Location: Minneapolis North Loop
You might have noticed that artisan pizza ranks somewhat lower on my scale than traditional pies, but it's a guideline, not a rule. And there are certainly different levels of artisanship. For example, my first post-college apartment was a modern structure built in the trendy area of Lowertown St. Paul. I could barely afford it, but it was located directly across the street from Alfredo, a Florentine bistro that also featured nightly live jazz. I envisioned my young adulthood as a hyper-localized celebrity, fist-bumping the bros and kissing the girls on the cheek as I entered the cafe—basically a way cooler version of Cliff Claven. These visions were quickly extinguished upon sampling their pizza, a bizarro mix of goat cheese, olive oil, slivered nuts, and basil by the fistful. After taking my first bite, I literally barked it right back out, and with eyes watering and pride shrinking, I left the club with my cultural tail between my legs. My takeaway lesson: Dine at home. Stay for the jazz. Know your place in the pizza kingdom.
With that in mind, I was excited to sample one of the area's recent pizza raves, despite its reputation as a foodie magnet. Scouring the menu revealed that you could easily take a deep dive into some dangerous areas, but they also had a decent selection of traditional-style pizzas that were simply baked in their storied coal-fired ovens. The end result was fairly pleasing, enough to award them as Best in Class of artisanal pizza. One of the delights of coal-fired ovens are the slightly uneven baking, which sometimes allows for doughy, flaky, or even slightly burnt crust. The variety is actually a bit charming, making each pie's DNA as unique as a fingerprint. Black Sheep has a nice blend of toppings and traditional cheese to go with that crust, and although the dining room is hyper-modern with high ceilings, stainless steel and reclaimed wood, it was still comfortable. This is another favorite among the locals, often winning "Best Of" awards, but I'm holding Black Sheep just a bit outside Pizza100's Circle of Greatness. (8 of 10 stars)