Sunday, August 07, 2005

(partial) pizza roundup, part one

Pizza is, if nothing else, comfort food. This is a term that typically nauseates me, but in this context, I think it applies. As vegans, we've sort of voluntarily cut ourselves off from much of the pizza world, and at times this can seem cause for despair, or worse, the rationalization of the one-time exception for some cheese pizza. Well, I recommend listening to the words of our president: Stay the course, strengthen your resolve! And if you're still having trouble, make sure your stomach is settled, then click here for reminders of how you got into this predicament in the first place.

Sorry that was so disturbing, but remember, don't blame me, blame those who stand by and let these animals suffer. And before I sound all high and mighty, perhaps I should add that, over the years, I've been known to succumb to the temptation of a Wisconsin cheese curd or two. These labels are complicated.

Anyway, I promise that the following links will be much less disturbing.

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Pizza Luce is my favorite local pizza place by a long shot. They have three locations here in Minneapolis, with one more up in Duluth, where the temperature is currently a balmy 45 degrees below freezing. Pizza Luce, in addition to offering delivery and a full bar, offer many selections for us vegan types. I'll tell you right now, the spaghetti is pretty awful, but let me recommend a couple of sandwiches, namely the Vegan Muffaletta and the Special Spicy Mock Sausage Hoagie. Here are the specs on those two bad boys:

Special Spicy Mock Sausage Hoagie* (Vegan) your choice of bread, brushed in olive oil instead of butter, spicy mock duck bathed intangy red sauce, topped with onion, tomatoes and our very own 100% dairy free rinotta uncheese (*contains nuts), served hot 7.29

Vegan Muffeletta spicy mock duck and our very own 100% dairy free rinotta uncheese (*contains nuts)with our special blend of olives, peppers and garlic topped with barbeque sauce, onions, tomatoes, banana peppers, lettuce and italian dressing, served hot 7.29

I recommend the focaccia bread for both of these. In May there was also the Vietnamese hoagie, Bi Mha or something like that, which was an amazing combination of mock duck, fresh cucumber, sri racha sauce, and I don't remember what else. On that one you had to remind them to hold the mayo, which they neglected to do once when I ordered mine vegan. This might be a fun one to try making at home, and I would definitely use vegan mayo if doing so, as it cuts the spice nicely.

My favorite Pizza Luce pizza is by far the Rustler:

The Rustler: a zesty combination of barbequed mock duck, pineapple, sweet tangy banana peppers, red onions, cheddar & mozzarella 11.99 14.39 18.99

Obviously, you'd want to skip the mozzerella in favor of the Rinotta, a not-so-cleverly-named Ricotta substitute made from, among other things, tofu, nutritional yeast, and cashews.

The rinotta is also used well on the Vegan Un-cheese Toast, which I can't help but order every time. The red sauce is phenomenal, not too sweet, not too spicy.

I also have limited experience with the Greek pizza, again substituting rinotta for the real cheeses:

Greek: spinach, artichoke hearts, marinated calamata olives, feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella & greek oregano 13.19 15.99 20.99

The last time I went to Pizza Luce was last night, while in the middle of the Pizza Roundup. I'd been working on this thing yesterday right up until 5:00, when I had to run to the tattoo shop for a very involved cover-up. I came out of there almost five hours later, hungry as hell, and bleeding all over the place (well, there was a little blood anyway). Pizza Luce is so good that my wife and I have been eating it a lot lately, and so tried to come up with other late night food ideas instead, but in the end we ended up at Pizza Luce and tried something new, kind of a classic taste, the Fresh Veggie:

Fresh Veggie: generous amounts of tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, black olives & mozzarella 11.39 13.59 17.99

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Galactic Pizza
is a place that, looking at the website, I should absolutely love. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The music was bad alternative, and altogether too loud. Happily, Finnegan's beer was on tap. Be sure to check out their website, and drink their Irish Amber whenever you can. Truthfully, an Amber isn't the first beer I would reach for given the choice, but Finnegan's donates 100% of their proceeds to help at-risk youth, which is pretty incredible.

So I'm drinking my pint, feeling pretty good, anxious to try one of the seven (!) vegan pizza options. First, though, we ordered some vegan cheese toast, which took sort of a long time to arrive. When it did, we started to get nervous about the pizza. The toast was reminiscent of something you might make at home, something involving french bread, margarine, and garlic salt. The only difference was that shredded on top of the bread was this weird vegan mozzarella that, surprise, hadn't melted one bit. It just kind of sat there, all oily and strange looking. To be fair, it didn't taste that bad, but it was weird enough that one person in my party, not a fan of its texture, picked it off and deemed it "flavorless and without purpose."

This cheese was also on the pizzas.

Otherwise, the pizzas weren't that bad. They were thin crust, kind of cardboardy, like something you might expect at your local neighborhood real-deal pizzeria. (That cardboardy remark, by the way, is a compliment). We ordered the Shroomer and the Hipster, both of whose specs are listed below:

THE SHROOMER � Tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, portabella mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and button mushrooms.
THE HIPSTER � Tomato Sauce, mozzarella cheese, spinach, button mushrooms, red onions, roma tomatoes, and topped with feta cheese.
And like I said, the pizzas, minus the weird cheese all over them, weren't bad, but kind of expensive for how thin they were. I also found it odd that there was a pizza called the Alamo that seemed remarkably similar to Pizza Luce's Rustler (see below):

THE ALAMO � Tangy barbeque sauce, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, marinated chicken, red onions, button mushrooms, and red bell peppers.
I think the straw that broke the camel's back, though, came when we were told that they had run out of vegan cheesecake the day before. Excited by the website's advertisement of said deliciousness, we had even called ahead and been promised blueberry, at the very least. We were not happy.

When we got home, my wife and I asked each other why it is that the vegan food scientists can't get cheese right. Why isn't there a good, melty, non-chemical vegan cheese yet? I mean, really, it's 2005, for Christ's sake.

In the end, Galactic Pizza wasn't awful, but it was a disappointing experience overall. Despite its location in Minneapolis' Lyn-Lake neighborhood, Galactic felt somehow like a suburban teen hangout, like a coffeeshop in Anoka or something.

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Now, there is one other pizza place in town with the word vegan on their menu. Like Galactic Pizza, Spokes Pizza Collective is a wonderful idea on paper. Shit, organic ingredients, a truly democratic work environment, "wholesome and affordable foods", bicycle deliveries? It all sounds so great to me. And the vegan breadsticks are, in fact, pretty great, but for me Spokes is just another Minneapolis area collective that is content to do things kind of half-assed. It feels like a bunch of kids got together and said, "wouldn't it be fun to start a pizza place?" And, to their credit, they actually fucking did it, which is more than I can say about half of my hair-brained ideas.

The problem is that while the crust is pretty good, the pizzas themselvese aren't. Also, Spokes uses by night what is by day the Seward Cafe, the atmosphere is incredibly awkward, and you can read elsewhere my complaints about said establishment's griminess. This might be something I could overlook, but the pizza takes so long to arrive that you kind of end up noticing every speck after a while. All of this might be forgivable if there were a bar, and I understand that, when renting a space from another restaurant, things like liquor licences are probably a tad complicated, but the opportunity to knock a few back might make the experience a little better.

Spokes is a place that I think is a great idea, and I want it to work, but then it's kiddy-corner from Pizza Luce, and for me, it's a no-brainer. It's funny, too, because that Pizza Luce location opened up not long after Spokes established itself. I've heard people suggest that it was a conspiracy, but really, Pizza Luce has been so successful, I don't think they were ever feeling threatened by Spokes. For me, at least, the world is a little bit bigger than all of that.

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When I'm in Chicago I like to eat New York Pizza. That's what I was going to say, and it was going to be a clever segue, until a google search revealed that this mom 'n pop on the far north side had closed. Actually, if I remember the story right, son 'n son is more accurate. Two brothers moved to Chicago to care for their sick mother and, stuck in Chicago deep-dish territory, began to miss the gigantic foldable pizzas from their native New York. They had a vegan pizza that didn't even mess around with fake cheese or meat, and you know what? It didn't need to. I remember it having an insane amount of garlic on it, and I also remember being chastised for having no idea how to eat a New York slice (turns out you fold it, front to back).

New York Pizza will be missed by Chicagoans, and by me.

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I guess all you Windy City vegans will have to settle for frozen. Might I recommend Amy's Roasted Vegetable? The sauce is an ingriguing and addictive combination of agave nectar, balsamic vinegar and I don't know what else, but I love these pizzas. A caveat: they're kind of pricey, and not super filling. I've eaten one of these by myself before, and then I did get full, but that's kind of a lot of money for a meal for one at home. I'll leave it up to you. Maybe make a salad.

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As I'm writing this, Har Mar Superstar has come on the iPod, just one more reminder that, because of the Surly Vegan Summer Tour 2005, I'm going to miss the Pizza Luce Block Party, which Har Mar will be headlining.

I can hear you groaning already, so let me tell you that I wasn't a fan until I saw him live, and now I'm proud to be on board. So will you. You should really go.

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