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17. Dulono's Pizza

Classification: Traditional

Location: Minneapolis Uptown

This is a simple story...but not an easy one to tell. Like a fable, there is sorrow and, like a fable, it is full of wonder and happiness.

—from "Life Is Beautiful" (La Vita é Bella), a 1997 Italian film by Roberto Begnini

On a crisp autumnal evening in 1982 my group of friends would witness the unbridled joy of discovering something illuminating and magical, only to later be unwillingly guided down the sudden and unforeseen pathway of death. How can a person plan for such a sweeping collision of events? How could we have better prepared? Why do bad things happen to good people? These are a few of the questions that we still wrestle with today, almost forty years later, as we collectively still feel both the warm currents and bone-rattling gales of that cruel and fateful night.

One of the things that drew us to Dulono's was their famous 20" pizza, a monstrosity designed to feed at least three or four teen/young adults at the very peak of their metabolism heyday. The turn of events all began here, and although the pie was cut into traditional wedges, we were universally impressed with both the volume and quality. Indeed, we were off to a great start. The next step in our historic conquest was a few miles down the road to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, where the #25-ranked Golden Gophers were about to clash with undefeated Illinois in a gripping Big 10 football showdown. And though it seems so obvious now, we couldn't have possibly known as we spilled out on to the sidewalk of that long-time Lake Street pizzeria in Uptown Minneapolis that we were headed straight into a trap—optimism.

The game was a steady battle of momentum swings in which Minnesota eventually grabbed their first lead near the end of the third quarter. At that point, the crowd had grown so frenzied that for the first time in our lifetime, it appeared that a Rose Bowl appearance was not only possible, but inevitable. The ensuing touchback left Illinois with the ball on their own 20 yard line, with 65,000 fans literally losing their minds. From my seat in the end zone behind the play, I can still see that first play develop: a seemingly harmless horizontal toss to the slot receiver, caught at the line of scrimmage. But the seas suddenly parted, and it now looked like one of those photos you see on the cover of a Rand McNally Road Atlas: a wide-open ribbon of highway in a barren desert, with the Gopher defenders playing the role of the roadside cactuses. Nine seconds and 80 yards of scorched Astroturf later, Illinois reclaimed the lead, and later added two more scores and won the game handily. The Golden Gophers never won again that season, finishing 3-8, and ushering in an era known equally for its buffoonery and apathy. It was the Day That Football Died, but it began with great pizza—let's not forget that.

Dulono's Pizza has since moved to downtown Minneapolis, just a few blocks from Target Field, and although it's not tinged with the euphoria and bittersweetness of my first visit, it's still a pretty solid pizza, and as an added bonus, it's now cut into squares. Just a few years ago, we held a mini GoCon there with about eight or nine Groundouts in attendance, following an afternoon Twins-Reds game and preceding a MNUFC-Houston soccer match later that night, so the sports connection remains as strong as ever. And this time, I'm delighted to report that the home team won both games. Finally, Dulono's has been fully redeemed. (9 of 10 stars)

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