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Pizzeria Lola

October 3, 2014

Many years back, while watching an episode of “Diners, Drive Ins & Dives,” on TV with my husband, I saw a segment that completely captured my attention.  Not only did the food sound out-of-this-world, and definitely like something I’d eat, but the segment itself was full of fun, and laughter, and it just looked like a good time.  What had me even more interested was the fact that I figured in the back of my head I’d actually have the chance to go to this little spot being featured on the show.  I remember immediately telling my husband that I wanted to go to the his place, and his vague response was something along the lines of … “eh, maybe…”  I’m sure in his mind, he was thinking this was one of those fads that I would quickly forget after time had passed and it would never be brought up again.  See, the thing is, this little joint in the show wasn’t anywhere near where we lived, so my husband figured it would be a long shot that we’d ever have the opportunity to go.  In fact, this little joint was almost 2,000 miles away from where we lived.  I’ve since seen this same segment from this particular episode a couple of times on TV, and every time, I tell myself, “I’m going to go there!”  So, you ask yourself, how did I assume that one day we’d be able to dine at this place?  Well, the answer to that is because this little joint is located in Minneapolis, a city in which I find myself at least once every other year because Minnesota is where my husband’s family lives.  In fact, due the way we scheduled flights this year for various trips we’re taking in 2014, we’re going to find ourselves in Minneapolis, or at least at the airport, on 3 separate occasions.  Now you know, every time we talked about going to Minnesota, I’d bring up the fact that I wanted to visit this eatery, thinking that at some point in time, we’d really get the chance to dine at this place.  Low and behold, at the end of 2013, my husband and I had decided that it was time to take a trip to Minnesota over a long weekend and visit his family.  With a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, our plan had been to arrive into Minnesota in the early morning hours, rent a car, and drive ourselves up north to his family home for a few days of rest and relaxation.  At which point, my husband said to me, why don’t we grab an early lunch, find this place I’ve always wanted to go to and try it out before we made the drive.  As it turned out, what happened was that my in-laws decided that instead of us renting a car, they’d drive into the city, pick us up, we’d all go out to lunch together at this eatery, along with my husband’s aunt and uncle and my sister-in-law!

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So, what is this place?  Pizzeria Lola.  Located in southwestern Minneapolis, Pizzeria Lola is the story of a Korean-American immigrant child who was so influenced by her mother’s Korean cooking and passion for food that she ended up opening a pizza joint, with a Korean flair, and naming the joint after her beloved dog.  And that’s how we have Pizzeria Lola.  Ann Kim, chef and proprietor,  is the daughter of Korean immigrants who moved to the Twin Cities years ago.  After having moved away to the East Coast to attend Columbia Law School, Ann became disenchanted with the notion of becoming a lawyer and eventually found herself with a desire to open up a pizza joint, using techniques found from the best pizza joints in New York and combining it with the skills she gained under the tutelage of one of the master pizza chefs in the world, Pizzeria Lola was opened in 2010 in Ann’s hometown of Minneapolis.  A favorite of locals, and now tourists due to the publicity gained from the Food Network show, this place is what a true Neopolitan pizza with a down-home style is all about.  A great place to gather with your co-workers, your date, or your family for good food and good times.

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With an open kitchen, where you can watch your pizza, and other dishes being constructed and made, where everything is made in-house, from the pizza dough, to the homemade kimchi that goes on the pizza, to the homemade sausage used to top other pizzas, the small neighborhood joint is dominated by an authentic Le Panyol wood-fired oven as it’s centerpiece.  It’s in this oven, of which there are few authentic ones found in any pizza joints in the United States, that all of the handmade, hand tossed, and hand created pizzas are brought to life one by one.  This is the oven that gives the pizzas at Pizzeria Lola a little added oomph that make the pizzas here stand out from pizzas you find anywhere else.

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The menu here, like the restaurant and atmosphere, is a bit quirky and eclectic and different.  The dining area features a counter set around an open kitchen and the amazing pizza oven with a bunch of bar stools where people can dine while they watch their pizzas being made.  The dining room itself features more tables, big and small for groups of different sizes in a casual setting.  And then, there’s also an outdoor dining area with a couple of tables set up in a patio area with umbrellas and cute strung up lights for a fun and romantic atmosphere at night.  Unfortunately, in Minnesota, having an outdoor dining area doesn’t always work as the winter weather isn’t exactly conducive to outdoor dining.  However, during our trip to Minnesota, after the brutal winter they had earlier this year, this was one of the first true days where dining outside was possible, and since I was dining with a bunch of native Minnesotans who take advantage of outdoor dining whenever they can, you can bet that when we walked up to Pizzeria Lola and saw an open outdoor dining table on the patio under a large umbrella, we snagged the table right away.

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We started off with our drink orders.  On this warm Minnesota day, I wanted a nice cool, refreshing drink.  I saw on the menu something called cheerwine.  But, it was listed under the “soda + other” menu, so I knew it wasn’t alcoholic.  It sounded intriguing, and was only described as “a bubbly cherry soda concoction”.  Hmmm?  When I asked the waiter, he described it as a mix between cherry soda and root beer.  Well, I like cherry soda and I like root beer, so ok, I’ll give this cheerwine a try.  It was everything I wanted.  It had the nice sweet hint of cherry flavoring and it was bubbly and carbonated with a little bit of a rooty, bitter bite as well.  I could get used to cheerwine.  It was fun and different, and certainly not a drink I’d ever heard of before.

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My husband, as well as his aunt both ordered Blenheim’s extra-spicy ginger ale.  Pizzeria Lola offers Blenheim’s not-as-spicy and extra-spicy ginger ale versions and both my husband and his aunt agreed that they needed the extra-spicy version.  And boy, did it come with quite the bite of ginger, exactly what my husband loves.  Talk about enough spice to open up the sinuses!  But they both loved their ginger ales.  It was exactly what was needed on a warm day.  I wonder why I can’t find these types of different and interesting drinks at home.  I think I could easily become addicted.  I know my husband would love having some of this extra-spicy ginger ale on hand.

Now, time for what we came for: pizza!  As there were 7 of us at lunch, we decided to order a bunch of different types of pizzas and eat it family style, sharing at will and grabbing slices from the pizzas we wanted.  Time, to make some decisions now as to what kind of pizzas we wanted to order.

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My father-in-law wanted the “My Sha-roni,” the chef’s cute play of words for her pizza with house made red sauce, mozzarella, natural-casing pepperoni and house-made fennel sausage.  Natural-casing pepperoni on pizza is the best way to have pepperoni on pizza, in my opinion because when it goes into a pizza oven, and the edges get that little bit of crispy and pull away from the pizza crust, that makes pepperoni perfect.  Generally, I’m not a fan of sausage at all, but I have to admit that this was one of my favorite pizzas we enjoyed at Pizzeria Lola.  The homemade fennel sausage was perfect.  It had the perfect amount of spices and fennel added to it, and mixed with the red sauce and the slightly crispy pepperoni and just the right amount of cheese, this was one of the best pizzas ever.  The wood oven fired crust was amazing.  Incredibly crispy on the bottom and slightly burnt and still soft and chewy on top.  This was just an amazing pizza.

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My husband and mother-in-law together chose the Hawaii Pie-O pizza.  Again, another play on words for the name of the pizza.  The chef has a great sense of humor and creativity.  This pizza was made with house-cured bacon, fresh pineapple, mozzarella, provolone and Serrano peppers.  While my husband loved the idea of the bite of Serrano peppers in his pizza, my mother-in-law, not to mention myself, weren’t so keen on that.  So we asked for the pizza to be made with Serrano peppers only on half the pizza.  I loved the use of fresh pineapple, that really does make a world of difference.  You don’t get an overly sweet pineapple dripping with ultra-sweet juices from the can in which it came from.  The house-cured bacon was also amazing as you can control the amount of salt and it just has a different flavor.  And the use of provolone on the pizza was terrific as it gave it that little bit of extra nutty flavor.  I tried a slice of pizza and I loved it.  The salty bacon, the fresh pineapple and the nutty provolone on the super crispy wood-fired crust was terrific.

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My husband’s aunt chose a pizza that she knew my sister-in-law would also like.  It’s the only pizza I actually didn’t try myself.  It was the Xerxes, named for the street on which Pizzeria Lola is located.  The pizza was made with sautéed spinach, which my husband’s aunt loves and she knew my sister-in-love would love too, sheep’s milk feta, mozzarella, kalamata olives and almonds.  Kalamata olives are also a favorite of my husband’s aunt.  I’m not a fan of sheep’s milk feta, or kalamata olives, so that’s why I stayed away from this particular pizza.  But, I think that those tried a slice of this pizza enjoyed it.  The flavors were good and the combination was good for a vegetarian pizza.  However, most of us at the table found we enjoyed the other pizzas just slightly more, and in the end, we had 2 slices of this pizza left at the end of the meal along with only 1 slice of another pizza, so the consensus was that while the Xerxes was a delicious pizza, it just wasn’t as good as the other pizzas.

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As a group, we also decided that we’d order the special pizza of the day, called the bel paese, or Italian for “beautiful country.”  We were told that the bel paesa came with bel paese cheese, which has a nutty flavor, asparagus, speck, and honeyed truffle oil.  The asparagus caught the attention of those of us in the group that like fresh greens and veggies.  The speck caught my attention because you can never go wrong with cured Italian ham.  And the honeyed truffle oil definitely caught my husband’s attention because anything with truffle oil makes him happy.  And well, nutty cheese, is there anyone out there that doesn’t like cheese?  So, this seemed like a no-brainer to order.  And in the end, it was.  The nutty cheese flavor of the bel paese was fabulous.  I’m not a big asparagus fan, but I will admit to liking the asparagus on this as it gave the pizza a great crunchy component.  And the speck was just fabulous – just the right amount of saltiness to help balance out the pungent honeyed truffle oil.  This seasonal specialty was truly a winner!

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And if that wasn’t enough pizza yet, we ordered one more pizza.  This is one of Pizzeria Lola’s specialty pizzas, one of the pizza’s they’re known for.  See, Chef and Owner Ann Kim decided to bring a little Korean flair to her amazing pizzas with 2 Korean-inspired pizzas.  The first is the Lada ZaZa, which is topped with kimchi that she makes in-house.  However, that’s not the one we choose, what we ordered was the Korean BBQ pizza.  Topped with Niman Ranch beef short ribs, mozzarella, and scallions all finished off with arugula tossed in sesame & soy-chili vinaigrette, this pizza was a little bit of Korea meets Italy.  And the results were out of this world!  By far, this pizza was the consensus favorite of the group.  The combination of the creamy mozzarella with the perfectly thin-sliced beef short ribs that were so tender they melted in your mouth was a glorious meeting of two worlds.  Top that with the arugula in the soy-chili vinaigrette, it was unlike any pizza I’d ever tried before.  We all ended up devouring this pizza, and I could easily have seen myself ordering this pizza for myself to take home and enjoy.  I definitely see why this pizza is so popular and helped put Pizzeria Lola on the food map.

All these pizzas later, we were all still in the mood for dessert!  Yes, my husband’s family is my kind of people!  Looking through the dessert menu, which looked rather simple, but turned out to be anything but, we all made our decisions.

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My husband decided he wanted to try the root beer float.  Made with Boylan Bottling Co.’s cane sugar root beer topped over Pizzeria Lola’s house-made vanilla soft serve ice cream, this concoction was perfect for a warm Minneapolis day.  The root beer had the right amount of sweet and bite, finished off with a cool, creamy soft-serve ice cream.

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My mother-in-law and her sister, my husband’s aunt, decided to split what was called the DIY ice cream sandwich.  Described as, “the best of both worlds” served with two cookies and a small ice cream, we weren’t quite sure what we would get.  We were told that the house-made flavors of soft serve ice cream available were vanilla and strawberry, or a mix.  My mother-in-law and her sister figured they should try a mix of the two flavors, and they weren’t disappointed.  They both loved the ice cream and they loved the cookies.  In the end, I don’t think anyone actually made an ice cream sandwich as they just had the ice cream separate from the cookies, but they loved the individual components of the dessert, and hey, it was DIY, so they did it their way.

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Using the house-made vanilla soft serve ice cream, my husband’s uncle opted for a cup of it topped with house-made caramel sauce.  Vanilla ice cream, and caramel sauce, he was one happy camper.  The key to all of this dessert was definitely the house-made vanilla soft serve.  You could tell that it was house-made and it was fresh made.  It had such an amazing vanilla flavor, but it wasn’t artificially sweet or overpowering.  It was so smooth, and creamy and refreshing that you could literally eat a bucket full of it.

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As for me, I opted to try out the dessert specialty of the house, which was a cup of the house-made vanilla and strawberry soft serve ice cream swirled together and topped with extra-virgin olive oil and fleur de sel.  Normally, I’m not a salted-anything kind of girl.  To me, sweet should remain sweet, and salt should stay in savory foods, not sprinkled on top of sweet foods.  But, I’ve seen people rave over this combo, I knew I needed to give it a try.  Again, the soft serve ice cream was absolutely outstanding.  The vanilla was creamy and rich, and the strawberry was so fresh, and the hint of strawberry flavor was so subtle, it was perfect.  But yes, the extra-virgin olive oil and the fleur de sel were the star of the show.  Somehow, the olive oil over the super creamy soft serve worked.  The flavors married together perfectly.  And the fleur de sel was sprinkled on just enough to add a hint of saltiness, but not to be overpowering the way salted-anything desserts can sometimes be.  This was one of the most decadent ice cream desserts I’ve had in a long time, and I loved it!  It was absolutely outstanding, and a true winner.  I came to Pizzeria Lola expecting to be blown away by the pizza, not necessarily the dessert, and in the end, I was blown away by both.

To this day, I still think about Pizzeria Lola often.  I swear, next time I’m back in Minneapolis, I need to convince my husband to go there with me again.  It was some of the most amazing pizza I’ve had.  The flavors of the hand-tossed, home-made pizza, all bubbling and slightly charred from the amazing wood-fired pizza oven was outstanding.  The atmosphere of the joint is so relaxed and wonderful that my husband’s family and I all had such an amazing time enjoying a terrific meal together.  And the food was out of this world.  The pizza was fabulous, the dessert was fabulous.  Pizzeria Lola was everything and more that I had hoped it would be ever since I saw that Food Network episode for the very first time years ago.  I couldn’t wait then to go to Pizzeria Lola, and I can’t wait now to go back.

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2014 9:52 am

    That was such a fun day! We had the best time! Everything was perfect, the food, the weather (not the traffic, lol…) Although I joined you late and most of the pizzas were not something I would have chosen myself, I ended up LOVING the Korean BBQ and the asparagus one was really good, too. I loved the pineapple and Serrano peppers on the Hawaii Pie-O but didn’t care for the bacon, and I never tried the My Sharoni or the one with olives on it (I abhor olives…shudder….) And you were so right about dessert. Remember they ended up giving us an extra olive oil ice cream because someone’s wasn’t “big enough” (so they determined) and so even though I didn’t order dessert I got to try it and it was truly amazing. Just a great lunch all around. I would like to go back someday, and although I live close by, I don’t know if it could live up to the fun we had that day.

    • October 3, 2014 10:01 am

      That was the absolute best day! I had so much fun with your family! And I was so bummed when you got stuck in traffic, but were glad you eventually made it and enjoyed the pizzas. We had the best time just sitting around talking and laughing, a lot. I would totally go back again next time we’re in town!

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