Rah, Rah Black Sheep
Updated version of the familiar nursery rhyme: Baa, baa black sheep, have you any, um, coal?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, and they’re used to fire the ovens at Black Sheep Pizza. Oh, and make that “Rah, rah Black Sheep” because those ovens are turning out downright nifty pizzas at this tiny, little hole-in-the-wall pizzeria in the Warehouse District. The kitchen fires its pizzas not with trendy (read: costly) apple wood, grape vines, nor wood from an endangered rainforest or what have you, but instead harks back to the anthracite of another era, just like (says the menu) the first ovens used to bake pizza in the United States—still flourishing today in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Black Sheep claims to be the first (and only, as far as I know) pizza palazzo in the Twin Cities to use this age-old (clean-burning, emission-free) fuel to fire its ovens.
But the test lies not in the historic lore nor in “green” cooking, but in the eating. And yes, these are fine pizzas indeed—thin but substantially-crusted, bearing a pure, yeasty flavor, unfiltered by fumes.
Black Sheep’s pies come in two sizes, 12- and 16-inch, delivered on a little wire rack that positions them about a foot above the table for all to admire. Prices begin at $6 for the tomato-oregano-skip-the-cheese version and top out at $13. Add on whatever you fancy from two dozen toppings for $2 each.
Pies also may be ordered half-and-half, as our kindly server suggested to this clearly conflicted table, enabling us to sink our teeth into four varieties atop two pies.
Toppings are spread on far more generously than is “authentic” (yeah, you, Punch Pizza), and that’s fine with me. Best, by far, was the hearty Number 4, loaded beyond belief with tasty, juicy, golf ball-size meatballs, along with spangles of creamy ricotta and enough garlic to bond the group but not repel the rest of the tables. The sausage number—nicely porky and imbued with fennel—disappeared in no time, too; its partners in crime included a nice balance of hot salami, onions and cracked green olives (for which we substituted a hearty toss of mushrooms).
The sauceless combo of oyster mushrooms, smoked mozzarella and rosemary provided a nice contrast and was interesting in its own right, while the chicken and pickled pepper version, maybe not: an overkill of puckery pickles that verpowered the chicken.
The design of the dive is simple and contemporary, skip the checkered tablecloth and plastic grapes (hey, this is condo country here on North Washington). And so’s the rest of the menu, an abbreviated, and serviceable, list that’s mostly devoted to accompanying salads, $6-8, intended for sharing. We chose—and dove into—that evening’s special, a gorgeous toss of peppery arugula with crisp-tender asparagus cavorting with mealy sliced new potatoes and crumbles of feta—in a word, divine. But then, so was the spinach-blue cheese plate (or choose house, chop, farmers market or roasted vegetable versions).
The beverage list is similarly short and suitable: Surly and Summit beers on tap, seven reds and seven whites by the wine glass or bottle, starting with the house labels at $5 a pop. Selected soft drinks, too, including 1919 draft root beer.
Due to popular demand, Black Sheep is now open for lunch as well as late into the evening So if you’re feeling a bit peckish after a Twins game, amble on in. Might have to submit to crowd control, however—it’s that appealing.