“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”: Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her husband. Me, to pizza.
Well, not just any pizza. Picky as the poetess was about her choice of men, I’m even pickier with my pies. And Punch Pizza is perfection. Let me count the ways ...
Punch, whose first outlet grew into the local pizza chain, was launched by John Soranno, who left a successful law practice to pursue his primal passion, pizza-making. Nuts or saintly, it’s a toss-up, but we diners are the hands-down winners.
Having spent some childhood years in Italy, John knew the real deal, and knew it was nowhere to be found in Minnesota. So he set about building a state-of-the-art wood-fired oven. He sweet-talked purveyors in the Old Country into sending him their special wares—prime olive oil, the sweetest of crushed tomatoes, the kind of flour to put bite in his substantial crusts—even special salt. Then he fooled around with recipes until he got it right.
This is not your kitchen-sink variety of pizza, which forklifts everything within reach onto a flimsy crust, the way—OK, we won’t name names—the way Most Others do. And the way we’d all learned to expect our pizza.
Punch makes pizza the true Italian way, as travelers have been surprised to discover—not based on a philosophy of overkill, but on the palate zingers of quality ingredients—used sparingly to celebrate, and separate, their flavors—to carry the day. ”Less is more, and more is better,” John declares.
Right on the money—which, by the way, doesn’t require a lot of it on our part. A basic, basil-topped Margherita sells for $5.95, as does the Napoli, calling on oregano instead. You can, of course, add whatever you like, such as more of those swell imported tomatoes or the addictively rich and creamy buffalo mozzarella (no relation to the tasteless stuff tossed atop by Others.).
To keep the operation simple, Punch declines to offer table service. Lining up at the order counter (the secret’s out, so there’s always a line), you’re entertained by the agile performance of the chef-acrobats, who grasp a baseball-size hunk of dough, stretch it to the size of a platter upon that thick, cold, marble counter, then send it airborne for a couple of spins before slathering it with a skim of tomato sauce, a sprinkling of that top-drawer mozzarella, and judicious amounts of fresh, fragrant basil leaves. Then, as you watch, it’s paddled into the blazing inferno—800 degrees for a mere 90 seconds—to blissfully blister that sturdy, denture-challenging crust.
This trip, I veered from my standard Margherita to taste a couple of Punch’s fancier compositions. The Borgata comes further enriched with jam-sweet tomatoes, creamy goat cheese, succulent batons of stewed eggplant for taste and texture contrast, and further taste bud alerts from biting snippets of dark, Saracen olives, all under the fresh, clean breath of basil. It’s my new fave.
The Toto model proved mighty appealing, too, topped with close-to-bitter arugula leaves, a thin and contrastingly salty skim of thin-cut prosciutto, more of that ultra-creamy goat cheese, a welcome blast of cracked red peppers to mix it up, and, finally, a toss of chopped garlic (both $11). My only quibble: The garlic was raw, thus biting and over-pungent; how about a quick stop in the sauté pan to soften and sweeten it a bit?
Add one of Punch’s creative salads if you wish (five choices, from Caesar to gorgonzola and beyond) plus a sip of wine, beer or soda, and that’s it: Move ’em in and move ’em out.
The setting is as clean and bright and modern as a marketing scheme from Milano—no Eye-talian tchotchkes to mar the message. Opera on the loudspeaker, not “That’s Amore.” There’s a nice kids’ menu, so the room echoes with lots of toddlers in booster seats. Bringing ’em up