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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

On Grand Ave, pizza packs a punch

By Michael Richter

I recently discovered one of the best and most affordable lunch breaks available to Macalester students. For 10 dollars and a five-minute bus ride, you get an authentic Italian pizza that puts everything else on Grand Avenue to shame. At Punch Neapolitan Pizza, they claim to offer the “finest, most authentic pizza this side of the Mediterranean.” While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, it is certainly the best you will ever find in the Twin Cities. Punch makes its pizza according to the very trendy “Verace Pizza Napoletana” association, which forces its member restaurants to follow strict guidelines for making traditional Naples-style pizza. This includes using a wood-burning oven, all-natural ingredients, and hand-kneaded dough. The result is a thin, 12 inch pizza with very light amounts of toppings and slightly charred crusts.

Of the many pizzas on offer, the most basic (and affordable) is the Margherita. In case you are not familiar with the history of Italian pizza making, this pizza very much symbolizes the city of Naples. In 1889, a famous Neapolitan chef invented a pizza that represented the colors of the Italian flag, with red tomatoes, white cheese and green basil. Apparently the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, liked this idea so much that the chef named the dish after her. Today the dish is served all over Italy, and is considered the measure of any great pizzeria.

Having tried this famous pizza in its original location in Naples, I admit that I went into the experience with somewhat inappropriate standards. While Punch certainly makes a product that is miles ahead of the competition, there is something lacking in the finished product. First is the quality of ingredients. The VPN requires that the restaurant use San Marzano tomatoes for their sauce, which many say is the key to a great tasting Neapolitan pizza. However, a little investigative journalism reveals that Punch is not following this rule, despite what their Web site says.

It turns out that when American restaurants buy San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy, they are almost always buying regular Roma tomatoes that were grown in the San Marzano region of Italy. Exporters misleadingly label these “San Marzano” because they know people will pay more for them. However, these are very different from the highly coveted San Marzano variety of tomato, which have a distinct shape and flavor that makes them ideal for pizza sauce. Italy is very frugal when it comes to exporting these, and the only source for buying them in America is an obscure private importer in New Jersey.

The other weakness of their pizza is the craftsmanship. With such a simple food, the small details are essential for a great final product. Small pitfalls like adding too much oil, not letting the cheese dry out for the proper amount of time, or stretching the dough too thin all lead to a slightly soggy pizza that is all too common in VPN pizzerias like Punch. Of the two Margheritas I ordered, only one of the two had this problem. An intelligent customer may opt to order their pizza with no extra olive oil on top.

But even with these small flaws, Punch Pizza still offers quality that is difficult to find elsewhere in the Twin Cities. The best time to go is lunch during the week, as it tends to get very crowded at night and on weekends.

The two local locations are at 704 Cleveland Ave. S and 796 Grand Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. See their Web site,, for more info and the menu.

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