superb cheese, baked to perfection’

You’ll note Sammy’s is a proponent of square slices, which founder Sam says he learned during a short time he spent in Chicago.

There are half a dozen locations in my hometown, and over the years, they’ve fended off assaults from all the national chains, to remain the home town favorite. Frozen pies are available at the stores, as well, and cook up nicely, with the only discernable difference being the frozen pies use shredded cheese, the in-house pies are covered with cheese slices.

Sammy’s menu is online. The downtown Duluth location offers an all you can each lunch buffet on weekdays. Delivery available most stores, most times.

Map of Sammy’s Duluth locations:

View Larger Map

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Sammys png

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