Surly's expanding Minnesota’s pizza horizons

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Emily Cassel

Seven years ago, Surly pushed Minnesota to become a craft beer mecca. In 2018, they’re trying to do the same for pizza.

Minnesota already has its defined ’za style: square cut, cracker-crust freezer fare made popular by Red’s Savoy, Broadway Pizza, and of course, Heggies. For better or for worse, Minnesota pizza has been pigeonholed in this hometown interpretation, with New York-style pizza falling by the wayside in favor of the trapezoidal comforts of home.

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Jerard Fagerberg

No more, says Ben Peine, executive chef of Surly Pizza Upstairs, which will open Friday above the stalwart brewery’s beer hall. Peine has worked with Surly since its inception, and when the Brewer’s Table closed last May, he was entrusted with transforming the exclusive fine dining space into a fast-casual alternative for folks waiting in line at the brewery below.

“Once we decided on fast-casual, I wanted to move in the same direction as the brew hall,” Peine says. “I was stumped on what kind of pizza I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t wanna do Minnesota-style. A good pizza should have a little bit of a bend.”

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Emily Cassel

It wasn’t until Peine visited his brother in New York that he discovered New Haven-style pizza -- a Connecticut-born sub-brand of pizza that prizes char and chewiness above all. Apart from Black Sheep, Punch’s, and Neapolitans of the like, New Haven “apizza” -- as it’s so-called in the New England state -- is sometimes sweet and sometimes garlicky. Unlike Minnesota-style, it’s prized the world over.

“I fell in love with the char, and the dough is super good -- it’s not the thick crust or the thin crust,” explains Peine, a Maple Grove native. Pizza dough at Surly Pizza Upstairs is fermented for an incredible four days, allowing the ale yeast to give the pizza plenty of rise while the coal fire crisps the outer layer with soot. “I still love Minnesota-style, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It’s been done, and you can always get a Heggies.”

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Jerard Fagerberg

Surly Pizza’s main courses are divided into two categories: red sauce and white sauce. While the Spicoli opts for classic Italian flavors of fennel, sausage, radish, and mozzarella, its marinara sibling I’m Your Daddy is pure New Haven with its broiled-to-a-cup pepperonis filled with grease and topped with burnt honey. The white sauce is pure decadence, composed of solely garlic oil and heavy cream. If you’re looking to free yourself of the prescriptive nonsense of Red’s Savoy, look no further than 4 Stars, which matches figs and prosciutto with ricotta and arugula, or the brilliantly decadent Mama Fratelli -- a brainchild of Peine’s wife -- that heaps mushrooms and chebris cheese (made from a mix of goat and sheep’s milk) atop a foldable triangle cut of pizza heaven.

Surly Pizza Upstairs will open with 10 distinct pies as well as a customizable cheese option. There are remnants of the epicurean Brewer’s Table on the menu (see the baked oysters and the ricotta meatballs), but mostly, the space is designed to be a utilitarian extension of Surly’s taproom. Ideally, if the line is too long downstairs, you can get a pie and a Furious upstairs and wait for the demand to die out. This way, the brewery can alleviate the two-hour wait times down below without losing patrons to the nearby Stadium Village bars.

There’s also a full roster of Surly beers on tap at Surly Pizza Upstairs, and on Thursday, a highly anticipated hazy IPA brewed in collaboration with Fair State named Obscurity of Purpose will debut in the taproom for eager pizza fans. Darkness, Todd the Axeman, Frisson, and other Surly classics will be available in the 147-person space upstairs.

Though Surly Pizza Upstairs may never replace the defensive, dyed-in-the-wool ’Sota-style pizza, it will provide an important cultural alternative to what many lifelong Minnesotans have come to define as “pizza.” In the same way Surly pushed the parameters of beer in 2011, Peine and his staff are hoping they can move the goalposts for pizza in 2018.

If early impressions are any indication, this could be yet another sea change for the staff at Surly to hang their hats on.


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