Solve Some Problems with a Well-Placed Punch

Woodbury's got problems, and someone's finally trying to do something about them.

Minnesota's fastest-growing city has a food scene that rivals that of a Quik Trip. Our stable's got one stallion (Ronnally's), one challenger (Lakes -- hold this thought), and what's essentially the edible equivalent of Target's "One Spot" aisle. Her landscape is littered with lukewarmbeds like Ray-J's, Axel's, and the fine-lookin' corpse of Sunsets. None of them differ too drastically from Woodbury's two Applebee's locations. Sad.

Back to Lakes for a minute. I love it, I've got friends in Stillwater who make the trip, they've got a Metro-top-five cheeseburger, and their Sunday happy hour's unconscious. What's their problem? Their tap roster is a cry for help. They've got the same so-called "unique" beers everyone's had for years, and they're the best of the bunch. If you're an adventurous beer drinker, Woodbury is like that weird TV dome in "The Truman Show."

Enter Punch Pizza.

Punch's eighth location flung its doors open last September in "The Berry," and it brought with it everything Woodbury had been starving for: Great pizza unlike anything else we've got in town, local suds at the ready, and a dining room that isn't so hackneyed. Is their pizza as good as Ronnally's? Of course not, but they're number two by a mile.

Punch Neopolitan Pizza on Urbanspoon

What I'm most excited for is what Punch represents. 

The Basics: Punch (website here) was put on in 1996 by a native of Milan and has since dug in its tentacles all over the Metro. The location I am reviewing is on Valley Creek Road and Radio Drive in Woodbury. Punch was talked about by this guy a while back.(only the first one is legit)

Punch looks very Woodbury in that wonky City Centre Plaza next to a FedEx Store, but the monotony of Suburbia doesn't get let in the door. The dining area is dominated by thick, wooden surfaces and tile artwork on the walls. On one wall, flames are filled in with photographs; on the other side, a large crest dominates. That same crest adorns the shirts of the wait staff, and it's unique to its own location, kind of like each restaurant is being run by its own team. Each oven is tiled differently, too. If you've got about 70 seconds, the video on the front page of Woodbury's tiling is worth a watch. The crest can be seen as well.

One thing I don't enjoy is the emergence of these long, cafeteria-style tables in restos. Listen, if I'm recovering from an unknown stomach bug and I want to just ball up a slice of pizza and cram it into my food pipe, I don't want to be sitting next to a pompadoured putz with epaulets on his fleece and my wife doesn't want to sit next to his giggly girlfriend.

We didn't have to, thank goodness. We just beat the rush. Most of the small tables below, and nearly all of them out of the picture, would be full by the time we left.

The wait time barely exists. My toto and my wife's custom job arrived in about five minutes. If "neopolitan" is Italian for "floppy," the description is perfect. You could easily smash a slice up like a work memo and eat it at once. The intensity of the heat gives it a smoky flavor (only 800 degrees, no big deal), and the taste is much bigger than visuals let on. My wife said the bread tasted just like it did when she ate bread in Italy, and chided me repeatedly when I handed over the crust.

"The crust is the best part!" she said, "along with the veggies, the meat, the cheese and the sauce."

The music wasn't invasive (is there any even?), and the staff stayed out of our business unless called upon. It's almost like we were eating at home, and the prices (My pizza was $11.50, my wife's just over $12) rival that of delivery schlock but the difference in quality borders on humorous.

Punch solves a lot of problems for these two Woodbury residents, at least. At least a few of our take-out orders will be stiffed in favor of driving to Punch. Seriously, you might feel lazy ... but if you're hungrier than you are lazy, you'll get to Punch and have your pizza before you can place your order and get the neighborhood stoner to your door.

If you absolutely must watch Netflix in your pink leopard sweatpants or type in your boxer briefs, keep abusing that Rocco's coupon the driver keeps not asking for. If you can gather the gumption to dress, however, you've really got no reason not to try Punch.

Punch might be only the beginning. We're already the only suburb housing a Wild Bill's and a Cowboy Jack's, but a successful Punch might be what it takes for the Blue Plate Group or the owners of the Blue Door Pub to take a look at some of our spaces and imagine their next restaurant in there. One step beyond that, who knows what might be opening up in our slowly-evolving abode.

Whether or not Punch Pizza's a sign of the revolution, I'm happy it's here to break up the monotony.

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