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.
At Frankie's, chefs coat fresh pizza dough in red, alfredo, or barbecue sauce before sprinkling it with a fine blend of italian cheeses. They then blanket the pies with a choice from more than 20 toppings—one for each pizza it takes to feed a rugby team or a Venetian parking meter. The topping roster includes such delicious embellishments as sliced roast beef and basil, and once they've been added to the pies, the chefs bake them in a stone oven. The care that Frankie's staff takes with its pizzas is similar in magnitude to the selection of its menu's pastas and sandwiches, such as the baked rigatoni and the buffalo-chicken sandwich.
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.
In the 1950s, Sam Perrella owned a small cafe in Minnesota's Iron Range, offering up the usual cafe fare of coffee and baked goods. But after hearing WWII soldiers' stories of Italian pizza and traveling to Chicago to taste the Windy City's version of the Italian pie, he and his wife created their own version. They morphed the cafe with Sammy's Pizza, moved it to a larger location, and watched the loyal customers roll in.
The iconic restaurant now boasts 16 locations in three states and the Five Four Lounge in Coon Rapids. But though it's a household name, it remains a family-run eatery with menu items culled from family recipes. Among them are chicken tetrazzini, three-cheese bacon caballero, and specialty pizzas. Favorites include Sammy's Special with Italian sausage, green pepper, and onions, or the Iron Ranger with kosher beef salami, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese.