Americans have the singular ability to take something, anything, and make it better. Thomas Edison saw the oil lamp and envisioned the light bulb. The Wright Brothers saw hot air balloons and invented the airplane. In that tradition of improving upon things, Dave and Misty Zapf have taken the pizza, a dish spectacular since the neolithic age, and made it even greater with the addition of fine barbecue meat.
Dave and Misty are born and bred restaurateurs, both having worked exclusively in the business since they were kids. They met in a restaurant they worked at together, she in the front of the house, he back in the kitchen, and they quickly fell in love and got married. Two short years later they opened their own restaurant together, J. Cousineau’s Dram & Alehouse, and just after that they would start their family with their first baby boy.
While the Zapfs ran their first restaurant together, Dave and his son started barbecuing competitively, another avenue to express their culinary passion. “The competitive barbecue scene is like one giant family,” Misty told me. “Everyone fiercely guards their recipes and techniques, but at the end of the day our shared love of meat brings us all together.” Their own methods became so honed that Dave soon served as an official competition judge, and he and Misty opened Z’s Smokin Bonez. The brisket, ribs, chicken, and pork the Zapfs smoked and barbecued at Z’s were the edible embodiment of absolute perfection.
When I learned that Dave and Misty had just opened Forkless Pizza in Maple Plain, I knew that I had to go try it. (Eating pizza falls within the scope of my commitment to journalism and going to any length to get a story.) Just on the outskirts of town, Forkless Pizza is your traditional American pizza joint complete with a pinball machine, drink fridge, and snacks, candy, and even barbecue paraphernalia for sale. An oil painting of a happy pig surveys the dining area.
Pizzas at Forkless may be ordered à la carte with key ingredients like chopped brisket, pulled pork, and smoked meatball, or you may have one of their specialty pies. I had Kickin’ BBQ, an amalgam of smoked meat, jalapeno barbecue sauce, jalapenos, red onion, and cilantro. My girlfriend was undeterred by the gaze of the happy pig in the painting and ordered the 3 Little Pigs with smoked pork, hickory bacon, Canadian bacon, red onion, and cheddar cheese. As its name implies, all of Forkless Pizza’s dishes are meant to be eaten with your hands, but their pizza is so laden with gobbets of meat that a fork might be useful should some of those indispensable morsels fall off a slice.
We tried their St. Louis dry rub style baby back ribs next. They were so tender, so juicy, and so good that they didn’t even require the Zapfs’ signature MN Nice BBQ sauce, although that didn’t deter us from dipping. My description of these ribs wouldn’t do them justice. They were far too delicious. They should have sent a poet. Soon we’ll return for several more racks of those indescribable ribs as well as A’s Craze pizza, the Zapfs’ daughter’s signature creation, with gouda mac & cheese, chopped brisket, and pulled pork, and for the Buffalo Chicken, a barbecue and ranch drizzled pizza. Forkless Pizza’s wraps, appetizers, and desserts merit future attention as well.
“Perfecting the dough was the biggest challenge,” Misty told me after our meal. “We have the meat down pat, and Dave is a talented saucier, so getting the crust just right was our highest priority before we opened. Dough is more temperamental than you might think.”
“We do a lot that sets us apart from other pizza places,” Misty continued. “Whereas standard pizza cheese is thickened with wheat products, we only use 100 percent authentic mozzarella, making our pizza entirely gluten free if you order one with a special crust. Of course, you’re going to have to search far and wide for a pizzeria that also offers competition quality barbecue, too.”
Forkless Pizza is so good that it more than warrants the trip out to Maple Plain. Whether you’re after an old fashioned pie or something exciting and new, you’ve got to go see how the Zapfs make pizza transcendent. I look forward to taking my father, an Italian and a purist, out there for a revelation when he visits in spring.
By David Scheller