Last Tuesday at 3:00 in the afternoon, I was sitting on a bench in my in-laws front yard, reading a book, and sweating profusely in the 103 degree weather. A red Subaru pulled into the driveway. We loaded a cooler of ice and beer in the trunk, I hopped in, and we hit the road.
The 90 minute drive southeast took us out of the Twin Cities and across the mighty Mississippi River.
Our destination? The real name is A-to-Z Produce & Bakery, but most people call it the Pizza Farm.
Stockholm, Wisconsin (population: 97) sits across Lake Pepin (the widest part of the Mississippi) from Lake City, Minnesota. The scenic drive along the river bluffs leads to the tiny town of Stockholm, where houses line up shoulder-to-shoulder to take advantage of the river view. Hang a left at the corner pie shop and venture into the countryside.
Ted Fisher and Robbi Bannen started serving pizza at their farm on Ted’s day off from his previous job as a cook at the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin. They still serve pizza just one day a week (still Tuesdays) from March until Thanksgiving which brings people to the farm from hours away.
The name implies that they grow pizzas, and it’s almost true. The farm grows the wheat for the crust and leavens it with their own sourdough starter; they top the pizzas with their own produce, meat, and cheese. Instead of shipping the ingredients to restaurants, they bring diners to the ingredients.
As the first of two cars in our group our job was to claim a good picnic spot and to order the pizza in advance. They only serve a set number of pizzas each night, and during a rush, the wait can get long. The heat seemed to keep people at home (their loss, it was beautiful out), so that wasn’t an issue for us.
They also sell bread baked in the same brick oven, eggs from their chickens, and granola — and that’s it.
What comes with your pizza? A pastoral picnic spot and fresh air. It’s BYO-everything else. Plates, napkins, beverages, tables, blankets — and dessert.
En route we accomplished our other task at the Stockholm Pie Company. The heat didn’t prevent our trip, but it was a deciding factor between the two whole pie options available: Triple Chocolate Pecan, or Double Lemon.
In my excitement over dessert, I neglected to take a photo of the pie being served. Trust me when I say the handmade crust cradling a smooth lemon chess pie topped with lemon curd tasted refreshing and delightful. See how excited Alyssa and Jeff are?
This is where the magic happens. The bushes on the left are obscuring the pizza-making area. You’ll find the outhouse (“bran can”) through the building at the base of the windmill.
The main picnic area is to the left, a grassy patch surrounded by trees. To the right are the pastures with ample picnicking opportunities. We set up our blankets and coolers, shaded by pine trees and downwind of a fragrant lilac bush.
This is the green of summer that I miss during the dry middle months in California.
This was later in the evening after the crowd had thinned.
There were some impressive setups of card- or picnic tables, camp chairs, real glass stemware, and hipster facial hair. Others, like us, just spread out blankets. Grandparents watched kids gambol on the grass next to women in summer frocks and strappy sandals who minced their way doubtfully toward the outhouse.
For our group of eight we ordered four pizzas and took home leftovers: Canadian bacon, sauteed kale, margherita, and green garlic pesto.
The kale pizza with roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic, Kalamata olives, and a knee-weakening Bulgarian feta cheese was the group favorite, even among the meat-eaters.
Feeling pleasantly full, our group walked around to take photos, visited the “bran can,” or just sprawled on the blanket soaking in the moment. The humid air was less like a sauna and more like warm bath.
Is it worth driving over an hour for pizza? Not regularly.
But pile some friends or family into a car and go for the experience. See where your food comes from, eat it where it’s grown, and appreciate the opportunity. Use words like “bucolic,” “idyllic,” and “rustic” without irony. And take your garbage with you, leaving only a matted patch of grass where your blankets had been.
When was the last time you ate outside?
A few more photos are posted on my Flickr stream.