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79. Davanni's Pizza & Hot Hoagies

Classification: Traditional

Location: Oakdale, Minnesota

I know a fair number of people that would rate Davanni's near the top of their list, but it's usually for their sandwiches and assorted sides, which might be true enough, but I think it sounds like a wasted opportunity, because I'm in for the pizza. But that puts me in mind to spin a woeful tale of my birthday party from 2017. This isn't necessarily a knock against Davanni's, but it underscores the heightened tension that can befall a joyous occasion once it begins to sadly unravel.

My son and I share a birthday separated by a single day, so we frequently will bunch the celebrations with family together, as a measure of courtesy and convenience. (Of course, once alone, we celebrate wildly for days—even weeks, but the family festivities are kept pretty tightly bundled.) Since my son lives about 90 minutes away, we decided that a halfway meet-up would work best for our scattered group of 7-8 people, especially since that area is generally considered to be so densely concentrated with premium pizza that you could point yourself in any direction and you'd bump into an excellent pizzeria within a few minutes. And our first stop on this sunny Sunday afternoon was at a family favorite (watch this space!), but it didn't open for another two hours. Sensing no urgency, we simply motorcaded 5 minutes deeper in to St. Paul for the next best option. But this particular location was a satellite operation offering take-out only. With concern growing and stomachs rumbling, we settled on convenience, and that's where Davanni's came in for the attempted rescue. I'm glad for their service, and have generally been pleased with their offerings in the past, but I felt mildly deflated by the "less than fully fruitful" search, which felt like a compromise that concluded in a most hurried manner. And in an "other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" sort of way, the rest of our birthday celebration was just fine, thank you.

Even their name ("Pizza and Hot Hoagies") suggests a divided interest, but it's apparent in their branding strategy that they've found their niche as acceptable to all, but master of none. Despite its breadiness, I'll go back and enjoy Davanni's, which has locations scattered throughout the city, but never as my ultimate destination. It serves its purpose, but it's nothing more than safety-net dining. (5 of 10 stars)

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