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No Place Like Home

“We carry our homes within us, which enables us to fly.” John Cage

As the 4th of July weekend approached I was feeling restless, my brain held hostage by an exhausting work-week and an ever-broadening list of “daddy duties”.  I was bored with Madison. I wanted to run, to get free, to feel like a kid.  I wanted summer fun; a glistening sun, a pine-laden horizon, friends, fireworks and some great pizza (that’s a given).

I wanted that sense of freedom that arises when you get out into the country or dunk yourself into greenish-blue Wisconsin lake water; resurfacing with a rush—a swirl of adolescent giddiness.  That feeling of leaning back and looking into a vibrant blue sky blotted with fluffy, pillow-like clouds; your day-to-day tensions melting away like sidewalk chalk in the rain.

Most of all I wanted the excitement of seeing my favorite people and eating my favorite pizza. The question is then, where can I capture all these classic 4th of July feels in the same spot?

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Going home. 

Tess and I got a sitter for Ellis (Thanks Mom!) and ventured back to our old stomping grounds Whitewater WI. for the 4th of July, with our eye out for everything I’d been daydreaming of, especially my crème de la crème of Wisconsin pizza: Gus’ Pizza Palace.

If you know me or have read any of my stuff you may realize that Gus’ is not just any old pizza to me; it’s the best pizza, my favorite pizza. The all-time greatest pizza. It’s the rule—the measure—the standard by which I judge all pizza.

For the longest time, I was nervous to even write about Gus’ because it’s so special to me, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to do it justice. Or, worse yet, what if it had changed in some way.  I’ve only had the chance to eat it a handful of times since moving, but I figured I’d try to let the legend shine.

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Confession: I went to Gus’ twice in one day.

If you grew up in Whitewater, you undoubtedly know the passion and loyalty that the locals share for their Gus’ pizza.  It’s the gold standard for small-town, thin crust, cheesy pizza, sliced up in squares since 1962.  That’s right, it’s a legacy, it’s been whipped up by the same family using top-secret family recipes for 56 years (way to go guys!).

For Whitewater folk, it’s lovingly known as “Greasy Gus'”. 

Though they keep their formulas confidential, my conspiracy theory has it that the legendary grease factor is due to them using slices of mozzarella instead of shredded like most pizza places.  When the cheese melts in their old-school deck-ovens, the grease collects on top of the slices and creates this delicious blend of grease, melty cheese, and sauce.  I’ve had no other pizza that accomplishes this unique consistency. It’s bliss.

The crust is super thin—cracker thin and has a hand pinched rim that is efficient in holding an excessive, greasy pool of cheese.  The crust is like a little floury canyon. (Ahh, writing this makes me want to dive right in).

unnamedSimplicity and home go hand-in-hand for me.  With my Gus’ I follow suit; I want the pizza in it’s most pristine form: cheese. I’m a sucker for good quality cheese pizza.  I want to bask in the harmony of the cheese, sauce, and crust; let them join together and do a  sacred dance.  If a pizza place can’t get plain cheese right, then I see no future.

Tess often goes for green olives or we’ll share a pizza with gyro meat on it with a side of tzatziki sauce (their gyros are bomb by the way, meat carved from the spit and all).  I’ve heard rave reviews of topping combinations all over the map; from black olives and feta (put on after it’s cooked), to bacon and onion, to onion, green pepper, extra sauce, extra cheese, the infamous Gus’ Special and as I previously mentioned my friend who will give his right arm for beef, bacon, sausage.  I’ve even heard the old-timers talk about the joy of shrimp on their Gus’.

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Gus’s in recent years also got into the cheese-sticks biz to stay competitive in the college market and their sticks are holy wow, topped with at least a quarter inch of mozzarella, definitely among my top 3 three cheese-sticks (that’s a whole separate blog post).  Also, I just gotta say potato wedges, do it.

 

My 4th of July fuzzies wouldn’t be complete without Gus’. 

Just like home, Gus’ is one place that seems to be a constant in a world that’s always changing; it’s one thing all my old friends and family still share in common. For almost 60 years they’ve stuck to their guns and for the most part, the product goes unscathed (though I always remembered more cheese, my grandma agrees).

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Cheese-sticks

In my glory days, I remember the goal for my friends and I on the 4th was to throw the biggest party we could, now it’s scrounging for babysitters and exchanging parenting tips (did you try this new swaddle!?).  That’s what makes life exciting, it’s constantly evolving as we are.

Phil Knight the founder of Nike says in his biography “Life is growth. Business is growth, You grow or you die.”  Whether it’s new additions to our families or nuances to our holiday traditions; we get reminders every day that everything changes, yet there is a resemblance, a fragment of the past that we can cherish.  That’s Gus’ for me.

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Potato Wedges.

What pizza taught me:

Simply going home can be all the negotiation our nagging mind needs in order to chill itself out.  It’s been six years since I left Whitewater and everything feels different but familiar at the same time. There will always be a part of me that finds comfort in going home and Gus’ is a piece of that history.  I hope everybody has a place like that.

What I’m eating: Gus’ cheese pizza, gyro meat pizza with side of tzatziki, cheese-sticks, wedges

What I’m reading:  Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike –Phil Knight

 

 

 

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To Find Excellent Pizza, Accept Pizza.

“Good luck is nothing but preparedness and opportunity coming together” -Deepak Chopra

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Navigating through life and finding a new favorite pizza place can share the same anxieties, lessons and triumphs.  I uncovered this several years ago after I relocated to Madison, Wisconsin for work and found myself equal parts excited and overwhelmed. I had the stress of a new job, new living arrangements and the biggest challenge of all; discovering which pizza place would become “my new pizza place”?

Pizza compels me.

I should start out by explaining that I absolutely love pizza, more than most things. Everyone knows I have a serious passion for pizza, my friends tease me about it, my co-workers regularly inquire about it, my wife’s embarrassed by it, and my parents seem confused over it.  I crave it all the time and every week build anticipation for my next pizza adventure. So, this whole idea may seam trivial, but pizza, in my opinion is one of life’s finest pleasures.

Gus’ Pizza in Whitewater, Wisconsin is my all-time favorite pizza.  It’s very thin, cut in squares and really cheesy.  In my opinion close to the perfect pizza composition.

Off to my new home.

As I set off for Madison I had nerves about adapting to a new home, it was my first time moving away from the small town I grew up in.  I had traveled a bit and I knew I would adjust and probably come to love it, but at the end of the day I also wanted a good piece of pizza.

Though I had many things on the table, I would commonly find myself asking “How was anything around here going to compete with Gus’ pizza?”  “Who’s going to have a little hand pinched crust like them?” “What place would deliver that borderline excessive amount of cheese?”

Gus’ and their cracker thin crust had transformed into the security of back home, it was a warm a quilt of high quality mozzarella snuggling me in, delicate hints of basil assuring me I’d be ok.  Worse than that, Gus’ had become the metric by which I was judging all other pizza.

I had put Gus’ pizza on a pedestal.

What I was really asking is “How can a new pizza restaurant compete with the idea of Gus’ pizza” I’ve created in my mind?”

In my first few weeks in Madison, what do you know?  I tried too hard to replicate that cheesy cracker thin-crust I missed from Gus’ back home.  Often, I would force a solution: I would order thin-crust pizza from a notorious deep-dish pizza place, then walk away in disappointment because it didn’t live up to expectations.  I would order chain pizza with extra cheese to mimic the “hole in the wall” pizza I craved so much.  I was forcing outcomes into square “tavern style party cuts”.

Then I learned to let go.

I’m an avid reader, especially into mindfulness, behavioral psychology, personal development, leadership etc.  Through my extra curricular learning, I found how to enjoy myself and enjoy pizza even more.

I discovered how to take delight in an experience and let it soak in, the new pizza along the way was a perk. I started reaching out of my comfort zone and trying new varieties of pizza and savoring every bit of the uniqueness they brought.   Along the way I found new favorites and created fond memories.  And of course I found new favorite spots.

What pizza taught me:

When I attached to a specific result in my pizza quests I set myself up for disappointment.  The pictures I created in my mind of how I wanted situations to play out, created unrealistic expectations and often left me feeling like things didn’t go my way.  By opening up my mind to alternative options and to the infinite ways life can go, I felt the real joy of living.  I was free to ebb and flow with the world and let opportunities present themselves.

We should all invite change and different experiences and enjoy them for what they are. I have to force myself to do this everyday, but the results are worth it.  You will be able to seize unforeseen opportunities because you won’t be set on one specific outcome. Know what you want, detach from the result, enjoy the moment and just be; you will find what you’re looking for.

  • What I’m eating: Rosati’s, Madison West, super thin crust (yes, that’s an option) extra cheese, pepperoni.
  • What I’m reading: “The Happiness Hypothesis”-Jonathan Haidt

Rolling With the Dough

“You don’t want to stand rigid like a tall oak that cracks and collapses in the storm. Instead you want to be flexible, like a reed that bends with the storm and survives.” -Deepak Chopra

I love Spring break.  It’s the rare occasion I’ll allow myself the debauchery of a full week of pizza-binging.  So, as you can imagine the Luther family Spring break vacation is a highly anticipated trip.

But, this year with a pandemic on the rise I reluctantly canceled our long-awaited travel plans to New Smyrna Beach, Florida.  With potential lives at stake, beachside pizza loses all it’s fun.

One thing was for sure though, I was in no-way-shape-or-form going to settle for any old boring staycation-pizza.

I decided that for the vacation vibes I was after I would just go on a week-long Tour-de-Pizza hitting all my favorite Madison spots.  A trip around all the local joints would surely lift my spirits.

Then Wisconsin governor Tony Evers restricted all dining-in restaurants and bars, closed all non-essential businesses and recommended everyone stay at home.  That idea was squashed like a dough ball.

What else could I do besides frozen pizzas and no-contact delivery? 

As I mulled it over, it became apparent that social distancing and self-isolation would provide a great opportunity to dial in my home-made pizza skills.

So, while everyone else was grasping for TP I cruised the grocery store for the core pizza essentials and set out to create my own destiny.

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I even took the idea one step further and decided to recreate the New Smyrna Beach pizza I was counting down the days for. 

For months I’d been daydreaming of a pizza in New Smyrna Beach from a restaurant called Third Wave Cafe.  Last year Tess and I stumbled across the little spot while frolicking down the main drag Flagler Avenue.

On a whim, we ventured into a dark, unmarked entrance outlined with palms.  Walking in was like going from the grey scheme of Kansas to the technicolor of Oz, as we discovered a lively tiki-themed bar complete with live music and a new American menu that highlighted wood-fired pizzas.

Third-wave’s concoctions were something you’d expect to see on a trendy big-city pizza menu, not in a little beach town.  This year the pie I looked forward to the most at Third Wave was called the “Honey Baby”: A sweet and spicy combo comprised of Calabrian chiles, spicy soppressata, and drizzles of honey.

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Creating the “Honey Baby” at home. 

We started with a ball of cooled, pre-prepped pizza dough that we tossed on our flour-dusted counter and went to town stretching.  I had a brief stint in the pizza biz after college, so I called upon all the dough stretching skills my muscle memory could muster.

Our primary goal was a faux wood-fired crispy crust and for that, we turned to the gas grill.  After a liberal drizzle of olive oil, we tossed the bare pizza-skin on the grill, heated to 500°.  We were after a par-baked crust and it didn’t take long for the dough to start getting firm and bubbling up.

Next, it was time to dress the par-baked crust with cheese, sauce, and toppings and finish it in the oven.

I took a trick out of my all-time favorite pizzeria Gus’s playbook and used slices of mozzarella instead of shreds.  On top of that, I sprinkled diced-up hot cherry peppers, pepperonis and sent the pie off to a preheated 450° oven.  Once the crust and cheese were golden brown I removed it from the oven and then drizzled it with raw organic honey.

It was spicy, sweet and savory; exactly what I was looking for.  To quote the late, great Tanners from the sitcom Full House “Whoa “Honey” Baby!”

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What pizza taught me:

The bright side can be easily lost in troubling times, but it’s always there.  On my mission to salvage my Spring break pizza-eating session, it took a few pivots but I found my way.  The next few months will probably take similar adjustments, but by being adaptable we will prevail on the other side.

What I’m eating: Homemade pepperoni, hot cherry peppers, mozzarella, and honey drizzle.

What I’m reading:  On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft -Stephen King

Put the Cheese in Your Hands

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.” William Shakespeare

Have you ever looked down at your slice and wished there was just a little more cheese?

With every pizza there’s always the risk of “poorly-portioned-mozzarella-melancholy”:  The sorrow you feel when you get a slice with lack-luster cheese distribution.  We’ve all seen that one spot on the pie that’s showing just a little too much red and not enough shreds.

But, I’ve stumbled across the solution; a quick, cheap fix that will surely prove to be even more essential than the parmesan and red pepper flakes:

A pizza-patching kit.

Also known as a spare bag of mozzarella cheese in the fridge for filling in those dreaded cheeseless gaps. For $3 or less you provide yourself some extra cheesy insurance that can save the day any day of the week.

For many, this concept is a total “no duh”, an age-old no-brainer to step up any pizza, but for folks like myself who’ve always just settled for what they’re given, it’s an awakening.  I will no longer bear the anguish of inadequately allocated cheese on my pizzas.

It works especially great on frozen pizzas and take-n-bakes where you never know what sort of machine malfunction or light-handed cheeser could screw up your balance.

Most recently I brought out my bag to beef up a take-n bake pepperoni pizza from Aldi’s on Madisons Westside.

I grew up giving Aldi’s a bad rap (maybe because my only impression was from the dingy Janesville location as a kid).  But, it appears they’ve revamped their set up (they’re actually under the same umbrella as Trader Joe’s) and their take-n-bake pizzas and cheese sticks are surprisingly awesome and super cheap.

Last weekend it turned out though that the toppings on the pizza I grabbed got shuffled around a bit leaving a few slightly barren areas.

Before.

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I was in the mood for “next-level” cheesiness, so I took out my pizza patching kit, did a quick waltz around the pie like a fairie sprinkling pixie dust and voila, I found what I was after.

After.

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That pizza patching kit is a force multiplier. 

In military science, a force multiplier is a skill, a tool or strategy that will give you a leg up and enable higher output and better results with minimal additional effort.  That’s what I got when I put the cheese in my hands.  With my trusty bag of mozzarella, I’m no longer at the whim of the fates I can take any pizza from good to great.

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Final Product

What I’m eating: Aldi’s take-n-bake pepperoni pizza (with extra mozzarella from the fridge).

What I’m reading:  Benjamin Franklin: An American Life –Walter Isaacson

The Lure of Limited Time Offers

“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” Ben Franklin

When it comes to pizza nothing creates more urgency for me than the words “limited time”. 

When I hear “limited availability” all decency goes out the door as I scramble for the nearest slice—I resemble George Costanza from the sitcom Seinfeld shoving women and children out of the way when he hears “Fire!”.

Toppers Pizza, bless their hearts, has got my business locked down for the month of February by playing on this age-old law of human nature.  For the brief 29 days, Toppers has gifted us back two beloved old school all-stars: Taco Stix and Cool CBR (chicken, bacon, ranch) Pizza and I am extremely stoked (Hallelujah it’s a leap year, we get an extra day of Tacostix!).

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Growing up in Whitewater WI. the home of “topperstix” I’ve been ingrained with a deep infatuation with cheesy, garlicky breadsticks of all varieties, especially Topper’s Tacostix.

Every so often I’ll get a craving so intense I’ll have no choice but to flip “pizza-night” into “cheesy-breadstick-night” and last weekend with their limited-time offer bewitching me I couldn’t ignore my urges and headed straight to stick-town.

Tacostix. 

Luckily for me, I have got an inside man (Thanks Adam!) who leaked this intel so I could start feasting January 31st as soon as they hit the menu (though I had to give a refresher to the employees on how to make Tacostix).

After my first dunk in the ranch cup, I was transported back to a better time—when I could eat Tacostix whenever I wanted.  I relished those little bits of taco meat that nestle themselves into melted mozzarella, cheddar cheese, and garlic-butter basted dough.

A deadline is a powerful thing.

Years ago I could enjoy Tacostix from 11am-3am any day of the week (yes, they have insane hours), but now that those zesty stick’s days are numbered that has unleashed an undeniable enticement within me.

When somethings about to go bye-bye it makes us want it ten times more—that’s the law of scarcity.  Or in Topper’s case artificial scarcity; clever marketing to create demand with a limited run (but hey it works for me!).

Though Topper’s brief return of my most beloved classic feels a little like they’re tugging at my heartstrings (I’m not the only one who shares that sentiment, see below), there’s no doubt they’ve engaged an effective strategy to create some buzz and secured some business for the month.

Sentiment

What I’m eating: Toppers Tacosticks with ranch dipping sauce.

What I’m reading:   Benjamin Franklin: An American Life –Walter Isaacson

Learning from the Master

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” -Simone Weil

For many the new year is marked with memberships; gym memberships, monthly meal-kit memberships, and digital streaming memberships.  This year though, I think I landed the best membership of all.

When my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas it may come as no surprise that I asked for pizza.  Half joking I suggested she deliver my favorite Rosa’s or Gus’ pizza from my hometown of Whitewater to Madison.

To my delight, my parents took my request to heart and delivered (not with a Rosas extra-large pizza and large sticks special, although bless their hearts they have done that), but with a pizza gift that will keep giving this whole year:

A Pizza of the Month Club Subscription.

That’s right, I’m now the proud member of a Pizza of the Month Club by Amazing Clubs. Every 3 months a variety of “gourmet” pizzas is going to just show up at my door and in my first shipment, I got a pretty off the wall combo.

“Hot Italian Beef” deep-dish pizza.

When I received that initial dry-ice packed box on my doorstep it felt like Christmas morning all over again.  As I inspected my new arrivals I did a double-take as I found a pan-style “Hot Italian Beef” pizza complete with spicy giardiniera and all.

I’m a sucker for spicy giardiniera.

I was pleasantly surprised at the composition; very thin strips of meat wove themselves through mozzarella and tender bits of giardiniera that softened from the 25 minutes in the oven.  The crust wasn’t too thick and basically acted like a bowl that contained the layers of cheese, beef, giardiniera and an ultra-light base of pizza sauce.

Good old mom not only gifted me some excellent pizza but taught me an important lesson in communication:  Listen.

Turns out effective communication is more about listening and responding appropriately to someone’s needs rather than trying to convey our own point.

Author Adam Grant uses a quote from former CEO Joe Quigley in his book Give and Take:  “Many times, you can have a bigger impact if you know what to ask, rather than knowing what to say.  I don’t learn anything when I’m speaking.  I learn a lot when I’m listening.”

It obviously doesn’t take a lot of investigating to realize my passion for pizza, but after all these years of jib jabbering about it, it turns out my Mom was paying attention.

So, she not only scored the “best Mom of 2020” award and stocked me up with delicious writing material for the next year, but reminded me of a skill that will surely prove useful in my own parenting adventures. 

What I’m eating:  Hot Italian beef Chicago Style deep-dish pizza from Amazing Clubs-Pizza of the Month Club

What I’m reading: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk –Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

 

The Best Pizza Philosophy

“There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life: Reciprocity” -Confucius

One of the many perks of writing this blog is all the recommendations I get from family, friends, and colleagues. Thanks to all the great people in my network I’ve always got a list chock-full of places to try and it keeps getting longer and longer.

Every January I scan my list to calculate my plan for the upcoming year.  The most recommended spots filter to the front of the line and if I see a suggestion multiple times in a short window, that puppy gets picked for the upcoming weekend.

A couple weeks ago one of those hot tips fell right in my lap, so when an impromptu dinner-out with the in-laws popped up, my blessed family obliged me and we ventured to a supposed “diamond-in-the-rough” in downtown Verona, WI.

Avanti’s Italian Restaurant.

Avanti’s is a cozy little Italian family restaurant and pub that boasts old-school family recipes and a homey atmosphere.  It’s ten minutes from my house and I’ve driven by it dozens of times, but I always just figured it was a place for classic Italian American fare like chicken parmesan or lasagna (I do hear both are good).

But, the rave reviews I’d been hearing about came from the pizza section and sounded like the perfect ally for a Wisconsinite who’s about to bundle up and hunker down for a few frigid months of winter:  Pan pizza.

When the temperatures drop I’m more apt to venture outside of my usual thin-crust ways.  Thankfully my father in law loves pizza too, so we could guiltlessly order a pan pizza and thin-crust pizza and share them to get the full experience.

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The pan stole the show. 

Avanti’s low lighting and a warm family-friendly ambiance created the perfect environment to indulge in buttery, flakey, inch-thick pan pizza.  The crust had a light, crispy outer shell, and pillowy soft center.  The bottom had a light oily finish from the pan it was baked in.

And what can I say, I’m a sucker for big chunks of sausage that get nestled into ooey, gooey gobs of cheese and pepperoni.  The toppings and sauce were abundant and the pie was finished with a liberal dusting of Italian seasonings.  (Pro tip:  If you want the pizza to come out when everyone else’s dishes order it as soon as your waitress visits your table, the pan takes 25 minutes to bake.)

Ever since Avantis, I can’t get that thick, cheesy, buttery beauty off my mind and it’s all thanks to the trusted sources in my life who reach out and give me a heads up on what I should try next.

Referrals are the fuel that keeps my pizza engine flowing and it seems like the more I give and the more I get back and around and around.

That’s the beauty of reciprocity.  When we selflessly share and help others we start a cycle of goodwill that creates value for everyone.  If someone does you a solid, it’s hardwired human nature to want to return the favor.

So, whether it’s a recommendation for some righteous pizza or some intel that could provide a leg up we should always revert to the giver inside of us.  

What I’m eating: Avanti’s pepperoni and sausage pan-style pizza

What I’m reading:  Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success –Adam Grant

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The Fight for the Frozen Section

“Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price.” Sun Tzu

There’s a war going down on the west side of Madison. Thankfully it’s not your typical war; no arms, no bloodshed, no casualties.  The war I’m talking about is a grocery store turf war, and clear lines have been drawn down the aisles.

The Westside Pizza Price War (or WPPW1 as I call it ).

At the center of this conflict, in the frosty display cases in the frozen section of my local grocery store sit some heavily discounted pizzas.

One of the perks of living in Madison is the plentiful options of grocery outlets; we’ve got Metcalf’s, Woodman’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi’s, Pick N’ Save, Costco and Hyvee. With more and more grocery stores popping up and only so many customers to go around the competition is getting fierce.

Recently the invasion of a Festival Foods nearby has pushed my local retailer Hyvee to resort to tactical measures.  To fortify their position and secure customer loyalty Hyvee went into attack mode with a defensive campaign.

I’m talking 50% off Digornos, 5 for $10 Jacks, 4 for $10 Tombstones, and $3.99 Brew Pub Lottza Mottza’s (their normally almost $9!).  And to stick it to Festival they even lined the pizza coolers with side by side tags of their awesome sale prices vs. the current lame prices at their rival.

It’s safe to assume that my freezer is completely full right now.

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It’s good to be a consumer in the middle of a grocery store feud—when frozen pizzas are so cheap it makes it much easier to branch out and try new things.

During my shopping spree, I swayed from the norm and sprang for an Ultra Thin-crust Bellatoria.  I love thin crust and Bellatoria was the thinnest of the frozen thin I’ve had. The crust is surprisingly flaky and delicate but can hold abundant toppings.

I ran with the “Ultra” concept and got an “Ultra Supreme” that included parmesan, asiago, mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, roasted red and green peppers, red onions, and black olives.  Bellatoria delivers on their “Ultra” promise—the toppings, cheese, and sauce were bountiful and top-notch.

It’s no surprise Bellatoria is on top of their frozen game, as it turns out they are under the Bernatello Foods frozen pizza umbrella which also offers highly esteemed options like Brew Pub Lotzza Motzza.

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A little competition can help us go a long way. 

While the analogy of war may be a little extreme (and may mean I’ve been watching a little too much WW2 in Color on Netflix), it’s apparent that the arrival of Festival Foods has been a significant motivator for Hyvee to step up their game and offer some sweet deals.

Perhaps we could all use a challenge from time to time.  When we’re having trouble reaching the extent of our limits maybe a little healthy competition could be the force to push us there.

What I’m eating: Bellatoria Ultra-thin crust “Ultra Supreme”.

What I’m reading:  Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success –Adam Grant

All I Want This Christmas Is Crust

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing” -Socrates

Last weekend after a long day of Christmas shopping I was on the verge of being seriously “hangry”.  So much so, that in a ravished frenzy I ventured into unfamiliar pizza territory.

I’ve always assumed pizza at grocery store buffets and specialty bars would be about the same quality as gas stations—hours old slices that have long since sweated out their essence, laying decrepit and drying out under heat lamps.  So, I may meander over to the pizza-bar at my local grocery store every week to scope out the selection, but I’ll rarely pull the trigger. 

That is, until, I discovered a whole new grocery store pizza experience.  A retailer in my neck of the woods has stepped up their pre-made pizza game and may turn me into a devout lover of the pizza-bar after all.

We’ll take one of everything, please.

With heavy-duty holiday appetites hi-jacking our rational thinking, Tess and I headed for the store where we could pig-out on not just one delicacy, but a whole smorgasbord of ready-to-eat options.

Whole Foods Market’s “Prepared Food” department is a welcoming deli-esque operation where you can fill your basket with everything from mac n’ cheese to chicken tikka masala to sushi (why not all three?!).

Their specialty bars contain an extensive array of sandwiches, soups, salads, and “grab-n-go” meals, and because it’s Whole Foods it’s actually not that bad for you.  According to their website:

“If variety alone doesn’t make you take out your napkin and tuck in, here’s the clincher: you’ll find no artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners or preservatives—and no hydrogenated fats or high fructose corn syrup. It means the food is fresh, flavorful and just plain wonderful.”

So, as “healthy-ish” slabs of lasagna and Asian glazed boneless wings danced in my head I walked over to do my usual peek at their pizza-bar.

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An epic crust for my epic hunger.

My explorations brought me to a majestic mountain-range of golden-brown crust that overlooked a valley of melty mozzarella and pepperoni.  Upon first glance of the pizzas’ magnificent hand-tossed handle and I knew it was meant to be.

I discovered that the highlight of Whole Foods New York Style pie is a rim of perfectly proofed chewy outer crust.  It’s crispy on the outside, and fluffy and filled with air-pockets on the inside.  It’s a ranch dippers dream come true really.  As soon as I got home I went straight for the Hidden Valley bottle. 

The sauce seeps into the nooks and crannies of the light bready base and the larger-than-normal pepperonis get nice and crispy.  Also, a plus, Whole Foods allows you to serve yourself, so no more middle person crushing your hopes by grabbing the one with the monstrous charred up bubble.

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Not only was the crust delicious, but enough to fulfill my gigantic appetite.

Turns out I had been too quick to judge and it’s possible to get a decent slice at the grocery store pizza-bar after all.  All it took was one unexpected, tasty crust in my Whole Foods basket to turn me from a Scrooge to Bob Cratchit.

What I’m eating:  Whole Foods Market pepperoni pizza from the “Prepared Foods” section

What I’m reading:  Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney -Lee Cockerell