It's taken me a while to get there, but I finally made it to Scotland Yard, a St. Paul St. pub with a wood-fired pizza oven. Part of the reason was that until recently, Scotland Yard wasn't open for lunch, when it's easier for me to run out and grab a quick pizza, while dinner mostly takes place at home with the family. But I do get out for dinner now and then, and so it was the other night, when I ate at Scotland Yard.
From the list of nine specialty pizzas, I chose the Marguerite, which is topped with fresh mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, and red sauce. I've seen "Margherita" pizza (named for an Italian queen) misspelled Margarita (nobody seems to know for sure whom the drink was named after), but that's the first time I've seen it given a French spelling. Well, a Margherita by any other name would taste as good, non?
I've had enough wood-fired pizzas around here by now to appreciate the differences from one restaurant to another, but also to make certain generalizations. Typically, they range from thinnish to almost paper thin, with at least some charring underneath and along the edge. Depending on certain variables, they can be anywhere from knife-and-fork floppy to stiff-as-a-board crisp.
This one was closer to the paper thin, floppy end of things. The crust was so thin that it had no real interior to speak of, and was more chewy than crunchy. The underside was browned, in a mottled kind of pattern, but was one of the less well-done wood-fired pizzas I've had, with nothing that I would call actual charring. A companion's white pizza was darker underneath, with a spotted pattern of light charring underneath.
The white pizza was also considerably crisper and firmer than my red pizza. Part of that is probably due to its being more sparingly topped, with garlic, olive oil, and a light sprinkling of mozzarella, Asiago, and Parmesan cheeses. Though the toppings on my pie would not have been particularly heavy on an ordinary, thicker-crusted pizza, they were more than the Marguerite's thin, lightly baked crust could bear; attempts to pick up an individual slice invariably resulted in the toppings simply sliding off onto the plate. After two or three unsuccessful tries, I gave in and asked the bartender for a knife and fork.
As for the flavor -- one of the reasons that I like a slightly charred crust is that it imparts a toasty, sometimes smoky flavor to the pizza. The crust on this one didn't add much flavor. Instead, the relatively thick layer of tomato sauce, combined with the slices of fresh tomato, made this a tomato-dominated pizza.
Scotland Yard's other pizza offerings include a chicken Caesar pizza, which is made with olive oil, garlic, Asiago, and mozzarella, "topped with a chicken Caesar salad." I'm not sure if I'd like it, but I'd like to see that. I assume the salad goes on after the pizza comes out of the oven? There's also a "Dragons Breath" pizza with "dragon sauce, chicken, cheddar, asiago, red onions, and Scotland Yard sauce." I don't know what the difference is bewteen dragon sauce (which is described as an "Asian inspired, spicy garlic sauce" and Scotland Yard sauce, but again it sounds intriguing. And again, I need to start asking more questions when I'm looking over the menu, so I can find out these kinds of things. You can also build a pizza by choosing any three of Scotland Yard's sixteen toppings, for the same $10 price as most of its specialty pizzas. Non-pizza offerings include "dragon wings," salads, sandwiches, wraps, and sides, including the either whimsically- or pretentiously-named "pork infused beans."
While its name suggests a faux English pub, Scotland Yard is, thankfully, more of an Americanized version of that venerable institution. There's a long bar up front, with several TVs tuned to sports channels, a few small tables near the front window, and several more in back. The dark wood paneling helps create a relaxing setting, and the overall atmosphere is something of a cross between a pub and an American tavern. There are several beers on tap, and while the draught lineup is not particularly Anglocentric, beer aficionados should find something to their liking among the several microbrews available.
Now - getting back to that pizza - Scotland Yard's website says that they use Wood Stone ovens, which come in wood-fired, wood/gas, and gas-fired configurations. I'm not sure if Scotland Yard is using an all-wood-fired oven or a wood/gas combo, but this pizza was not what I've come to expect (or at least hope for) from a wood-burning oven. It wasn't so much the floppiness per se -- I mean, the pizza I got at the Humphrey House was kind of floppy, and I liked it a lot -- as the lack of any genuine charring, or crisp outer bite to the crust. Also, while I hate to complain about getting overly generous toppings, this crust simply couldn't hold up under the weight of these toppings. I'm OK with eating pizza with a knife and fork, which is how it's generally done in Italy, I'm told, but as I've said many times before, I look for balance in a pizza, and in this instance the crust seemed to get lost under the tomato slices, sauce, and cheese, with the basil coming in a distant fourth. Next time I think I'd opt for something lighter, perhaps a white pizza with a few vegetable toppings.
As I'm writing this, I'm thinking that it sounds as if I really disliked this pizza, which I didn't. It tasted good, I ate most of it, and my wife loved the leftovers I brought home. I was just a little disappointed with some aspects of it, perhaps a victim of my own preconceptions. But to try to bring some measure of objectivity to this review, I'd say that while this fell short in a couple of areas for my taste, it was still a better than average pizza, and worth paying a visit to Scotland Yard. So I'll give it a B.
Scotland Yard Pub, 187 St. Paul St. 14604, 730-5030
Food Served Sun. noon - 8 p.m., Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Cocktails Served Sun. noon - Till, Mon. - Thu. 4 p.m. - Till, Fri. 4 p.m. - 2 a.m., Sat. 5 p.m. - 2 a.m.