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ISSUE 118 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/24/2004

Pizza Wars

By Kelly Wilson
Staff Writer


Friday, September 24, 2004

What tears families apart, pits brother against brother, and ruptures fragile kin relations worse than the eternal Montague and Capulet rivalry?

Pizza.

A ball of dough, a pan of sauce and a few handfuls of cheese will do the trick in creating a saga of epic proportions, or servings, between small business owners in Northfield, Minn. But this struggle runs deeper than a minor present-day squabble. Much, much deeper.

According to the testimonies of several townies (all of whom wish to remain anonymous), it all started approximately 40 years ago, when a man named Bill had a dream: the humble dream of making pizza.

Setting up shop in Northfield, Bill did all right for himself and created an impressive reputation among frequent Northfield pizza consumers. Sadly enough, the dream ended shortly. Bill moved to Greece and sold his beloved pizza ovens to his brother, who continued Bill's business in his absence. However, upon Bill's return to Northfield, he was dismayed to find that his request for the return of his ovens and his store fell upon deaf ears. His adamant brother would hear nothing of it.

So Bill took matters into his own hands. He opened a new shop, named it Basil's and gave his brother a taste of his own sauce.

The pizza wars had begun.

Throughout the years, new members of the family started their own pizza businesses, deepening the chasm between each and every pizza shop owner. Today, the underground "pizza mafia" has spread to the far corners of southern Minnesota. The volatile battle still rages on in Northfield, its birthplace.

With all the gossip and scandal surrounding the pizza businesses, the unassuming consumer looking for a decent slice might be led astray and influenced by a biased party. So how are we to know which pizzeria is really the best?

In search of journalistic truth, my partner in pizza investigtion, "Myers," and I set out to expose this petty scandal for all the grease it was worth. Our mission: to put an end to the timeless pizza wars and find what could truly be called the best pizza in Northfield.

The targets of the sting were obvious: B&L's, Basil's, George's and Domino's. We judged based on dining experience, service, price, speed and above all, taste. From each mark the order was the same: a small cheese pizza (and of course a Sprite for me and a water for my colleague). No frills, no bells and whistles: just straight up, old school pizza, the way mama used to make it.

B&L's

We hit B&L's first. Greeted with extremely friendly service and an inviting country atmosphere, I felt completely at ease and ready to coat my stomach with grease and cheese. The pizza arrived to the table promptly (within 10 to 15 minutes), along with the genuine smile of Loula, the co-owner of B&L's and a niece of Bill's. High expectations accompanied this pie. Could B&L's rise to the challenge?

It could. The crust was thin and crispy, the cheese perfectly melted and rich. The sauce was nondescript but in the end it all blended quite pleasantly. And the pie was a mere $6.34. I was extremely satisfied. B&L's would be a tough one to beat.

Domino's

A dingy, slum-like façade and an equally depressing, industrialist interior made it clear that Domino's was only here to make pizza, not life-long customers. This mantra was also reflected in the rather indifferent service we received. "It's all about the pizza up in here," Myers insightfully commented. However, even that was a disappointment. After waiting approximately seven minutes for the pie, we sampled what we now refer to as "Domino's death disks." The clichéd cardboard crust did nothing to complement the overly sweet sauce, with an obvious lack of spices and character. The only redeeming qualities were the decent thickness of the pizza and its semi-delicious cheese. All this for $7.70.

George's

The welcoming, unobtrusive service and distinct Italian villa ambiance made us feel right at home. When the $3.73, seven-inch pie arrived within 10 minutes, we were even more impressed with George's.

Then we tried the pizza.

It was glorious. Although a bit on the greasy side, the thin, crunchy crust and understated sauce complemented each other superbly. But, the real draw was the cheese. Even though Loula from B&L's told me that every store uses the same cheese, somehow George's was different. It seemed to massage my taste buds in a way that I never knew cheese could. "Mmm," Myers murmured. "This is a different kind of pizza for a different kind of person."

Basil's

It had a pleasing, distinctly Greek feeling and friendly, unpretentious staff. Again, our pizza came promptly. It was quite similar to George's, but with a dryer crust and less delicious cheese. The hint of basil in the sauce was exquisite. "The pizza was dece," Myers commented, wiping crust crumbs off her face. All in all, for $5.90, Basil's was a sure bet.

Our pizza sampling experience was complete. Although our personal votes were for George's, we realized each had its redeeming qualities, each its drawbacks. If you want amazing service, go to B&L's. If you're a cheese lover, go to George's. If you're Greek, go to Basil's. And if you have no taste buds, go to Domino's.

The pizza wars continue to rage on, in spite of our valiant attempts to unearth the truth. But we realized taste is subjective, and always will be. The real question here is will these senseless wars continue to escalate, until the cockeyed glances and petty gossip turn into vandalized shops and bodies washing up on the banks of the Cannon River? It's a definite possibility. The pizza folk are a passionate people. "Pizza's in our blood," Loula commented, reflecting on her family's commitment.

Maybe the advice of The Godfather could apply here: never go against the family. But if you do, be prepared to make a good pie.





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