Pizza is a treat any time of the year, but the taste is never as comforting as when the winter chill settles in for the season. Just past St. Anthony Main and Nicollet Island in the Northeast neighborhood, Pizza Nea’s glowing oven pulled us from the November air with a soft aroma of yeast and tomato sauce. Its atmosphere wasn’t fancy, but it perfectly fit our casual date night and would have been chill enough for a sweatshirt and jeans.
Following the lead of others around us, we each had a glass of wine, split a salad and ordered our own pizzas – a decision we’d certainly repeat. Our waiter pointed to the Verde salad as the most loved by Pizza Nea regulars, and we easily discovered why. Dark greens were mixed with pecorino and prosciutto, sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pine nuts, and lightly tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette. It was a fresh starter before our cheesy pies arrived, yet didn’t leave us too full to enjoy the main reason we came.
Without much of a wait, our pizzas were steaming in front of us. Jim had the Salsicce: a crispy crust topped with spicy sausage, roasted red peppers, crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and cracked red pepper. I had the Caprino e Treccione, which combined artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, cracked red pepper and oregano with goat cheese and smoked mozzarella. Once we tried our pizzas, several moments passed before we said anything other than “mmmm” – and even a few more ticked by before we offered the other person a taste.
The pies had the oven-fired crust, but unlike others of its kind, the toppings weren’t scarce. Sauce, fresh vegetables, seasoned meat and melted cheese spanned a large radius from the center, and the crust underneath was soft but never soggy. The puffy edges of the pizzas weren’t too big, and actually made great mini-breadsticks that we dipped in the olive oil and crushed red pepper already on the table. We even scored some fantastic Saturday morning leftovers with the few slices we couldn’t finish.
Service was friendly and warm, and was one reason for our enjoyable experience. Our server wasn’t overbearing – he stopped by only to take our order and refill our drinks – and he gave knowledgeable recommendations when we couldn’t make a decision. His large, quiet smile made us feel like regulars, and his calm demeanor gave us permission to relax.
Pizza Nea is now a favorite of ours. We’ve found great pizza in the Twin Cities, but this spot ranks near the top. Even though they don’t deliver, we’d hardly flinch at the quick drive across the river to pick up a pie to go. And with a location across from Surdyk’s – the metro’s most-loved wine and cheese retailer– it’d simply be inefficient not to make it a two-errand trip…
RATING (out of 5 ♠♠♠♠♠)
Menu Selection: ♠♠♠1/2
Food Taste & Presentation: ♠♠♠♠
COMPLETE EXPERIENCE: ♠♠♠♠
Total bill, including tip: $53