Lines out the door — during a Minnesota winter — have been “humbling to say the least,” said Red Wagon Pizza owner Peter Campbell. Even Red Wagon’s competitors are welcoming him to the neighborhood: Terry Savoie of Red Rover Pizza recently walked into 5416 Penn and presented staff with new pizza cutting peels.
The Italian volcanic rock oven burning with red oak runs a bit cooler at 750 degrees than Neapolitan pizza places, so there aren’t any blisters on the pizzas. The most popular pizzas so far are the Red Wagon, made with soppressata, sausage and banana peppers; and the Bahn Mi, made with sweet soy-glazed pulled pork and ginger pickled carrots. The biggest non-pizza sellers are the Sausage Espagnole (all sausages are made in-house), and Gram’s Country Chicken, which is Chef Sean Little’s favorite dish his grandmother makes. Campbell’s sister is to thank for the Annie Banannie — it’s her banana cream pie recipe served in a mason jar.
A lineup of 36 “North American craft beers” are available to pair with the restaurant’s “North American craft pizzas.” Campbell likes to know the color of a beer he’s ordering, so they’re all bottled for display above the taps. He’s selling lots of Miraculum from Pryes Brewing, delivered personally by brewmaster Jeremy Pryes.
A prominent fixture on the wall is a photo of Campbell’s family members sharing a pizza, including his late grandfather (known on the menu as Pop Pop), and his 90-year-old grandmother, who starts crying every time she walks into the restaurant and sees the picture.
Customers may have seen the restaurant chairs before: They’re in the Johnny Depp movie “Public Enemies” on the FBI office set. Campbell’s friend Steven Mogol helped with set design for the movie and recommended the chairs, which were originally made in the 1940s for military use.
Campbell has spent thousands of hours making pizzas, but said he relies on his collaboration with Little to perfect the flavor balance on each pizza. Campbell previously used the prep kitchen at Tilia, where Little also cooked. Every night after work, Campbell came in for a glass of wine and asked Little to make him a pizza. Pizza wasn’t on the menu, but Little improvised with grilled flatbreads and ingredients on hand.
“I’d pick a flavor profile and go for it,” Little said.
Little helped open Pig Ate My Pizza and Umami and also worked at St. Paul’s French Meadow and Travail. (He used to leave Travail at 2 a.m. and wake bright and early the next morning to join Red Wagon at the farmer’s market.) Last spring, Campbell walked into French Meadow to find Little, saying: “I just met with the bank. It’s time.”
Campbell and Little said they’re enjoying the brick and mortar space. With the home kitchen comes new chances to make rye dough, ferment sauerkraut, or try homemade corned beef.
“Cooking outside for three years, that has its disadvantages,” Campbell said. “It feels really good to be parked.”