Location: St. Paul Summit-Grand
I attended a very small, very strange private art college that could easily be described as "kindergarten with cigarettes." For our freshman year, a ragtag collection of freaks, geeks and artsy misfits followed an identical class schedule filled with paints, crayons, chalk and glue; we ate lunch together, shared countless smoke breaks, and if the curriculum had been more thoughtful, we'd have probably rolled out sleeping mats side-by-side for naptime as well. I never smoked, but unlike high school, it was now considered socially acceptable to form crossover friendships, so it became pretty easy to get to know all of my classmates. Within a few months of the start of fall classes, we had started forming smaller alliances, but it remained pretty much an "all in this together" attitude. As a suburban teen from the west side of town, venturing all the way to the concrete jungle of St. Paul was exotic and filled with mystery and weird sights and smells. Even though it was no more than thirty miles from home, it may as well have been Cleveland. Or Lisbon. So I found this community kind, comforting and welcoming, and one day, when one of the other students suggested a group lunch to her self-described "best pizza place in St. Paul" I took some interest.
I had no way to gauge the accuracy of her pizza thermometer, but that first visit occurred during the middle of the Great Deep Dish Explosion, and it was indeed, very good; similar or possibly better than any I'd tasted before. But it was the ensuing follow-ups that entrenched its status as elite flat/thin crust pizza. For many years, it would have been in the conversation about sitting atop of these rankings, but like so many others, Green Mill began expanding and franchising and marketing frozen entrees, and well...over time, I started to feel like it was simply morphing into the Pizza Division of Proctor & Gamble. I started to kind of resent it, even though it was still usually fairly solid. But I intentionally threw an important word into that last sentence: usually. After dozens of amazing pizzas and many years of consistent excellence, it just wasn't good enough anymore. The nadir of my discontent came 10-11 years ago when the Groundouts gathered for a post-Glorybound golf tournament pie and podcast, and we caught ourselves sadly and solemnly shaking our heads, the same way we do today when watching Albert Pujols try and run the bases. "It was a heck of a run," we all thought in silent unison.
I sampled it again a few years later strictly out of convenience or circumstance, and behold—it was like old times again. And so I followed up and it was a repeat performance. And then again. And so on, and so on. The crust, cheese and sauce blending in perfect harmony and the toppings adding just the right contrast. I don't know how they managed it, but in a very happy surprise, Green Mill seems to be hitting its stride once more. This is Michael Jordan returning to the Bulls, or Tony Bennett becoming cool again. Maybe Green Mill was never as downtrodden as I had cast them, but I'm so delighted that it has re-emerged as a pizza suitable for any occasion. This masterpiece has been nearly restored to its original glory, and it may once again be worthy of a top ranking sometime soon. (9 of 10 stars)