Location: St. Paul Midway
I had pretty modest expectations for this place when Swen stumbled upon it a few years ago. Although it's pretty nearby to some of the best pizza places in town, the Midway neighborhood itself is so eclectic that it might be best known for being so eclectic. Located down the road the futbol nirvana of Allianz Field, near the crossroads of University and Snelling Avenue, it's also known for perpetual traffic congestion and the worst pollution in the Twin Cities area. Honestly, could such a place be hiding good pizza? I occasionally ask acquaintances for insider pizzeria tips, and a work colleague living in the area mentioned this place, which certainly boosted its cred with the locals. But even prior to that recommendation, Swen and I happily discovered that Checkerboard was indeed legit.
Setting aside its surroundings, the building itself is pretty unassuming. Not surprisingly, it sports a perfectly garish red-and-white checkerboard motif that acts as a siren call to local pizza enthusiasts. Inside, it's even more spartan: just a handful of tables spaced somewhat awkwardly in a room that seats maybe 25-30 people. Have I dissuaded you yet? Well, hang in there, because the pizza was really solid. Any place that goes with the square-cut (checkerboard-style, in this instance) gets my attention, and the ingredients were flavorful and balanced nicely. The thinnish-crust was firm enough to support the toppings, but easy on the teeth. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and I look forward to a return, maybe after a rousing rendition of Wonderwall. (8 of 10 stars)