Punk Chef Pizza adds a tasty new twist

moorhead business news

Manager Cassie Keller and Chef Cory Carr of Punk Chef Pizza. (Photo/Nancy Hanson.)

The T-shirts being sold at Moorhead’s newest pizza restaurant don’t just advertise pepperoni. “Hey Ho Let’s Dough,” one of the black toppers proclaims. Another: “I Love PCP.”

The first puts a spin on the punk rock Ramones’ signature refrain, “Hey ho, let’s go!” The second? “One guy who saw it said, ‘Don’t you know that’s illegal?’” reports the chef behind PCP – that’s Punk Chef Pizza, in case you couldn’t guess.

Chef Cory Carr began putting a tasty new twist on everyone’s favorite food Wednesday when Punk Chef Pizza officially opened on the edge of downtown. Located on the corner of Eighth Street South and Main Avenue, the new eatery occupies the space that formerly housed Usher’s, where Carr crafted a fine dining menu that was doomed in the time of Covid.

Ten months after Usher’s opening in 2019, restaurants and bars were closed down due to the pandemic. It reopened the following spring, then closed again last December – this time, thwarted by inconsistent supplies of key ingredients and the labor shortage the pandemic left behind.

“Our owner, Nate Sauvageau, came up with this new concept,” says Carr, who has worked with Sauvageau since 2009. “Everyone loves pizza. We’re sort of opening doors to a broader horizon of customers. College kids don’t come in for fancy dinners, but they do love their pizza – and ours is going to be special.”

The name? It was inspired by the chef himself. “Cory really likes punk rock music. He’s a drummer,” manager Cassie Keller confides. “It’s always been part of his email address – punkchef@gmail.”

Carr and Keller, who has worked for Sauvageau’s operations since 2017, are excited about finally opening their doors this week. From a few tables out on the plaza (right across from the Dairy Queen) to a menu of pizzas, pasta, salads, appetizers and (in her words) “lots of beer,” they are aiming to perfect their flavors in these early months, then be ready to go at full speed when college students return to town at the end of August. “By then, we’ll be running like a well-oiled machine,” Carr promises.

How does an experienced fine-dining chef do pizza? It’s all about the flavors. You’ll be able to order all your old favorites, Carr promises, “but with a really great crust,” thanks to great dough and a trip through Punk Chef’s new brick pizza oven. But the menu will venture in new directions. “After all, ‘punk’ means ‘no rules,’” he points out.

The no-rules approach leads off with the creation featured as the first pizza of the month, dubbed Purple Rain. (Not a surprise. Carr’s right arm bears an elaborate Prince tattoo.) The chef-inspired dish features figs, arugula and Purple Haze, a lavender and fennel-scented cheese from Cypress Cove, on top of that premium crust.

He cites two other favorites, the Blitzkreig Bop (those Ramones again) and the Greek Gyro Pizza. The former features German sausage, bechamel sauce and sauerkraut, all bombed with cheeses. The gyro variety, as the name suggests, combines lamb, tzatziki sauce, cucumbers, tomato and Italian parsley.

Keller adds, “We’ll have more local beers on tap, too.” Among them: Specialties from Fargo Brewing, Drekker Brewing and some regional specialties like the hazy IPA called Punk Princess and even 1919 Root Beer. Moorhead’s Swing Barrel has developed a special beer for Punk Chef; Carr has reciprocated with a Swing Barrel pizza featuring pork belly and kim chi.

The Punk Chef Pizza graphics go all out with spiky hair, skulls and the distinctive look of the in-your-face attitude of the height of the punk rock movement in the late 1970s. But the edgy graphics, Keller says, aren’t meant to signal that families and children won’t be just as comfortable as the collegiate clientele.

While that flavor may be a tad aggressive for the youngest pizza lovers, Keller notes other amenities to make it comfortable and fun for children, like the 5-foot Jenga, 4-foot  Connect 4 and corn hole games planned for the patio or the arcade game system on order.

“We do have a little edge, but nothing that children can’t see,” Keller notes. “We want this to be a space where everybody feels welcome.”

Punk Chef Pizza is open from 4 to 10 pm. Tuesday through Saturday. Hours will be extended after school starts in the fall.

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