Location: St. Paul North End
In my youth, it was a sort of a personal ambition to stay overnight at a national chain hotel. Or a motel—I didn't really draw a distinction between the two, as long as it had a massive monument sign out front welcoming weary travelers like my family. The bigger the sign, the more flashing marquee lights, the more neon, the better the vacation. The most exotic signage featured wonderment-inducing secondary messaging, like "Color TV.".. "All Electric"... or best of all, "Indoor Pool." The destination of the vacation wasn't really all that important; the sign WAS the vacation. Even today, I will occasionally drag my eternally patient family around charming little villages so I can observe and take photographs of interesting signs. We even once considered a driving trip across America's heartland several years ago with the sole purpose of staying at roadside inns with cool exterior signs. I still want to make that trip. Anyway, when I'm headed out to try a new pizza and I'm greeted with a siren song like the sign shown above, the pizza doesn't even need to stand out much for it to be an unforgettable evening. Also, it's worth mentioning that the building itself is an extreme example of somber architecture; a stark and featureless brick cube that befits its heavily paved surroundings. So the ocular sensation is a no-nonsense approach with branding techniques no longer in common practice today, but in doing so, it sends a message of timelessness and an implied quality that has spanned for many generations. It's brilliant, but it's only the warm-up act at Mama's Pizza.
The pizza here is a showstopper. When entering the restaurant through the front door, you almost walk straight into the first of two kitchens, but around the corner is simple and comfortable seating for around 60 diners. It's Minnesotan to the core, exhibiting a square-cut assault of cheese and toppings, sensibly acknowledging the fact that any traditional wedge would succumb to the overwhelming mass of this gem. The time-honored blend of elements is served efficiently and without flair, absolutely befitting of the gritty Rice Street neighborhood in which it has served customers for decades. My son and I sometimes will half-jokingly signal approval of an exceptional meal or foodstuff with a peculiar amalgam of a nod and a sly smile in unison with "angry eyebrows." Well, there's a lot of angry eyebrows every time we've dined here. The only misfortune I've ever experienced at Mama's was when we arrived for a birthday celebration several hours before they opened. We wound up at a significantly inferior pizza parlor, and while the disappointment was authentic, it only strengthened my resolve to stop by Mama's with increased vigor and pre-planning.
Even after the pizza is gone, the show isn't over quite yet. At this late stage of #Pizza100, it gets difficult to distinguish between so many truly great pizzas, but Mama's goes Next Level when they bring out the complimentary miniature twist cones with the check. I think the first time we visited, Swen and I were momentarily caught off guard, and the waitress glanced at us as though every restaurant indulged in such niceties. I now anticipate this small final act, which serves as the perfect finale for a sublime pizza experience. I have a sundry of acquaintances that will quickly and passionately declare this to be the best in Minnesota, and their arguments are meritorious. But nobody should require a lot of convincing, because Mama's Pizza is truly transcendent. (10 of 10 stars)