Reporting Sara Pelissero
I was recently asked for a recommendation on a local pizza place and while I initially thought of a few of my favorites, I suddenly realized it’s a much more complex question than simply “what’s good.”
There are many schools of thought that come into play here — do you like a spicier sauce? Thin crust or Chicago deep dish? How courageous are you with your toppings?
It can certainly be a challenge to hone in on a place that’s right for everyone. But at least for the moment, I’ve experienced a place that’s about as close as you can get to perfectly pleasing the masses.
Pizzeria Lola is the brainchild of Ann Kim, a Korean immigrant who was so inspired by a love of food and her mother’s delicious cooking that she decided to start a restaurant of her own. True, her mother’s cooking didn’t really focus on pizza, per se, but the way this chef and owner cooks — you can definitely spot some of the Kim legacy.
Having previously worked as an actress, Kim said she and her business partner (who worked in finance) were inspired to open a pizzeria that would resemble the pizza they loved eating in college on the East Coast.
“I’ve always loved to cook; I’ve always been interested in food and it had always been a dream of mine to someday open up a restaurant but it seemed like a fleeting dream,” she said.
At a time when the economy took a nosedive and the country was in a recession, Kim decided to quit her job and make her dreams a reality. She headed to San Francisco for “pizza school” where she researched, studied and read every book on baking techniques with one goal in mind — a terrific crust.
“It took a couple of years (to perfect the crust) and it’s still always a work-in-progress,” she said. “Now, I feel like I have a dough recipe that I think is really good but with dough making and pizza making, it changes depending on the weather, the humidity. You tweak. It’s a very, touchy-feely business.”
But it was certainly years well spent. The secret to Pizzeria Lola’s fabulously tasty artisan pies is most definitely the crust. Occasionally I’ve been known to leave the crust, after having successfully eaten the last bites that still contain some bits of sauce, but not here. Pizzeria Lola’s crust is a perfect combination of crunchy and chewy — one of those crusts that you can hear with each bite but not so crispy that the roof of your mouth will suffer.
And that’s exactly what Kim was going for.
“I would say it definitely took a couple of years of just trial and error in my home kitchen,” she said.
Even more, what’s topped on this magnificent crust is something of true creativity. While trying to make final decisions on which pizza to try during an initial outing, my fiancé Tom and I probably sent the waitress away about three times for “just one more minute” in order to come to a conclusion. Selecting the right combination of sauce, toppings and luscious cheese is not something one can rush.
There’s the initial first-glance, the scrutinizing in-depth reading and at Pizzeria Lola, the inevitable, “you put that on a pizza?!” astonishment.
Take for example, the Lady Zaza — a pizza that’s almost as crazy as the pop singer that inspired it. Korean sausage is sprinkled with house-made kimchi, plus a couple Serrano peppers for some zing, all topped over a soy chili glaze and garnished with scallions and sesame oil. Now, I’ll be honest here, I despise kimchi. The smell alone takes me back to my childhood when my parents forced me into Korean Camp in St. Paul so I could learn more about my roots. Great camp, terrible kimchi. This pizza, however, has made me a believer.
Kim said she created it as a one-time special — an ode of sorts to her heritage — but after the special ended, customers kept asking for Miss Zaza. The secret here could be generations of tradition — the kimchi is made by Kim’s mother, who’s been making the Korean staple for the last 60 years. But what does the elder Kim think about her kimchi being used on a pizza?
“Korean mothers are tough, man,” Kim said with a laugh. “They’re some of the toughest critics in the world. She actually had it a couple of times and at first, she was quite surprised. She was like, ‘Oh this is pretty good,’ but, of course, being a typical Korean mother, the second time, she had all of these criticisms — ‘You shouldn’t put as much green onions on top.’ She’s always a critic.”
Beyond the Zaza, Kim truly has a pizza for everyone. The Old Reliable is a nod to the classic pizza she remembers eating in college in New York, while The Sunnyside is inspired off a pasta carbonara — with soft eggs, pecorino and cream. Those looking for a bit of a kick should definitely try the Sweet Italian, made with piquante peppers and Berkshire sausage, a pizza packed with bold flavors. Even my “I hate cheese” fiancé could get his “freak pizza” (a pizza sans cheese) with the Marinara, made with roasted garlic.
If you’re thinking the ‘za is a bit all over the map, that’s actually a true conclusion. Kim said she and her business partner went from New York to California — with many stops in between — scouring for ideas, likes and dislikes from several pizzerias. She became inspired by their creations and dreamed up new combinations of her own.
“We tried to create something that took all the things we liked and put them into one pizza here,” she said.
Thankfully for us, Kim keeps that creativity alive — always thinking of new recipes and crazy amalgamations. She said she’s playing around with bringing back her Korean short ribs pizza for the fall, or perhaps looking into a gluten-free dough recipe to better serve all of her customers. Kim said she’s constantly inspired by what’s fresh and local and uses those ingredients to whip up her seasonal specials. (Sidenote: We tried their seasonal appetizer special — roasted sweet corn — and it was in.cred.ible.)
“There’s no end to the creativity of pizza,” she said.
And that means, for pizza lovers in Minneapolis, there’s no end to experiencing all that Pizzeria Lola has to offer. And those looking for recommendations on a place to try? You’ve got my safe bet.
Pizzeria Lola is located at 5557 Xerxes Ave. S. in Minneapolis. For hours, menus and more about the restaurant, check out the website.