Location: St. Paul West 7th
The only time I "hang out" in bars or pubs is usually commemorating a specific event, like an office farewell party or an overdue meet-up with a group of long-lost friends. I know that pre-pandemic, lots of people liked to gather to watch sports, but honestly, if there's an important game, I really need the relative isolation and comfort of my own living room so I can focus on the broadcast, rather than trying to navigate my way around the crowd, din, and inevitable emergence of my newest buddy, Talky McTalkerson. In short, sports bars are not my jam. And now any bar or restaurant quickly can lay claim to their territory as being the best place to catch The Big Game by simply mounting a few flatscreens around the perimeter of a dining room. The only thing worse for a sportsbarophobe like me might be if the pub exhibited a special affinity and focus on hockey. Well... welcome to the improbable perfection of Skinner's.
Growing up in Minnesota, the self-proclaimed "State of Hockey," the cadence and lexicon of the sport has always been familiar: Mites, Squirts, PeeWees, Bantams, Juniors, etc., but never playing on an organized team left me somewhat disengaged from full hockey immersion. But over time, it began to be easy to distinguish the rink-rats and hockey dads from other, more civilized sports fans. Skinner's is teeming with puckheads, who are easily identified by their habitat set up near a pitcher of beer, crooked nose, a blaze orange hunting cap, and a replica NHL sweater that looks as though it fit pretty well a decade earlier. Hockey fans are creatures of habit and simplicity, usually gravitating towards tavern cuisine and cold beer like a ten-point buck drawn to a salt lick. It's among this crowd that Skinner's rises above so many others to create a jewel of a pizza that's a majestic symphony of the classic ingredients. Cut into squares, the cheese and toppings were synched properly and supported by a firm, but pliable crust. The flavor was flawless and presented without fanfare, while the hockey-vibe gave it an environment unique enough to distinguish itself in a very crowded St. Paul pizza landscape. If someone were to make the claim that Skinner's served the best pizza in town, I would not argue the point. It's that good.
Located in a pleasant, but no-frills residential neighborhood in St. Paul, the building, environment, and decor draw no undo attention, instead focusing on great food and friendly service, despite an ever-present bustling all around. Strangely, the first time I visited was on a Sunday afternoon in 2012, shortly after the Vikings had lost a close game, so the despondent proprietor chose to close up early, only marginally apologizing when asking us to leave before we could place our order. This delay only served to peak my curiosity further, and I was eventually rewarded a few years later when Commissioner Jeff, Swen and Pastor Paul met up for a pre-game dinner before, you guessed it... a hockey game. In fact, we even caught Skinner's complimentary shuttle bus right outside, providing curb-to-curb service to the arena a few miles away. Unfortunately, I've only been back once since that surprising evening among the hardhats and pucksters, but on hockey night, this will always be my first choice. (10 of 10 stars)