By Rick Gion
Photos by Rick Gion
Some people say that a pizza tastes better if you cut it in squares. And, the main event in this food battle features Fargo-Moorhead’s favorite thin-crust squared circles.
Judging a competition between Duane’s House of Pizza and Sammy’s Pizza and Restaurant is not easy. It’s a high-level affair. Did you know that both places are favorites of former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan?
The good senator likes his thin-crust pies well done with light sauce. I know, because I was his press guy for a few years. There were frequent stops at the two iconic restaurants between political events while in Fargo.
I’ve now graduated to writing about food. How about that for a promotion - from politics to pizza?
But back in high school and college, I used to be a pizza cook at a couple of joints. Pizzaiolo is the fancy name for a pizza cook but I never went by that. I’ve done a lot of research on pizza, and I own many pizza-related books. I make my own dough for my pizzas.
In my research, I found that Duane’s and Sammy’s are considered Chicago-Style Tavern. This style of pizza is defined by a cracker-like crust. The pizza is cooked at around 600 F in a deck oven to make it super crispy and then cut into square pieces.
It's also interesting that both Duane’s and Sammy’s originally have ties to Hibbing, Minn. There are many people in the Iron Range of Italian descent.
Let’s get to the issue at hand, taste-testing the local favorite thin-crust pizzas.
I ordered the Duane’s pizza from the legendary South University location in Fargo. I got a large “House Special,” which was heavily topped with beef, cheese, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, pepperoni, salami, and sausage. They don’t skimp on the toppings at Duane’s. Most of the toppings are chopped up on this pizza, excluding the sausage. It sounds odd, but it works. Don’t judge. They’ve been slinging zas at this location since 1975. They’re good at it. Quality is always top notch.
Some say that Sammy’s Pizza in Downtown Fargo is North Dakota’s first pizzeria. The restaurant has been at that location since the 1950s.
Interestingly enough, it’s not officially affiliated with the Sammy’s Pizza locations in Minot, N.D. and various parts of Minnesota. The pizza is all quite similar though. I’ve tried it at a variety of locations. The signature for the Fargo location is the expertly crimped crust. Duane’s also crimps their crust, but it’s not quite as precise.
The pizzaiolo at Sammy’s is always friendly and has a great mustache. He’s also full of opinions. You’ll often notice him slinging zas in the window if you’re walking by. The decor at Sammy’s is quite unique, and I’m not exactly sure how to explain it. The old-school wooden booths add to the flavor. So do the inexpensive pitchers of cold beer.
At Sammy’s, I ordered the “House Special.” It’s very similar to the Duane’s pie with the same chopped up toppings - beef, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, pepperoni, and salami. The sausage was also in larger pieces at Sammy’s. The pie was excellent as usual.
Here’s the verdict: Sammy’s is the winner. Here’s why: The crust is crispier, and I like the ambiance and history. Rumor has it that Bob Dylan worked there when he lived in Fargo for a short stint playing music around the area as “Elston Gunnn.”
One big highlight of the Duane’s pie was a garlic punch. That was a pleasant surprise. Duane’s also offers good fried chicken, and the jo-jo potatoes are classic.
Pricing is a little high at both restaurants. Just so you know, Duane’s has a special early in the week - a large pizza for the price of a small.
Here’s a friendly suggestion for both restaurants: Please replace the canned mushrooms with fresh. It’s 2022. Fresh fungus is the way.
When it comes to local thin-crust pizza, Sammy’s is a slice above. However, Duane’s is no lightweight when it comes to the squared circle. Their pies are Fargo-famous for good reason.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Duane’s House of Pizza - 1629 S. University Dr. in Fargo
Duane’s House of Pizza at Midtown Tavern - 2223 Highway 10 E. in Moorhead
Duane’s House of Pizza at SouthTown PourHouse - 4281 45th St. S. in Fargo
Sammy’s Pizza and Restaurant - 301 N. Broadway in Fargo
Editor’s note: Rick Gion administers a Facebook group page called “Fargo-Moorhead Eats” that’s dedicated to the area’s great cooks and cuisine. Check it out, join, and feel free to post items about your local culinary adventures and home cooking.
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