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Mar 10, 2008 07:37 AM


We had dinner at both Punch Pizza and Pizza Nea on Hennipin this past Friday. This was our third trip to Punch, our second to this location. This was our first trip to Pizza Nea. We shared one pizza at each restaurant. You refill your own softdrinks at Punch. The service staff refills your drinks at Pizza Nea.

Punch again had an exceptionally friendly staff and great wood oven pizza. The soft drinks from the soda machine, it is hard not to refer to it as a Coke machine since I live south of New Orleans in Louisiana, at this location have been very flat each time we have been there. We are completely sold on Punch Pizza.

We walked over to Pizza Nea after sharing our pizza at Punch. Pizza Nea was a completely different experience. The service staff was in shambles when we arrived. We never saw a smile the entire time that we were there. Each server had a four table section. While we stood there leaning against the wall waiting for them to try and turn a table, one of the servers dropped a pizza right there in front of us. Sixty percent of the pizza fell from the serving plate and landed on a shelf where people put their coats and bags while eating. The server continued on and served the other food that she was carrying. No problem there until she came back, put the pizza back onto the serving plate, rearranged it to make it look as normal as she could and then she served it! That was fairly disgusting. We were seated after waiting for them to finally turn a table. We were completely forgotten as we sat there for over twenty minutes waiting on someone to greet us. When someone finally came and asked us if we had been greeted, they went into a several minute long tirade about how busy they were when we said no. They were not that busy. They were just taking a long time to turn the tables that were sitting there waiting on their servers to come take their payments. We finally had our order taken. One of us ordered a San Pellegrino which we later noticed had passed it's expiration date by eight months! The pizza finally arrived. They use a gas oven at Pizza Nea. The pizza crust was very tough and very rubbery. It was very bready and had no flavor. The toppings were mediocre. Our drinks were never refilled during our meal. We will not be back to Pizza Nea.

It seems that Punch Pizza is our choice in the Twin Cities due to their consistently good service and consistently good pizza.

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  1. Sounds like a good night at Punch and a bad night at Nea.

    Could be dumb luck, or some strange alignment of the planets, but it's funny how our experiences drive our appreciation of certain places.

    We've always found the wait staff at Nea to be charming, courteous, and friendly - even to the point of changing the foreground music to something of our choosing. The Punch staff has been, well, boho the way the downtown Pizza Luce staff are boho, like they'd rather be somewhere else creating Art, or there's an inside joke that they're sharing, and you're not part of it.

    I should try the Punch at other locations, but the specific one in E. Hennepin has always been a soggy gloppy mess. Chowspouse will order it to go, and the cardboard box seems to help, but we won't eat in the actual resto anymore.

    I'm glad it worked for you.

    1. Mike, we've had similar experiences (not nearly that egregious @ Nea), and while we still make Nea a Mon. & Tues. regularity (half-priced wine nights) and know that Dan is an awesome server, we've found the service lacking on the weekends. I prefer Punch for the pizza (better crust, better char, nice and messy like it should be), the staff has always been sun-shine and smiles for us. Can't attest to the Coke fountain though, I usuallly just drink water or a Surly.

      Obviously two different concepts in service (quick-serve vs. cafe) can be a challenge to compare, and I think both make a solid product, but on any given Saturday afternoon...I'd likely walk to extra block to Punch for the reasons cited.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Foureyes137

        So what is the secret to getting edible pizza at that particular Punch? Seriously, EVERY time we go there, it's a gloppy soggy mess. Is it just a personal preference thing, and that's how you like it? As for the char, it's been our experience that it's, um, gritty. Like chewing on a charcoal briquette. So I guess the question is, when do you go, what do you ask for, who's the pizza guy/gal that gets it right, so we can have the same positive experience? Is there a best time? a best day? btw, it's virtually never that we go to either place on a weekend; it's always midweek 8-ish not too long before closing time. i ask because, in principle, chowspouse prefers Punch, but has gotten tired of the repeated screwups. So we compromise at Nea.

        Personally, I prefer Psycho Suzi's, but that a whole 'nother blasphemy!.


        1. re: Loren3

          Less is more in terms of toppings. I don't know what you're getting for toppings, but I know that people who load up with topping as if it's an American type crust are typically disappointed. The neapolitan crust can't handle more than a topping or two, and wasn't meant to.

          1. re: Loren3

            Are you asking me, because we've already had this conversation.

            I like it authentic (messy and soggy in the middle), you like it...not messy. I love the grit and taste of the charcoal, I can make a pizza without it at home. They all get it right, it takes 90 seconds. Unless they keep it in there for 60 seconds or 120 seconds, I'm not quite sure how one could screw it up. I cannot tell the difference between the pies at NE, the pies at Calhoun and the pies at Highland Park. The service is different, obviously, but as far as a difference in the composition of the pies...I can't find one.

            1. re: Loren3

              I adore Punch pizza, but I find the NE location often serves a gloppy mess. I often order my margarita-pizza-with-sausage "well done" and that seems to help, but I love the burnt edges.

              Another solution would to be to order one of their Pizza Biancas. I've started just getting the Mimi pizza there -- since there's no sauce, it's not soggy. Plus, the fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil (all added after it comes out of the oven) just screams summer on a plate.

              1. re: jaycooke

                Jay, It's not always a gloppy mess, but frankly, I know what you mean (after reading your gloppy mess comment, I noticed it at the NE location on 3 of 4 trips). They need to get that under control, because, imo, it's their only flaw.

          2. Try the Punch in Highland Park if you ever get over that way. The service is always excellent and they are often quite busy. They do a good job of turning their tables. You can also call ahead and they will put you on the waiting list for tables and it substantially decreases your time to get seated if they are busy. Full wait service there too. No soda machines. Only once had a slightly burned on the edges pizza. Not bad enough to even bother complaining about. Otherwise consistent stellar pizza.

            5 Replies
            1. re: littlefoodie

              I love those burned edges! If you don't like yours, please give them to me!. :-) I usually order take-out pizza at Punch (Highland), so I can take it home and heat it further in my oven. (And because I hate waiting for a table.) Reheating it crisps up the crust, increases the burned spots, and makes it perfect!

              Coincidentally, my dinner tonight was a Punch salad and a Borgata pizza (eggplant, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and kalamata olives - plus extra goat cheese). And, of course, it was heated at home for an extra 10 or 15 minutes to increase the charred bits. Yum!

              Oh, and the cooks at the Highland Punch make the best dressing for that Punch salad. (Greens, prosciutto, parmesan, and pine nuts.) Truly delightful when they get it just right, and very good even on their off nights.


              1. re: littlefoodie

                i like that punch too. dh & i like to pop in at off hours (no wait for a table) & split a pizza while running errands, or whenever we're at 1/2 price books near there. now i want to try that salad Anne mentions!

                1. re: soupkitten

                  The punch salad is delicious. I get a large with an extra half a foccacia and it's a great lunch.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      The foccacia is great, rosemary and olive oil with kosher (or some other flake) salt. Now I'm drooling too!

              2. Two pizzas at two places in one night? Punch might have tasted better since you were hungry going in. I've favored Pizza Nea over Punch lately because of consistency -- Punch quality varies greatly by location (Calhoun = rushed, doughy, Eden Prairie = perfection, Highland Park = supposed gold standard of Punch, though I've never been, Nordeast = all over the map)

                6 Replies
                1. re: mplsmike

                  This pizza discussion is very interesting- I'm wondering if people break down
                  into some different preference groups where some of us dislike really strong
                  flavors such as burned or salty (thinking about the flake salt that is popular now) and others prefer more subtle flavors- the former would prefer Punch and the latter Nea and maybe there is a limit to how much agreement we will ever
                  reach because of that. Not that it isn't entertaining to argue about it. And I'm
                  not implying a value judgment on either group- could be a genetic thing about
                  our tastebuds.

                  1. re: faith

                    Just a note: Burned and charred are not the same thing. I doubt anyone likes their food burned.

                    1. re: Foureyes137

                      "Burned and charred are not the same thing."

                      I've pondered this sentence for several minutes now, but the meaning eludes me. If you apply enough heat to food to carbonize it, you've burned it. Or charred it. They're synonyms, according to my dictionary.

                      If you mean that there's a difference between carbonizing the surface (or part of the surface) of food, as opposed to converting the entire thing into a lump of coal, you're correct, of course. I don't think any of these pizzas places deliver a pie that is THAT well-done, though!

                      1. re: Jordan

                        Charred is edibly burned. A slight burned flavor.

                        1. re: Jordan

                          The connotation (hell, the denotation) of burned food is that it is ruined. If I order something and I determine it is "burned" I send it back. A burned steak? Send it back. A charred steak? Where's my fork. Think char-broiling. As in char-coal. Right?

                          While applying heat to something long enough will certainly burn it, applying said heat just long enough to make it delicious and put some carbon around it certainly does not make it burned. I would presume all of the semantics come from the process of making coal. Heating something long enough to get the desired product. Oddly (ironically?) enough in that case, long enough to make a product that burns.

                    2. re: mplsmike

                      Nope. We were hungry for both places.

                    3. Harried servers recovering pizza from counter tops in front of customers - is there a manager in the house? A pizzaiolo is what both places are missing. What's a pizzaiolo? A pizza professional with a palate and the responsibility to make dough correctly, throw it away when it is too old, not use it when it is too young, coax the best out of the product regardless of humidity or the level of business. The dough is never a given, it requires touch and experience. The quality of the sauce, pizza cheeses, meats, and vegetables and the skill with which they are handled are also key factors. It's a matter of purchasing standards, knife skills, cooking skills, and freshness. Neither Punch nor Nea are reaching for the heights of these factors, although they are both outdoing the Domino's and other least common denominator pizza businesses. It doesn't take much to raise the bar on Green Mill and other dominant supply line style pizzas. Industrial food complex pizza can be made with a lot of integrity and wholesomeness, it just falls short on the palate.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: keg

                        Keg, thank you for your viewpoint. Speaking of high quality, some of the best
                        pizzas I've had have been with French Meadow frozen spelt/herb crusts that I
                        add my own stuff to- such as goat cheese, kalamata olives, red onion, high
                        quality red sauce (my favorite is Middle Earth Organics, now on sale at coops,
                        normally pretty pricey), good raw walnuts, etc.