The Best Pizza I Ever Ate

Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010 at 11:15 am
By: Doug Lund
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Take a look at me and it’s obvious; I love to eat. It gives me great pleasure and comfort but it also brings profound distress because the price of that pleasure is having to shop at the big and tall men’s stores for awful looking clothes that scream “loser.”

Anyway, one of my favorite programs on the Food Network features various chefs and food stars talking about the best things they’ve ever eaten when they’re on their own and picking up the check themselves. They use an avalanche of adjectives and superlatives to describe these delicacies and then viewers are taken to the restaurants to watch those dishes being prepared and consumed.

The other day the subject was pizza which got me to thinking about what I consider to be the best pizza “I’ve” ever eaten.

More about that in a minute. First a little personal pizza history.

pizza king dean martinI clearly remember riding home from a family vacation in 1953 and hearing Dean Martin on the radio singing his new hit song that begins with the line, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”

I asked my mom what amore was and she told me it meant “love” in Italian.

“What’s a pizza pie?” I asked. “I’m not Italian dessert, I suppose,” she said.

pizza king chef photoIt wasn’t until we got a TV set a year later that we found out for sure what a pizza was when Chef Boyardee himself appeared in commercials demonstrating his pizza in a box.

I don’t recall that it looked all that appetizing..not in black and white anyway.

Mom was a wonderful cook but she didn’t get terribly adventurous in the kitchen exploring cuisines from other cultures. The spiciest thing in her cupboard was an unopened box of seasoning salt.

I finally got my first taste of pizza at my best friend, Dixon Hoberg’s 10th birthday party in 1956. His mom and older sister decided to try something a little different. They bought and prepared a couple boxes of Chef Boyardee cheese pizza for us kids to eat before the cake.

I remember his sister opening that yellow and red carton to remove the contents and watched with interest as she dumped the flour into a bowl to be mixed with a half cup of warm water and left to rise for five minutes…then stretching the dough onto a cookie sheet, spreading the can of the chef’s red sauce over the dough, sprinkling the grated cheese on top and finally popping it into a 400 degree oven. Within minutes the aroma coming from that stove was like nothing I’d ever inhaled before; Absolutely heavenly; ambrosia from the gods.

The smell was only surpassed by my first taste of that foreign food on my tongue. “So THAT’S amore,” I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mom’s roast beef dinners and just about everything she made but the bubbling tomato sauce and tangy cheese along with a crunchy light brown crust on that first pizza was the best thing I’d ever eaten in my first ten years of life!

In 1961, Pizza King’s restaurant opened in downtown Brookings and it wasn’t anything like the stuff that came out of a box.

pizza king exterior level

Instead of just a tiny can of grated dry cheese, Pizza King taught our uneducated little palates about pepperoni, mozzarella cheese (sliced, not grated) and the variety of toppings that can raise the pizza eating experience to new, never before explored delicious heights.

We ate there a lot.

Over the years I’ve eaten and enjoyed lots of pizza. Earl’s in Sioux Falls came awfully close to Pizza King’s. It was also cut in squares and filled with greasy goodness.

I absolutely loved the taste of Shakey’s Pizza and almost cried when they pulled out of town..then out of the state. The only Shakey’s restaurants left appear to be in California.

Of course there are pizza joints on every corner these days and most are okay..but nothing really special.

For that Linda and I still turn to Chef Boyardee. We buy his pizza kit and adorn it with a generous amount of cheese and our own toppings. It’s not only terrific, it’s nostalgic.

Speaking of nostalgic, Linda and I drove up to my hometown over the weekend and as we were rolling down Brookings Main Street, I glanced over to see that Pizza King was not only still there open for business.

I asked Linda, “Would you like to go in and find out if the pizza I’ve been raving about all these years still tastes as good as I remember?”

“Sure,” she said, “you know me, there aren’t many pizzas I don’t like.”

The first thing, though, was disappointing; no beer. I’d forgotten. It wasn’t an issue back when I frequented the place as a teenager.

Oh well, Cokes it is.

pizza king pizza pix

Then, after what seemed like more than the promised 15 minute waiting time, our circle of piping hot sensuous sustenance was placed before us and all the delicious memories came flooding back. “Careful, that cheese will burn the roof of your mouth and lips.” “I know but I can’t wait.”

Oh, it was sooo good!

Because we’d ordered a large, there was plenty to box up and take home to eat later..but it was gone the next day.

So, is Pizza King the best pizza I’ve ever eaten?

Perhaps..but I still keep thinking back to that very first bite of Chef Boyardee in Dixon Hoberg’s kitchen 54 years ago.



  1. Sweeps says:

    I remember how surprised I was when my dad ordered pizza when I came home from college for the weekend! Wow! There was hope! My first pizza experience was Morningside Pizza in Sioux City in 1967 when I was in high school. They delivered in a Volkswagen Beetle that had been in an accident. They never repaired the damage, because the only way we could tell that pizza was being delivered was the headlight shining straight up in the sky! If we could see that, we knew we’d be eating before long. Thanks for the reminder about Earl’s. I often buy Chef Boy-R-Dee’s pizza in a box, adding my own olives, pepperoni, and cheese, but as a nostalgic nod to Earl’s I cut it into little squares. Today’s lunch was leftover Chicken Bacon Artichoke pizza from Papa Murphy’s this weekend. Oh yeah.

  2. Papa_N says:

    Isn’t it wonderful that the best pizzas and best hamburgers are only a block and a half apart?

  3. Deb says:

    Doug just wanted to say i really enjoy your blogs. you brighten a persons day. thank you.

  4. mark koch says:

    the fun thing about shakeys, when it was here, was that the birthday boy always got the biggest balloon and a straw hat to wear…such simpler times!

  5. grouse says:

    Ahhh amore and Pizza King and beer! As I remember it, dates were always really impressed when you sprung for a large pepperoni and a Grain Belt! Now that I think about it, one had to have the gastric fortitude of a goat in order not to embarrass yourself a little later. At any rate, springing for a delicious, cheesy, greasy pepperoni was seduction of the highest magnitude. Later, parked on a moonlit back road, with slippery fat saturated lips, kisses winding up on the eyebrow were to be expected. Then precisely at 11:43, d.j.s across the country (after succumbing to payola from the Teen-Age Guy League) would play a Johnny Mathis record…”Chances Are” or “Misty”. These tunes always kicked the seductive powers of pepperoni into high gear, and a date under the influence of extra pepperoni would swat your hands away from her bra snaps, yell “Clumsy Idiot!!”, and undo them herself. Pepperoni held no such magic charm though for sensible Norwegian Lutheran dates. They clung to their confirmation vows (this is most certainly true) However, you could be assured of an extra firm handshake at her front door. And nothing warms a teen age guys heart like a firm handshake and an empty billfold

  6. gp says:

    Grouse…..Ya gotta get the CD….”Growing Up Lutheran”….with Suzann Nelson and Janet Martin….The Lutheran Basement Ladies Musical Comedies are based on their books….I can just tell you it’s almost 4 hours of laughs and memories….simply fantastic. Wait til you listen to the “cemetery board meeting”..and “Bible Camp Memories”…. go to Stop by when you’re in Brookings….I don’t have any chilled boxes of wine or Russian Vodka….but, I’ve got a couple of bottles of Linie Aquavit that sailed across “the line” on The Jergen Lysholm in the freezer. GP

  7. Hemmingsen says:

    Even my mother…Ines Giovanna Lucia Goal Strazzabosco…Hemmingsen…used to make the Chef’s Pizza. I don’t know about now…they’ve probably changed it…but the sauce wasn’t bad. Or maybe it was Ma’s additives.

  8. Sweeps says:

    Grouse, listen to GP. I read the book and LOVED it. But when those two ladies spoke at a Loot’ran church ladies convention in Sioux Falls a number of years ago, I laughed until I cried and just about had to excuse myself. Yes, this is most certainly true. Everybody else laughs at us, we might just as well laugh at ourselves!

  9. Don Covey says:

    I made the Chef’s Pizza for my friends in high school. It would after basketball season and my mother had aready gone back to the farm for the weekend. (I think four boxes was the most.) I made shrimp pizza for my Catholic friends and beef for the rest. Of course they were loaded with added ingredients, onions, mushrooms, green pepers, and especially additional Italian seasoning. This was in 1961, 62 and 63. I understand that was a prize ticket to get in on those pizza nights. I never counted heads nor invited anyone in particular. “we” just got together. Two “boys” were invited not to return because they got in a fight on the front lawn and a third took the Hawaiian straw hat of one of the combatants and started a “hatfire”. Boy I thought my goose was cooked.

    We always cleaned up, did all the dishes and polished the kitchen. Mom never said a word.

    Oh, there were very, very few girls at any of these impromptu pizza bashes. One is my wife. She did not come or be there with me. She came with one of my friends. Even the neighbor, Mike Cahoy never said anything. At least not about the pizza parties or the “hatfire.”

  10. Gretchen says:

    I think I love pizza as much as you Doug! I’ve never had Chef Boyardee’s though. There’s a place up in St. Paul called Cossetta’s that I absolutely ADORE!! The slices are as big as my daughter’s head, and they are all made from scratch…dough, sauce, and pepperoni! But then, I’ll eat just about any pizza put in front of me. :)

  11. Mary Krum says:

    Mr. Doug Lund——-You make me smile!!!!

  12. Suzan says:

    Pizza has always been a staple for the Lund family. Grandpa & Grandma taking us to George’s in Brookings. Shakey’s for early birthdays, getting balloons with feet and straw hats and listening to the magic player piano. Later, about every weekend it was pizza at that place on East 10th by K-Mart. Was it Pizza Inn or something else? You could get your pizza and watch old B&W movies of Laurel & Hardy or the Three Stooges. Great fun! I also remember THE big event in Sioux Falls – the grand opening of Godfather’s Pizza. It was in that old 2-story house off Minnesota. You had loooong waits to eat there but we girls sure loved the deep dish goodness! I’m now a New York style pizza lover. One of the best around, outside of NYC, is in Omaha at a place called Zio’s. Yet nothing beats that homemade Chef Boyardee you and Mom-Linda make. I can never seem to reproduce it! Thanks for the great memories.

  13. Anna says:

    Mr. Lund,

    Although Pizza King is certainly a very good place to get pie, you were on the wrong side of the street to get the best. George’s Pizza was introduced to me recently and by far is the best pizza I have ever had the pleasure to consume!

  14. Jeff says:

    I agree Doug, and quite possibly the second best pizza in SD is right across the street at George’s Pizza. This little college town is truly blessed when it comes to pizza!

  15. Cara says:

    I do believe it is a dying art! When ‘Whiz’s Pizza’ in Watertown closed a little piece of my heart closed too! That pizza was utopia!!!

  16. kawalski says:

    there was a place in brookings in the mid 70’s just west of Nick’s that had probably the best in town. you could get it ‘cassaroled’ which meant that it was about 2 inches thick. but i agree that you were across the street from the best pizza in town. remember the pizza king pep pizza would curl up and the grease would pool in them.

  17. grouse says:

    Doug…Don’t believe a word these naysayers and unbelievers have to say about Pizza King. George’s is very good, but it’s a 70’s-80’s joint. It has no real history…No real roots. Imagine, being a Greek bearing pizza’s in the 60’s! That was a leap of Orthodox faith if there ever was one. Casting pizzas amongst Norwegians….Spreading tomato sauce, pepperoni and other exotic concoctions before those of us used to a diet of blandness (although delicious blandness). Too much pepper had the whole Ladies Aid talking. Green jello was a blatant act of blasphemy…perpetrated by liberals at Augustana.
    G.P….Thanks for the invite! There’s nothing like a little aquavit (or a lot of aquavit) to make the world a brighter, shinier place. This has to be a “must do”. Maybe we can invent lutefisk pizza! If it’s good (and how could it not be), Hemmingsen could make peace with his Italian and Scandanavian genes.

  18. Tamara says:

    Absolutely thee best…..Pizza King!!!! However, when us Swartos kids were young living in the Mitchell area, we’d get “treated” about twice a year at a Godfather’s….where we had to eat what mom and dad ordered, a large supreme. And, like I’ve told my daughter, we didn’t complain we just had to “shut up and eat it!” Hated all those extra toppings at the time, but I’d give almost anything to have a Godfather’s supreme these days…..Brookings’ is long gone! So, we resort to the one and only, PIZZA KING! It is the best and I will give ANYTHING for one of those treats!!!

  19. Rose says:

    Great article Doug! My husband talks on and on about King’s Pizza as well. I recall my first pizza in 1966 when I was a freshman in high school. I was invited to a new friend’s home with about 10 other girls, and they made Jeno’s pizzas from a box (I’ve never had Chef Boyardee). I had never heard of this before, but Oh my! It was love at first bite! I remember demanding that we start serving this at our home on occasion. But, truly the BEST pizza I have ever had the fortune to devour was at the ‘old’ Charley’s Pizza in Yankton. This was in the early 70s when I attended college there. A friend talked me into ordering a ‘hamburger, cheese, with green olives’ pizza, and we also ordered a pitcher of beer to quench the thirst. WONDERFUL! So sad that the new owners didn’t purchase ‘the recipe’ for the sauce (which included the grease on top!) and the dark ambience. It’s just not the same. I often think that more people would return to Yankton for the college reunions if they’d bring back the old Charley’s! (No offense to the new place, of course).

  20. Bev Hammond says:

    In the early days of Box Pizza, Chef Boyardee I think, I made it with great anticipation. My husband and I liked it. Our 2 oldest boys could not be convinced that it could possibly be good. So I didn’t make any more until one day, they reported that the “Tucker kids eat Pizza”, so maybe we should try it again. This time it was pretty much a hit. Come Friday nights Rick and Gerry started making it themselves and got so good at it they made mine look amteurish. Pizza is and has ben a favorite ever since. The place west of Nick’s? George Ross ?? had a place there, but there was another before or after him too. Thanks for the memories Doug, it was fun.

  21. Don Covey's little sister says:

    Aha! The “secret” is out! I must admit, you and your friends did a great job of cleaning up. I know you didn’t want to get into “trouble”; but I think the real reason is you loved and respected our mother too much to do otherwise!

    No wonder I always loved it when you helped make pizza out of the yellow and red box!
    Thanks Doug for bringing a bit of nostalgia to mind for a big brother and a little sister who are a thousand miles apart! I read your column every time I log-on to Keloland.

  22. jc says:

    Thanks for the pizza memories! I like to say I never met a pizza I didn’t love;but there was one exception. The very first one. I convinced my grandma to buy a frozen pizza and that I just knew I’d love it. We all hated it! No idea what brand or flavor it was except AWFUL. Several years later my next pizza experience was an invitation to the Pizza Palace downtown Sioux Falls. My mom said “but you don’t like pizza” and of course I replied “I will now” (cuz I wanted to join the neighbor kids) And ever since my best friend has been PIZZA and it shows. I too am a huge fan of the boxed varieties, fondly remember Earls,Shakeys,Pizza Patrol… Still love Pizza Inn or Pizza Hut(tho mad that the pork sausage no longer available) sometimes Tomacellis or Pizza Man,and occasionally only Godfathers combo will do. But I also have Totinos party pizzas and Tombstones in the freezer at all times. I think I’m hungry now!

  23. Dez says:

    The best pizza I’ve ever had is the “Greek-style Combo” (no hamburger) from Guido’s Pizza in Anchorage, Alaska, and for a more gourmet variety, the “Solstice” from Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria (also in Anchorage) can not be beat.

    Since moving back to South Dakota, I could not find anything resembling “real pizza” until I relocated to Brookings and tried Pizza King. It’s gooey cheese and thin crust come closest to our beloved Guido’s. My favorite Pizza King pie is Canadian bacon with pineapple, but if they ever start using fresh mushrooms instead of canned (which I find too salty on pizza), I’d have a new favorite in their sausage and mushroom. I still haven’t tried George’s Pizza, but perhaps I will give it a go as well. I should add that we’ve done several trips to the Twin Cities, and searched for “real pizza,” but still came up short until we found Pizza King. Now if I could only find some decent East Indian food in this part of the country…

  24. Nancy says:

    Every time I have a Pizza King pizza, I’m praying that place NEVER closes!!! And people who once lived in Brookings, or went to school @ SDSU, makes sure they have a Pizza King pizza when they were back in the area. One other must stop in Brookings – Nick’s Hamburger Shop, just about 2 blocks north on Main, west side of the street. If you’ve never had either, then make a road trip to Brookings some weekend and try both. You’ll be back, I CAN GUARANTEE!

  25. Bill says:

    I remember roller skating at Lake Cambell then going to the Pizza King for a large shimp pizza, cannot remember the gentle mans name who owned the place, but he would toss the pizza with his own hands, things I only seen on the black and white coronado at home! Then if you were good he would bring out samples of different toppings. Those were the days, I still go there once in a while with my kids and on my birthdays (for a pizza King pizza I have a birthday about once a month!)

  26. MIKE says:


  27. jim67 says:

    kawalski, and bev……..That pizza place west of Nick’s was the pizza Pub I believe.

  28. jc says:

    Next trip to Brookings I’ll try out Pizza King so I can add it too my pizza list too.

  29. jack says:

    OK, I got to this one late and I didn’t read every word of every entry but I’m sure I can’t be the only one who remembers Dale & Vi’s, across Medary Avenue from the SDSU campus. Pizza cut in little two-inch squares would bring back lots of good late-night, post-closing time college memories, if I could remember them any better than I could the next morning.
    “Dale made a deal with the banker: the banker won’t make pizzas and Dale won’t take checks”
    Or something like that.

  30. Ms. Kennedy says:

    Love this blog…and I agree Pizza King is the best pizza…although Boss’ Pizza in Sufu is great…and another one in Red Lodge, Montana, a wheat crust pizza :)

  31. Paula says:

    I was born in Sioux Falls in 1958 and I lived there until 1978. In 1978 I enlisted in the military and I saw the world many times over (18 countries, many of them more than once) I know food! I have never forgotten the wonderful pizzas served at Pizza King in Brookings or Earl’s Pizza in Sioux Falls. Earl Britt was a total chef at making a pizza.

  32. cmr says:

    My first pizza was at Earl’s Pizza in Sioux Falls . . . . was it called Earl’s Pizza Palace back then in the early 60’s? When I make pizza from a mix at home, I still cut it in little squares, just ’cause Earl did.

  33. mike kutter says:

    Happy Joe’s was always my favorite. I’m sorry they couldn’t survive the delivery craze that hit in the late ’80’s. Being in my 40’s I have fond memories of Shakeys but they were gone before I as a teen. I remember the sing along they had was always a good time and they had good chicken and potatoes for my dad who was not a pizza fan. I worked for Pizza Patrol in college and no one in town had better delivery pizza during that era. They are back in Sioux Falls but the new pizza they offer is not the quality I remember, it paled in comparison even to the Little Ceasar it recently replaced.

  34. My family, being from Colorado, seems to have had many of the same roots of mono-chromatic and rather bland foods, as found among the German and Norwegian people of the Sioux Falls area, where we later lived. (Consequently, we felt very much at home in the area–Moving to Madison didn’t rock our boat that much)

    As described above, we also had not experienced very much variety in our evening meals at home. Why, even Chef Boy-Ar-Dee’s name is clearly a simplification of his real name, which was Buoiardi, or something very close to that. Clearly we, at least in the midwest, were a culture which needed a bit of opening up to other culinary influences.

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