More than 50 years go, Mike Ilitch was poised for major-league glory. An up-and-coming shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, his baseball finesse was blossoming when an injury derailed his sports career. But although the wound stunted his athletic aspirations, it steered him toward a new path, and on May 8, 1959, he and his wife opened the first Little Caesars location, a then-unheard-of carry-out-only joint. The career shift and novel technique eventually proved triumphant. Today, the pizzeria's iconic, toga-clad mascot adorns storefronts on five continents. In each shop, staffers forge the signature Hot-N-Ready pizza, a freshly baked pizza designed for instant pickup, and warm, garlicky Crazy bread. With a storied half century under their belt, Mike Ilitch and his family strive to give back, supporting local organizations and creating their own charitable programs.
Family owned since 1961, Broadway Pizza and its accompanying sports bar, the Eagle's Nest Lounge, serve fresh slices and their cool-brew counterparts in an atmosphere perfect for a family meal or a night out. Called the Best Pizza in Town by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Broadway's dough discs are topped with fresh ingredients that create such cheesy masterpieces as the Broadway Special ($10.49 for personal size) smattered with sausage, veggies, and shrimp. Scoffing at pizza's flat pool of lazily floating toppings, the house-baked lasagna ($9.99) reaches to the sky, buttressed by two pieces of crisp garlic toast, and the caesar salad ($8.99) provides a textural playground for vegivores.
It started with a single store, opened in Fridley, Minnesota in 1964. But Dick Kempe's pizza proved too tasty for one outpost, and Chanticlear Pizza eventually spread to 14 locations in the following years. And although Dick no longer owns the pizzerias, his uncompromising standards for quality pies remain in place. Fresh dough is mixed up and hand-tossed daily. Vegetables are chopped each morning. Instead of adding sugar to their sauce, the chefs rely on the tomatoes' natural, charm school-perfected sweetness. And the from-scratch foundation is always topped with house-shredded, 100% Wisconsin mozzarella cheese.
Once the dough and sauce are ready, Chanticlear Pizza's chefs continue the process by loading them with meats and veggies. The selection of toppings range from shrimp and bacon pieces to a secret-recipe pickle blend. A splash of spicy, bourbon-tinged molasses or chunky salsa can add additional pizzazz to pizzas. Beyond circular eats, polygonal dishes as pastas, calzones, and sides of buffalo wings and garlic toast populate the menu.
Andrea and Mario Gambino opened their first pizza place in 1972 with a family recipe that was created in Palermo, Sicily, and honed to perfection on the streets of New York. After decades of baking, Andrea Pizza has grown into a New York–style pizza conglomerate with locations spread across the Twin Cities like pepperonis. They still cook their signature thin-crust pizza that was called Best of the Cities by Minnesota Monthly magazine in 2007, but they also decorate pies with some newer tweaks. Patrons can order their pizzas with eight distinct sauces ranging from traditional marinara to feta cheese, buffalo, and creamy alfredo. More than 23 toppings such as jalapeños and pineapple can bedeck hand-tossed disks that are available by the slice, as a full pie, or crusts that your friends don't feel like finishing.
An unofficial estimate ventures that more than one million pizzas and calzones have emerged from Campus Pizza & Pasta’s ovens since the restaurant opened in 1959. The staff can get much more specific when it comes to the ingredients that go into each pie: they roll their own dough, mix their own sauce, and use only real mozzarella cheese that they shred onsite for the freshest flavor. Along with a selection of signature pizzas topped with classics such as sausage and green peppers or gourmet combos such as chicken and bacon with barbecue sauce, the staff whips up a selection of creatively named drinks such as the Shark Attack, which runs red with a splash of grenadine and often attracts confused flocks of seagulls.
Unlike its bitter, tries-too-hard competitor, Weekend Papa's, Papa's is a family-oriented hot spot serving up an extensive menu of Italian American delights, including pizza, pasta, sandwiches, hoagies, burgers, soup, salads, desserts, and sides. Collect your kin to share Papa's special Deluxe Pizza (sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and green pepper), Vegetarian Pizza (black and green olives, green pepper, onions, and mushrooms), or Ann Kaari Pizza (chicken, bacon, and spinach with garlic butter) (specialty pies are $15.79 for a 12-inch medium). You can also go mad scientist and bring your own hand-tossed Frankenpizza to life by selecting from Papa's long list of fresh toppings (starting at $9.79 for a 10-inch small). The New Jersey–style Italian Hoagie is a restaurant favorite (layered with ham, capicola, Genoa salami, and provolone, and garnished with lettuce, tomato, and onion, $9.99), as is the savory lasagna (layered with meat, cheese, and lasagna noodles, $11.99). For lighter but fulfilling fare, opt for a large chef salad topped with ham, turkey, and provolone cheese ($7.79). At the end of your meal, treat your palate to a proper cleansing with a rich, creamy scoop of Italian gelato ($3.59), or sugar-scrub your gums with a cannoli siciliano ($3.99).