Chef Anthony Gilbert brings Detroit-style pies—and lots of cheesy goodness—to downtown Stillwater.
Walk into Melt Pizza Company, the newest addition to Stillwater’s vibrant food scene, and the name immediately makes sense: You can smell the warm, familiar aroma of crispy cheese. That cheese is the hallmark of a Melt Pizza, made in Detroit-style rectangular pans that create a crunchy, airy crust and a layer of caramelized cheese all the way to the edge. “The big, bold, cheesy toppings—that’s what sets Detroit-style pizza apart,” says chef and owner Anthony Gilbert.
And he would know. Gilbert, a self-taught chef, spent months during the early days of COVID-19 perfecting his Detroit-style pies. The Hudson, Wisconsin, native worked in restaurants for most of his early career—including at St. Croix Valley institutions like Winzer Stube—but had since established himself as a professional wedding and architectural photographer. Then came the pandemic, and most of his photography jobs were canceled. “I’d always cooked, even after I stopped doing it professionally,” Gilbert says. “During the early part of the pandemic, I started cooking very intently again.” He’d never tried his hand at pizzas. “I associated it with needing a lot of time to get it right—and all of a sudden, I found myself with all the time,” he says.
Gilbert fixated on his pandemic pizza creations, tinkering with every detail of his recipes for six months. “I finally got it to a point where it was presentable,” he says. “I started serving pizzas out of my home, one Saturday a month, from March to September 2021.” He’d spend the day making 25 or 30 pizzas, doling them out to friends, who stopped by his porch. They’d try the pizzas and offer feedback. That fall, the owner of Pedro’s del Este, a Latin fusion eatery in Stillwater, approached Gilbert. “He said, ‘We’re only open Wednesday to Sunday. This place sits empty for two days. Would you like to run a ghost kitchen out of here?’” Gilbert says.
Gilbert did. He sold his Detroit-style pizzas at a Monday pop-up, working out of Pedro’s kitchen and lounge. “We brought in all our stuff, prepared the food, served it, sold it, cleaned up and left,” he says. “We got some good success and attention.” On New Year’s Eve 2021, Gilbert decided to quit his freelance photography business and focus on pizzas full time. He expanded his pop-up service at Pedro’s to Mondays and Tuesdays and started doing on-site pop-ups at local breweries and private parties.
In October 2022, LoLo Group came knocking. The restaurant group (which owns LoLo American Kitchen & Craft Bar locations in Hudson, Stillwater and the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, plus Lolito Cantina and Stillwater Proper) is helmed by Joe Ehlenz and Brad Nordeen—and they had a space in mind for Melt, as Lolito was moving to a new location. Ehlenz had met Gilbert several years ago and thought of him immediately. “We’d instantly had a connection around food and dining,” Ehlenz says. Gilbert loved the former Lolito space and worked with the Lolo Group to get Melt’s new brick-and-mortar running. “It’s been a great partnership,” Ehlenz says. “I was ecstatic to make the drink menu to collaborate with the awesome food dishes he’s been doing. He’s making absolutely wonderful food and is delivering something so new to the Valley.”
That “something so new” isn’t just pizza. The Melt menu covers noodles (both Asian and Italian), salads and an innovative cocktail program from the experts at LoLo Group. And Gilbert has continued to hone the pizzas, focusing on what he calls “East Coast-style ingredients,” like fresh ricotta, basil and chili-infused honey. Some flavors are inspired by classic Italian pizzas; others by his own Filipino heritage. And the fusion makes sense. “I grew up cooking,” Gilbert says, with a family that cherished food, both Filipino and from other cultures. In fact, Gilbert says Melt Pizza is partly an homage to his late grandmother, who passed away in early 2020. “Her lifelong dream was for me to own a restaurant, and I never really pursued it or took it seriously,” he says, until the pandemic pushed him down the path to his own place. “I wish she could see it,” he says.
Melt Pizza Company is indeed a family affair. One of Gilbert’s sisters, Alyssa Gilbert, is a full-time partner in the restaurant, while his wife, his mom and another sister make up a top-notch cheerleading section. And they’ll have plenty of cheering to do—Gilbert says Stillwater’s Melt location is just the beginning. “I’d love to bring a Melt to Hudson, because that’s my home community. I see other restaurants in the future,” he says. In the meantime, he’s leaning into Stillwater. “They’ve been so welcoming and helpful,” Gilbert says. “LoLo Group has been huge in giving me references and resources. I want to be part of this community, so they’ve been a great catalyst in making that happen in a short period of time.”