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22. River Inn

Classification: Traditional

Location: Hanover, Minnesota

Fortunately, I'm usually pretty quick to fall asleep at night, but on the rare occasion when I find myself tossing and turning, I'll often play some mental games of geography. Can I name twenty countries in South America? How many states have I slept in? Name all the states that border Missouri. I also study maps—sometimes European capitals; sometimes highway maps of semi-rural states; other times it's national parks or points of interest. In addition to these geographic gymnastics and map fancy, my local citizenship in the Twin Cities has aided in multiplying my general regional awareness over the years and has forged in me what I consider to be a well-above-average grasp on the local landscape. So it came as something of a surprise that there was a town called Hanover not more than twenty miles from my house—a burgh of about 2,000 where the exurbs suddenly give way to wide open fields and sparsely-traveled county roads. Hanover could easily serve as the filming location for Little House on the Prairie if there were still a mercantile and a cobbler in town. Even more surprising is that it hosts an absolute top-shelf restaurant that manages to produce very good pizza despite its Americana menu.

I've inventoried the places reviewed thus far, and the overwhelming majority specialize in pizza/Italian fare. A mere handful of these "variety" restaurants are worthy of pizza reviews, and it's logical to assume that premium pizza won't be found in such environs, but sometimes it's healthy to fact-check one's biases. Having frequented River Inn 4-5 times, it's clear that despite their broad culinary interests, they steadily churn out quality pizza. Served as traditional tavern-style thin crust, I've found their pies rate with many top local pizzerias, made all the more surprising because it all emanates from a town that atlases somehow forgot. And yes, a quick huzzah is deserved for the rest of their menu, which looks extremely good, and can be vouched for by everyone who's accompanied me to River Inn. So if you're not feeling like pizza (????) there are many other worthwhile choices. Find Hanover, and you'll find good pizza. (9 of 10 stars)

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