The Top 7 Pizza Lucés of All Time

The other day, a friend of mine had a great idea for how to kick off spring in Minnesota: a bicycling tour of all the Pizza Lucés*. We met one morning at the Seward Pizza Lucé, and biked to all the rest of them*. Going to all the Pizza Lucés* in one day offered an excellent chance to fulfill my lifelong research dream of ranking all the Lucés in order of hipness.

Here’s my methodology. One goes to a Lucé and orders a beer and a slice of pizza. Then you keenly observe the environment, paying close attention to a definitive list of prearranged criteria:

[The Punk-o-meter.]
Bar/restaurant spectrum: Is it a bar or a restaurant? I.e., do they serve whisky?

Punk-o-meter levels: Using a patented device, you can easily measure the tattoo and piercing density of the servers at each Pizza Lucé. (The punk-o-meter records metallic signatures and divides it by the square root of atmospheric angst in the room, corrected for total area.)

Music: What music is playing when you eat? How cool is it? What would Pitchfork Do?

Average patron age: Who is there? What are their ages? What kind of clothes are they wearing?

Building: You can tell a lot from just the building type, material, shape, and architectural style.

Add these up, and you get a definitive score for each Pizza Lucé that will tell you how it ranks on the definitive list of the Top 7 Pizza Lucés of all time.

#7 – Richfield

OK, so we didn’t go to Richfield. Have you been to Richfield? I biked through it once. It sucked. The new Lucé isn’t easily bikeable. You have to cross at least one and probably two freeways to get there from proper Minneapolis.

However, I did talk to one of the bartenders at one of the cooler Lucés about the Richfield Lucé. He had worked there once, and through him, I garnered enough information about this newest Lucé…

Apparently they have Miller Lite on tap, its really big, and feels like a sports bar. It’s “weird,” and is in some sort of large park area.

Also, the name “Richfield” couldn’t possibly be more bougie if it tried. Really, the only things worse would be “Moneytown”, “Yuppsville,” or “Edina.”

B/R Spectrum: Miller Lite
Punk-o-Meter: 2
Music: Moby?
Avg Age: Nobody under 30
Bldg type: I imagine the worst

#6 – Hopkins

Hopkins is also a suburb. However, Hopkins is my favorite suburb, with an actual historic downtown and (not one but two) key metro bike trails. I've come before to this Lucé on summertime bike rides to and from points West, and sit out on their lovely patio. This time, no patio.

Walking into the Hopkins Lucé you quickly wonder, was this a Chuck E. Cheese at some point? Then you realize that it used to be a Pizza Hut. It has that weird Smurf warehouse vibe. There is far too much space. Large booths and cavernous ceilings cultivate a suburban affect of isolation.

Servers wear baseball caps backwards. Other wear hoodies. Ours has a fedora, not any tattoos. (The only tattoo that the Punk-o-meter could detect was on one of the busboys, a “super Mario mushroom” on a bicep.)

The pizza tastes the same as any other Lucé, but the window looks out on the Deli Express warehouse, where they must manufacture those tiny shrink-wrapped ham sandwiches on squishy white bread that sit on the shelf at Super America for weeks.

There are tons of families. A little kid, probably about 12 years old, walks by me wearing a “student government” tee shirt. That is the Hopkins Lucé in a nutshell. 

B/R Spectrum: Actual bar
Punk-o-Meter: 3
Music:  Top 40
Avg Age: 40
Bldg type: Ex-Pizza Hut

#5 – Uptown 

The Uptown Lucé is either empty or slammed. There is no in between.

There is no bar at the uptown Lucé. If memory serves me correctly, this is the second extant lucé, the one right after the first one. Yet, the uptown Lucé seems somehow empty, lacking something. The main room is too small, the entry is narrow, refuses to breathe. The patio is too small, with a Coen Brothers view of the parking lot.

On the other hand, the bartender sets off the Punk-o-meter. He has a braided beard (a la Johnny Depp in that Disney pirate movie).

The rest of the staff, though doesn't really register. They're a bit too obsequious. They really want to please me, and this displeases me. The waiter tries to sell me a rice krispie bar. 

Today, there are families in all the booths. Young children, on the cusp of junior high, eating with parents who brought them here to prove they are cool.

B/R Spectrum: Not even the pretense of a bar
Punk-o-Meter: 7
Music: Dinosaur Jr.
Avg Age: 27
Bldg type: Boring one-story commercial space, fronted by large parking lot

#4 – Saint Paul

The key thing about this Pizza Lucé is that it's in Saint Paul. (Notice: This Lucé is four blocks from my parent’s house.) That means everybody has driven here, and most of them have brought their children or have a senior citizen discounts.

Frankly, this Pizza Lucé is boring. At best, the bar area sometimes has a friendly vibe. You can imagine getting into interesting conversations late at night. Squinting my brain, I can imagine being semi-punk here. Then again, the Saint Paul cops hang out here all the time, slowly eating in booths.

The staff have plenty tattoos and piercings, just about on par with the Uptown Lucé (which is saying something). The bartender has five piercings all by himself, and puts the Punk-o-meter into the red zone (DANGER!).

There's a guy non-ironically wearing a Dale Earnhardt leather jacket dominated by his signature. Are we in a city or a suburb?

My mom just showed up. I have to go.

B/R Spectrum: They have a bar, but there's no whisky; it's an illusion
Punk-o-Meter: 6
Music: Foo Fighters
Avg Age: 44
Bldg type: Semi-boring one-story commercial space

#3 – Duluth

I’ve been to the Duluth Lucé! Really. It’s in Duluth. North of here a stretch.

People speak about the Duluth Lucé in hushed tones. Duluth is surprisingly cool, has young people and a downtown with old buildings in various states of disrepair. The Duluth Lucé, so they say, is unique. It's a world of its own because the cooks are so far from the pizza supply lines and Lucé civilization that they have to make their own ingredients. They do crazy things. The pizzas are not just pretending to be artisanal, they actually have to be artisanal.  They grow their own wheat or something.

When I was there, the Duluth Lucé was displaying locally forged blacksmithery, like candelabras and some sort of large throne. It would have been goth except everyone was in flannel.

The fog rolls in off Gitcheegumi and onto a pizza. For what its worth, the Duluth Lucé is one of the coolest places in Duluth.

B/R Spectrum: They distill their own moonshine
Punk-o-Meter: 5, with the usual northwoods caveats
Music: They only play Low here, but they play it so low that you can only hear it subconsciously
Avg Age: 32
Bldg type: Downtown large building

#2 – Seward

[Looks like a Hopper painting.]
This Lucé was part of the great Lucé expansion of 2004, when the pizza dough was spread eastward at a rapid pace.

The bar is tiny, but insists upon itself. The servers rate a solid 8 on the punk-o-meter, and it sits well balanced on Franklin Avenue, part of a neighborhood in a way that would be true in Saint Paul if Saint Paul actually had streetlife or businesses on Selby Avenue.

Seward is as diverse and vibrant as Minneapolis gets. Anywhere else, this Lucé would be inconsequential. Instead, it is a window on the Twin Cities, where hippies and somalis meet and eat pizza. 

B/R Spectrum: Actual bar, if a bit small
Punk-o-Meter: 8
Music: Can't recall
Avg Age: 26
Bldg type: Ugly two-story mixed-use with great windows

#1 – Downtown

The Downtown Lucé is the original. It's also a surprisngly dynamic place. It can be a complete mob scene. Before sports, it fills with jerzee'd bros. After bar close, the servers body surf atop lines of too ebullient clubbers. Weekday evenings, bike messengers hang out at the bar drinking PBR. The hipper of the business types - ad people, architects - stop by at happy hour.

Entering the Downtown Lucé, you are forced to choose: bar/restaurant or slice on a paper plate. You go to your appointed side, and never the twain shall meet.

Their patio is a tiny slice of sidewalk next to an alley where the deliveryperson leaves their Lucémobile for brief minutes, honking each time they pull out across the sidewalk.

This is the Alpha and Omega of Lucé. This where the pizza dough was born, and this is where it will die, someday when all things Lucé have lost their luster, when veganism is rampant, and no longer requires exceptional efforts, when the world becomes a garlic clove.

B/R Spectrum: The real deal
Punk-o-Meter: 9
Music: Hüsker Dü
Avg Age: 27
Bldg type: Awesome downtown warehouse

[Convince yourself that this is pizza.]
Conclusion: Going to all the Pizza Lucés shines a spotlight on atmosphere. Because the pizza is the same at each one, the doughy noumenal essence remains a constant. The remaining Lucé differences reveal a spectrum that throws space itself into relief.

Does the same slice of pizza taste the same in Hopkins and Seward? Is Parmesan less pungent in Saint Paul? Can a good or bad tattoo make or break a hoppy beer?

To move down the Lucé spectrum away from the original is to encounter Baudrillard's simulacrum. With each subsequent Lucé, the hipness fades. Exposed brick becomes a painting of exposed brick becomes a large wall painted the color of red brick. Giant artichoke murals fill the emptiness inside our hearts. Pepper flakes fade.

* OK So we didn't go to all the PL's, technically speaking. For example, we didn't bike to Duluth. And at some point during the journey, I mentioned to my friend that there was a Pizza Lucé in Richfield, and he was like WTF? And I said, yes, there is one there now. And he said, hell no. And so we didn’t go to that one. 


Julie@rideboldly.org said...

pro tip: The St. Paul Luce delivers to most of the hospitals around downtown St. Paul.

Should you ever be in such a venue, the deliverator is your friend. For lo: Hospitals can even mess up a pre-pack of Cheerios and a carton of milk.

Note, however, that if you get the Evil Nurse, she will yell at you for NOT EATING THE HOSPITAL FOOD. She will also cut off your painkiller supply if you tell her exactly what you think of said slop.

This is all a true story.

David said...

St. Paul should rank higher since that is where they introduced the gluten-free pizza, which is nothing if not current.

Duluth should surprise no one, that is why it is called the San Francisco of the Upper Midwest, or perhaps why San Francisco is called the Duluth of the Pacific.

Mike Hicks said...

Hey Bill, do you have special shielding around the punk-o-meter for times when you go by Little Tijuana?

Shovelfoot said...

Hopkins Luce used to be a Bakers Square which are all slowly disappearing with the exception of the one in Highland Park. Old people love Bakers Square

Julie Kosbab said...

There're still Bakers Squares in Anoka County. One of them sent me direct mail (lulz) last week.

Erica M said...

There's a Bakers Square in Eden Prairie, too.

I've been to the PL in Richfield. I went directly to the party room downstairs. The upstairs felt like a Houlihan's to me. There was nothing special about the party room itself, but it was really nice that it was separated from the main room, because it was nice and quiet. Service was good. Food was typical PL food, which felt really nice for a suburban-looking suburban restaurant.

Alex said...

The Duluth Luce has bands, which would give it the potential for the highest punk-o-meter rating if it weren't in Duluth. Too bad you don't have a Jam-o-Meter for jam band fans.