Just when you were starting to think all of the cool pizzas in town were wood-fired, you find out about another hip new way to prepare a pizza pie. Coal Fired! Black Sheep Coal Fired pizza, with locations in downtown Saint Paul and Minneapolis, is the first restaurant in Minnesota to use — clean burning, virtually emission free! — coal to bake up a pizza.
I figured it was my civic duty to check it out and report back to the Minneapolite-nation about my findings.
Phillip picks me up from outside my work building downtown on one of the darkest days of the year and we make the two-minute drive up Washington to the north loop neighborhood where Black Sheep makes its home amongst the walking commuters. Street parking seems to be plentiful in this area, so we mosey on up to a nearby meter and quickly shuffle inside.
Our ears turn red as they encounter the stark contrast of the warm air within, and our stomachs growl when the first aromas of pizzas and spices hit our nostrils . We step down the short flight of steps into the slightly-below-ground dining room.
The space is brightly lit and cheerful, small enough to feel cozy and safe from the cold and busy Minneapolis sidewalks above. We are — as is typical for us these days — a bit early for the dinner rush, so have the place nearly to ourselves. We quickly find ourselves ushered to a two-top beneath a street-viewing window.
We ask a few questions about the limited selection of wonderful local and craft brews on tap. There is no happy hour at the Minneapolis location, and these beers run about $5 each. Not terrible, for a regularly-priced glass of the likes of Surly, Harriet, or Steel Toe. I choose the Harriet Brewery’s Divine Oculust (you may remember I fell into a deep, sweet love with it at Republic’s happy hour a while back) and Phillip selects a Haywire, a double-black American Ale from our new local Indeed Brewery in Nordeast. Both beers are served to us in large wine glasses, which feels … well, to be honest, incorrect. But oh so classy!
We’ve decided to employ our Punch Pizza ordering strategy: one salad, one pizza, two plates, two forks. Aren’t we romantic? Our server thinks this is a good idea and assures us that a 12″ pizza should be enough for the two of us to split. When she describes the market salad of the day — apples, watercress, a curry buttermilk dressing & squash, $8.50 – we need no convincing. Bring it on!
We agree that the crisp apple with the soft squash make a perfect texture complement, and the curry dressing adds unexpected-but-gorgeous flavors to an otherwise perhaps overly simple dish. We find ourselves talking less and taking our bites faster and faster as the plate empties, each selfishly hoping to get to eat just a little bit more than the other person. We scrape the plate with our forks to get every last bit.
Luckily for the state of our marriage — hah! — our pizza arrives just as we finish the salad.
After some debate, we had decided on the #5: fennel sausage and hot salami with green olives, $11.75 for 12 inches. Our server was happy to oblige my request to substitute green peppers for the onions. I had been tempted by the #3 (meatballs and ricotta cheese, $11.75/12″) and the #7 (oyster mushroom, smoked mozzarella, rosemary & garlic, $14.50/12″) but my meats-and-olives-loving husband would hear none of it. I guess I’ll have to go back for those another time with another person (any takers!?).
Our pizza is lovely, another well-thought and well-executed dish. The coal-firing gives the crust a suggestion of char, but not’s not quite as smoky-tasting as I’ve had from wood-fired pizza ovens. The benefit of the coal seems to be more in the texture it allows than in the taste: crunchy and firm yet still somehow chewy, soft, and not at all overcooked.
We had expected to save a slice or two for our lunches the next day, but surprise ourselves by finishing every last bite. Our total bill is just under $33 before tip.
The dinner rush is just beginning to whirl around us as we bundle up in our jackets to head home. We step out of the warmth and trade the swirling fragrance of pizza for the harsh breezes of a Minnesota winter just beginning to hit its stride. With a known safe haven like Black Sheep, we might just make it through the next few cold, dreary months just fine.
Industrial and modern decor, yet the slightly-underground setup gives it a comfortable, cave-like coziness. Seating varies from a half-dozen small tables in the front room, to booths in the back area, to stools along the bar.
We beat the dinner rush, so our server was relaxed, helpful, and timely.
The market salad is gorgeous, and the pizza is served up on a raised platter, helping to make the most of the small two-top table.
The salad is an absolute homerun , and I’ll keep on coming back for the unique pizza options.
Value for Dollars
A bit pricier than I would like — especially with no happy hour in Minneapolis — but worthwhile.
But don’t take my word for it!
Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza
Minneapolis North Loop
600 Washington Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Downtown St. Paul
512 N Robert St
St Paul, MN 55101
Saint Paul Happy Hour: S-Th, 2-5pm
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