Italian Pie Shoppe (Eagan, MN)
We don't want to mention any names, but we're sick and tired of national chain pizza restaurants.
Focus-group tested, centrally controlled menu items are average by design. Sure, the food looks fun on television, and even on the plate. But it's bland. It's mediocre.
For national chains, the name of the game is to eschew any sense of place and to entice every consumer. A pizza chain might not offend anybody, but it won't delight anybody either.
The Italian Pie Shoppe is not a national chain. It's local, with four restaurants in the Twin Cities. Two are owned by the same person, and two are franchises. We dined at the Yankee Doodle Square location in Eagan.
You'll find some clunkers on the menu, but there are real delights as well. And you're guaranteed to get a meal that's more interesting than a pizza commercial.
They serve pizzas, of course. You can order them thin crust, deep dish, or double crust and with a variety of toppings. One of our favorites was the vegetarian deep dish. Filled with lots of fresh broccoli, tomato, mushrooms, onions and zucchini, it was wonderful.
We also liked the white pizza, one of the thin-crust options. This is a delicious cheese pizza with no tomato sauce, only the lightest taste of olive oil. This really shows off how good their pizza dough is.
The other pizzas are good, too. But, we found the double-crust stuffed pizza a little undercooked, so be careful about that.
The Italian Pie Shoppe also serves sandwiches. The calzone is a folded-over pizza crust stuffed with cheese, sauce and two pizza toppings of your choice. We thought this very tasty, although we're used to the sauce on the outside of the calzone.
Similar is the stromboli, another pizza-crust sandwich with ham, salami, Swiss cheese, onions and olives. It's a great hot sandwich and much better than the Chicago torpedo sandwich. The ingredients are similar, but the torpedo comes with lettuce and tomato. We don't think lettuce is a good idea on a hot sandwich, and didn't care for the result.
Look for the table card listing more sandwiches. We really liked the meatball sandwich, which comes with marinara sauce and cheese.
The pasta dishes are all good and sometimes just delicious. We can recommend the baked pasta dishes, which come covered in sauce and cheese and then baked in a casserole pan. You'll get lots of garlic bread with these.
The small dinner salad is uninspiring but fresh. The salad entrée is better, with meat, cheese, green pepper and olives.
Don't even bother with dessert; the two meager options were handed to us wrapped in cellophane. How about adding some ice cream to the menu? We know you've got a freezer back there.
One last thing: If you go with a group, order Mr. B's Anti Vampire Buffalo Wings as an appetizer. These are not your standard hot wings. The sauce is heavily vinegary and seasoned with garlic and oregano. Zippy, but not too hot. Delicious.
While not all the old-time decor in the dining room is authentically old stuff, quite a lot of it is. Look for the panoramic photograph of St. Paul. That's authentic Minnesota, just like the Italian Pie Shoppe.
Location: 1438 Yankee Doodle Rd. in Yankee Doodle Square in Eagan. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday. 651-452-4525.
Atmosphere: Family-friendly, old-timey.
Service: No problems.
Sound level: Not too noisy.
Alcohol: Beer and wine.
Prices: $6 to $9 per person.
Smoking: Allowed in the secondary room until 4 p.m.; evenings are no-smoking.
Children: Special menu available.
Handicapped access: No ramps, but entry doesn't require steps.