The place to go for really good pizza in the Twin Ports is Thirsty Pagan Brewery, at 1623 Broadway Street in Superior. I say this with great prejudice, having worked in the kitchen there during the spring and summer of 2011.
For starters, they brew their own beer. Since taking over the Twin Ports Brewing Company in 2006, owner Steve Knauss has had a number of brewmasters and found a winner in Allyson Rolph. Her even demeanor and steady hand have kept the taps flowing, and the consistency has never been better.
Their House specialties create a fine springboard from which to begin your plunge. The North Coast Amber is a well-balanced, slightly malty beer with a pleasant hint of caramel. The Derailed Ale and India Pagan Ale are stellar representations of American and West Coast ale renditions that serve up just the right amount of hops.
The Burntwood Black is so good they use it to marinade chicken and in their insanely rich brownies. It’s practically a standalone dessert. They also regularly feature a fruity and spicy Saison that comes in sweet and leaves you wanting more.
On the other end of the spectrum, their Lawn Chair lager is cold-fermented and low-hopped, if you like that sort of thing. I don’t, but they do a nice job with it and it gives the Iowegians something to drink when they visit.
Along with these regulars, Rolph and the Pagan team have six or seven seasonal beers. A nice spread for tasting, and nine tap samples is just over $12.
I could go on about the beer; I like them all. The brewmaster and her team have just enough of an underdog chip on their shoulders to keep producing crowd-pleasing taps. It’s part of the unpretentious attitude that permeates the whole operation, from Knauss all the way down to their famous writer/dishwasher, Paul Whyte.
If you were to stumble into Thirsty Pagan without knowing why, you could be excused for thinking you had somehow happened upon an historic slice of your old grade-school cafeteria.
Quirky doesn’t do justice to the old signage haphazardly placed along aged, yellow-tiled walls topped with thick glass block windows. A menagerie of vinyl-covered chairs and booths entangled with long wooden benches complete the functional-yet-formless state of the main dining room. The small, cozy, and vibrant bar space greets you with more of the same furniture mish-mash.
You will also be greeted by a staff that takes their beer and pizza seriously. While they have a number of newer staff, there are enough old-timers around to set the tone—by which, of course, I mean beer.
These guys know beer. Try a few on them, though if you are the indecisive type, I recommend the nine taps for $12, especially to share. You pick which nine to sample, served arranged on a curved rail.
A couple of the Pagan’s standard appetizers have been around for a while—mushrooms stuffed with garlic, spinach, parmesan, herbs and spices, and smothered in mozzarella, or the soft baked pretzel, salted and served with a House mustard concoction.
A perennial favorite is the TPB Bread, a 10-inch round of fresh-baked pizza dough, topped with olive oil, fresh garlic, cheese, and spices, served with warm pizza sauce for dipping.
The sauce is where the Pagan clinches it. Rich, thick, spicy, and wholly unapologetic, this is simply the best pizza sauce in the region, bar none.
When choosing toppings, keep in mind the Pagan prepares its chicken in a marinade of Burntwood Black beer and uses a sausage recipe that Knauss won in a dart competition against Satan.
For lunch, there’s a selection of salads and wraps in addition to pizza, hot-baked sub sandwiches, or calzones. The kitchen opens at 11 a.m.daily and closes at 10 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, with live music most nights.
Yes, I highly recommend Thirsty Pagan for their pizza, their welcoming atmosphere, and have I mentioned the beer?
Thomas Walchuk has worked in the restaurant industry for most of his long life. He is currently an event and social media consultant with Tippy Toe Tunes, a collaborative endeavor he founded to help small business entrepreneurs. Visit TippyToeTunes.com.