pizza champ photo by izaiah johnson

Elmwood resuming indoor dining as pizzeria in June and opening brick-and-mortar Pizza Champ later this year

Grill-fueled fine dining restaurant Elmwood – which we called the No. 2 Best New Restaurant of 2019 – has had a long journey in its two years of service. Last March, the Maplewood spot shut its doors indefinitely due to the pandemic, reopening for carryout briefly over the summer as a Detroit-style pizza pop-up, and then again starting in August as a more traditional pizza carryout and delivery concept. Since then, Elmwood has quietly introduced its alter-ego brand Pizza Champ, and on Thursday, June 10, the restaurant will reopen its dining room to double down on its ’za game in person.  

“We’re going to be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout June, July and August as Pizza Champ, a space where we can workshop a concept that we are planning to open in Maplewood in the late summer or early fall,” said co-owner and general manager Chris Kelling. Once the Pizza Champ brick-and-mortar goes live later this year, Elmwood will return to the menu and aesthetic it offered before the pandemic.

As Pizza Champ, Elmwood’s vibe will be different from the low lighting, hip tunes and sleek atmosphere diners have come to expect from the space. “It’ll be a casual place to try some pizza or a sandwich. You’ll be able to catch a ballgame – we’re going to put some TVs behind the bar,” Kelling explained. “We want it to feel as different from Elmwood as possible.” Bar seating will return, and seats overlooking the kitchen through it’s large glass windows will be among the new attractions.  

As for the food, the current Pizza Champ menu will be both a base and a point of departure. “It’ll be an evolving menu, a workshop for us to figure out what’s executable and what’s well-received. Hopefully both,” Kelling said, laughing. The centerpiece, of course, will be pies made in Elmwood’s Marsal pizza oven, complemented by a few items coming off the charcoal grill. Fried wings, a burger, chicken sandwiches, pork belly skewers and a rotating entree will be available. “The pork steak will return and the grilled sweet potato baba ghanoush will be back. It would be silly not to use [the Josper grill],” Kelling said. “It’s such a great piece of equipment.” 

As for the bar, things will be “super simple,” according to Kelling. They’ll have around five beers in cans as well as three or four on draft at any given time. Cocktails will be batched and easy to execute; Kelling mentioned a lime and basil vodka cocktail, a house margarita and a seasonal spritz. “This isn’t a five-touch cocktail place the way Elmwood was and will be again,” he said. “As everyone knows, there’s a major labor shortage right now. We want to make everything as efficient as possible.”  

Looking forward, a few things are certain. First, Pizza Champ will have soft serve ice cream; Kelling just bought the machine and it’ll be on the menu soon. Second, people acclimated to Elmwood’s current mode of business can rest assured that carryout and delivery will continue. Third, the team is feeling it. “We’re just excited to get back to what we do,” Kelling said. “The instant gratification of seeing people eat our food. We hope people like it. We’ve been working hard at it.”

Online reservations for indoor service will be available beginning tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday, May 25.