Red's Savoy Pizza has 14 locations throughout Minnesota, but the closing of its original store this past weekend still felt like the end of an era.
For the past three weeks or so, at around 3 p.m., a very Minnesotan goodbye ritual ensued on East 7th Street in St. Paul. A tidy line formed around the Red's building, which had been a reassuring presence since 1965. At 4 o'clock, the crowd filed inside, and folded into the formica booths and well-worn barstools.
By the time Red's regulars' baby grandkids grow incisors to crush sausage, these kinds of places could be all but extinct. Earlier this year, Minneapolis lost the decades-old original Dulono’s. In both cases, the newer locations are never the same – and that's more than just understandable nostalgia at play.
When asked, hopefuls in line for the final weekend said “the seasoning in the ovens" brought them back to the windowless, basement-like dining room one last time. As a general rule, working-class East St. Paulites are not an overly sentimental lot, but there is magic in that seasoning. Fifty years is a long time for an oven to be continuously in use, and this small-yet-crucial detail is simply impossible to recreate.
Pizzas from this Red's also assembled prolific amounts of cheese and toppings, creating a choose your own adventure of pizza consumption. The center pieces created a molten lake of dairy, and the outer, crispier edges, were thick with zesty sauce.
A few things go exactly right with this style of pie. Beer by the pitcher, naturally. Pies were served on plastic cafeteria trays lined with butcher paper, and while wee side plates arrived with that pie, you didn't need them. Communal food turned to competitive eating for those final coveted slices.
Its summer Red's climate was cool, and in winter, the heat from the pizza ovens warmed the room far more aromatically than any fireplace. I ate in this space for about 40 years. If not invented, the iconic Minnesota-style square cut pizza pie was certainly perfected here.
When the urge for good pizza strikes me next, I’ll have a number of excellent places to reach for it: Pizzeria Lola, Red Wagon, and Black Sheep among them. All of them technically even “better” than Savoy. But none definitively scream Minnesota in the way this stalwart once did.
East St. Paul is one of St. Paul’s largest and most diverse neighborhoods, and sometimes the many front yards sport jaunty “East Side Pride” lawn signs. But those of us born and bred on this side of the capital city sometimes have few landmarks to call our own. The closing of this Red's means we have lost another one.
One diner put it succinctly, yet emotionally, on one of the final nights. As she clutched a stack of cardboard takeout boxes above her head on the way out the door, she exclaimed, “Excuse me! Coming through my memories, here!”
Red’s Savoy has 14 remaining stores, listed here.