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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

Summer into Fall

“Nothing is worth more than this day” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

September in Wisconsin is something to behold. As Summer reunites with Fall, the two grasp each other like old friends, reliving their glory days, hocking it up over the time they made it 70º and sunny in the Midwest.

We luck out with gorgeous weather from both seasons; a vibrant sun and bright green grass—a crisp cool breeze circulating through open windows and of course, football on TV.  When the temperature drops to “just right” time moves a little slower; the magnificence of this world becomes clear and undeniable and our pizza tastes a little sweeter.

As rare as these moments may be, I recently explored Wisconsin’s primary tourist temptation—Door County—I got the weather and the pizza and despite my habit of overthinking everything I managed to savor every moment.

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The Luther’s take Door County.

On the annual Luther family vacation pizza is a must—as you can probably imagine we take our pizza excursions quite seriously—so, we head to Door County’s primary pizzeria Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza.

Picking up pizza’s at Wild Tomato has become a Luther family tradition; a legacy I’m proud to pass down to 5-month old Ellis.  Ellis even showed his support by wearing his “Born to be Wild” Wild Tomato onesie (I can’t believe it’s been a year since Tess and I bought it in anticipation of his arrival).

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As we approached a swarming Sister Bay—one of the main attractions of the Door County Penisula—we became enamored by the realization of soon scoring some wood-fired slices.  In true Luther fashion and overexcitement, I begin to overanalyze: How many pizzas? What toppings? and What time should we call the order in?  With this amount of traffic, how can we assure proper logistics to get this pizza hot and fresh back to the rental?

I often have to remind myself to chill the F’ out.

The busyness of a restaurant is a tell-tale sign of its greatness and Wild Tomato can handle some high-volume. They have indoor and outdoor seating, an outdoor bar, and a designated pick up entrance complete with two operational registers that have a constant flow of customers.  They churn out very high-quality pizzas in a high traffic area and do it with the utmost finesse.

The sauce at Wild Tomato reigns supreme; it’s fresh, earthy and has the perfect balance of herbs.  Actually, all of their ingredients are premium; from the crumbled sausage to the pesto to the dollops of goat cheese.  They don’t skimp on the mozzarella either as everything is covered under a nice snug cream-colored blanket.

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A perfect opportunity to savor the moment.

In Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity he shares advice passed down from his parents that led him through unnerving odds  “Live for the present and the future will look after itself”.  This motto is one I need a constant reminder of.

When I stop fretting about when I’m going to get my pizza, how long it’s going to take and where I’m going to get it, I can enjoy the details that actually make pizza fun.

I can savor the subtle notes of basil in the sauce, the salty, buttery depth of the mozzarella and the crispy crunch of a well-done pepperoni.  These nuances can invoke the same hyper-aware elation that the brief period of perfect Wisconsin weather can.

What pizza taught me:

I can romanticize summer, fall, and pizza all day long, but the truth is life’s magic is everywhere if we slow down and appreciate it.  Those beautiful days that hang in limbo between summer and fall will always be my favorite, just as Wild Tomato pizza is, but there no point in ruminating over when and where I’m going to get them.

What I’m eating: Wild Tomato Wood-fired Pizza

What I’m reading: Losing My Virginity Richard Branson (it’s a long-ass book!)

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What’s Better Than Pizza on a Friday?

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who just had one” -Elbert Hubbard

Pizza on a Friday that kicks off a vacation.  There’s nothing like the swirling butterflies that accompany an approaching vacation—the same fluttering eagerness that’s often invoked by a slice.  A vacation on the horizon can give us the deep pleasure of anticipation—a joy that permeates our thoughts, can dull our day-to-day worries and make to-do lists more tolerable.

I love vacation almost as much as I love pizza.

The best part of my vacations is that they tend to be filled with pizza and vacation-pizza is no ordinary pizza. Vacation-pizza is guilt free and graces us multiple days in a row, maybe even multiple meals in a row, all in exciting new locales. There are no rules and regulations—unorthodox pizza practices are encouraged.

Vacation-pizza can be found in many varieties: Wood-fired Neapolitan in tourist traps, pizza-by-the-slice on bustling city streets, Dominos in hotel rooms and even take-n-bake around campfires on cabin retreats. Of course, all of it again cold and leftover in the morning—a quick slice for the road.

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The Baileys Harbor Cornerstone Pub.

As I write this on vacation in Door County, WI. I even found some surprisingly satisfying pizza at a family restaurant/bar called the Cornerstone Pub in Bailey’s Harbor which usually specializes in broasted chicken, prime rib sandwiches, and other bar staples (my brother said the prime rib sandwich was outstanding).

The pizza was reminiscent of the bowling alley pizza of my youth, and I do mean that in a positive way.  It was loaded with cheese, had quality sausage and a decent sauce—it was definitely an unexpected treat among a classic bar menu and it goes to show you never know what pizza you’ll stumble across on vacation.

Vacations are like extended cheat-days.

Whether it’s a 3-day holiday weekend or a whole week off often the best part of a vacation is it’s approaching awesomeness.

I’ve found it’s critical for me to always have some sort of vacation in queue.  The giddiness I get for an upcoming trip keeps me motivated and gives me something to look forward to, it can get me through a slump—pushing me one step further when I’m exhausted and want to quit. It’s where hard work gets rewarded.

Most run-of-the-mill two-day weekends I try to achieve this pending-vacation excitement by creating little mini-vacations. I try to indulge in some unique activity that evokes the feelings of vacation-mode; it could be as simple as exploring a new pizza spot the next town over or taking a trip down the Pizza Hut lunch buffet.  Anything that can give me a little tinge of that special “vactiony” feel.

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The best part of vacation besides the pizza? 

According to a CBSNEWS article “New York Times contributing science columnist John Tierney has been researching how to make the most of vacation time. He says people who take more vacations see real health benefits, like fewer heart attacks or bouts of depression.”

Tierney also says ”One of the big advantages of vacations is that it’s the anticipation beforehand makes you happy, for one or two months beforehand. So the more you can do that, the better.”

What pizza taught me: 

While the escape of a vacation is rejuvenating, the allure of its arrival is equally as rewarding.  The time leading up to our vacations is something to be cherished as it gives us something to day-dream about, make plans for, something to prep and pack for—something to look forward to with our families.   Now, back to my vacation, I’ve got leftover Cornerstone Pub to attend to.

What I’m eating:  Half pepperoni, half sausage at The Bailey’s Harbor Cornerstone Pub,  Bailey’s Harbor in Door County Wi.

What I’m Reading: Richard Branson Losing my Virginity

 

 

 

Pizza-watching

“People are the best show in the world. And you don’t even pay for the ticket” -Charles Bukowski

People-watching is one of my favorite past-times; second only to pizza-watching.  If you’ve ever made a trip around Madison’s capital square for the infamous farmer’s market you know what great territory it is to idly observe people from all walks of life.

Many Saturday mornings Tess and I will find ourselves marching along with the market masses doing the slow cheese-sampling shuffle—inching along like we’re caught in a swarm of zombies stuck in a quadrilateral slog.

Though it’s only 9am all the market delicacies like the warm cheesy-bread, fresh curds, beef sticks, and homemade hot sauces begin to remind me of my beloved pizza, but you can’t score a slice at 9am? Can you?

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Up and at’em.

At the square you expect to see folks of all shapes and sizes—statuses and statures; but you don’t expect to get a slice of pizza.  Most pizza shops open 11am at the earliest (some of my favorites don’t open until 4pm), but thanks to Ian’s Pizza on State you can now enjoy a piece of pizza along with your pastries and cold-brew.

Every market season Ian’s hones their revolutionary pizza riffing to breakfast as they start slinging slices bright and early.  You can grab a Denver Omelet slice, a Huevos Rancheros slice or even a sweet Apple Cobbler slice. And if breakfast pizza isn’t your thing, don’t fret, because nestled between Biscuits and Gravy inspired slices and Fruit Parfait pizzas you’ll find all of Ian’s late night classics.

The prime pizza-watching spot. 

Ian’s is the infamous midwestern slice joint that serves up eclectic slices and forever pushes the boundaries of what you’d expect to find on a pizza. My all-time favorites include the “Spicy Chicken Quesadilla” which is a slice with a quesadilla on top of it, Italian Beef complete with spicy giardiniera and of course the Buffalo Chicken layered with bleu cheese crumbles and chicken that packs some heat.

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Whether you want simple or complex there’s a slice for everyone.  Vegan? No problem.  Craving Mexican food? You’re covered. In the mood for pasta?  Do you want Lasagna or Penne Alfredo?  A childhood favorite?  You gotta try the Mac n’ Cheese.

I imagine that a sliver of Ian’s creativity is inspired by the diverse characters you find roaming the downtown area. Perusing Ian’s slice line-up and observing farmers market attendees share similar peculiarities.

People intrigue me as much as pizza. 

When I’m people-watching at the market I can’t help but imagine others daily lives. Where’s home? What motivates them? What’s their routine?  What kind of pizza do they eat?

There’s a lot to learn from people.  Robert Greene in his book Mastery says “the primal source of human intelligence comes from the development of mirror neurons which gives us the ability to place ourselves in the skin of another and imagine their experience. Through continual exposure to people and by attempting to think inside them we can gain an increasing sense of their perspective, but this requires effort on our part.”

Social intelligence is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes—to take a look through another’s eyes and to imagine how their mind thinks and feels.  Harnessing this skill proves handy in almost any endeavor because it trains us in empathy.  It doesn’t matter how smart or skilled we are if we can’t connect with people.

What pizza taught me:

We all have different backgrounds and values; Ian’s slice selection is as unpredictable as our viewpoints. If we take a glimpse into someone else’s life we can gain a new level of understanding and empathy.

What I’m eating: Ian’s Pizza on State-Buffalo Chicken and Smoky the Bandit

What I’m reading:  Getting to Yes –Roger Fisher and William Ury

 

Hidden Gems

“You can only lose what you cling to” Buddha

What do I want?  Every Wednesday that question wracks my brain; whittle’s my wife’s patience to dust.  So much pizza, so little time, naturally mind goes in circles.

We all face that daily dilemma between a finite caloric intake and an infinite amount of pizza possibilities.  It feels as though we’ve got to pick our battles wisely; line up our cravings, shake ’em down and narrow down the cut.  We’ve got to contemplate crusts, consider cheese to sauce ratios and collaborate topping combinations to ensure a perfect pizza night.

Really though, it’s often after we stop over-analyzing that pizza destiny knocks.

Tess and I gratefully had a babysitter on a Saturday night and set out to relive our glory days of frolicking around downtown Madison, WI.  Fun for us comes from exploring uncharted culinary territory—our favorite past-time finding new restaurants.

To rekindle our spirit of adventure we wanted something new, something hip, somewhere we could observe Madison’s foodie elite.  We figured after 6 years we’d hit every spot downtown, but we had left one rock unturned.

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Natt Spil

Natt Spil has no sign and only accepts cash, but is ever so welcoming to the weary capital square traveler.  The space is as intimate as a Hobbit-hole; a DJ booth and globally influenced decor emit an aura that says “hot-spot for the hip”, the tattoed and those craving finely crafted cocktails.  Apparently, it’s also for those who are hungry for Asian inspired Dim Sum and pizza?

The name is Norwegian (meaning “night play”) and the menu is equal parts Asian, Mediterranean and pizza and that’s exactly the eclectic, eccentric sort of thing we were after.  I would say it’s Madison’s best-kept secret, but people have been telling me to go there for years.

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Stepping into an unmarked door. 

If you’re looking for Natt Spil just follow a trail of logs leading down an alley and you’ll hit their wood-burning pizza oven. The pizza has that great char and chew that you only find when your pie has been kissed by the flames of a raging hot wood-burning oven.

Tess and I opted for the Natt Spil Sausage that came delicately balanced with tomato, chevre, red onion and pepperoncini peppers (my favorite touch).  Bites of sausage and pepperoncini peppers excited the tastebuds with an acidic tang to savory counterbalance.

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Look no further.

Happiness and pizza are spun from the same dough. There are times in life when we don’t know what to do and maybe that’s when it’s more important than ever to detach and let the universe reveal the path.

Meditation master and spiritual leader Lama Gendun Rinpoche wrote: “Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower, but is already there, in relaxation and letting go.”  “Don’t search any further… Nothing to do, Nothing to force, Nothing to want, and everything happens by itself.”

What Pizza taught me:

The harder we try for happiness the further away it gets; just like our satisfaction when we set the bar too high for pizza night. When we relinquish our desires and let life happen that’s when a crispy, pristine Natt Spil pizza unexpectedly plops itself in our laps.

What I’m eating:  Natt Spil

What I’m reading:  Robert Greene Mastery

 

You’re Right

“We are never so vulnerable as when we love” -Sigmund Freud

I was out for pizza in a congested restaurant when I saw the perfect snapshot of a slice; the grease pools glistening—pepperoni’s posed in a way that begged to be captured. As I pulled out my phone, repositioned for lighting and went in for the photo shoot that’s when a hot flash of insecurity slapped me in the face.  I envisioned all the eyeballs in the room locking in on me; their collective gaze projecting scorching rays of judgment that stifled me in discomfort.

I began to sweat as I stewed in my own awkwardness; blushing as I imagined myself, the fool, hunched beside the table like a paparazzi who’d lost it— seeing celebrities in slices of extra cheese.

I felt uncomfortable about the impression I was making on everyone around me.  I was that stereotypical millennial unable to experience anything without proper documentation; that guy who couldn’t enjoy the moment without posting to social media.

Then a heaven-send—a voice chimed in: 

Just live your life man.

My inner confidence stepping up? Some benevolent being interjecting?  Sage advice from The Big Lebowski’s the Dude?

No. It’s my wife Tess.  The voice of reason who puts up with me brainstorming pizza blogs, going in circles about “what’s for pizza on Friday?” on Tuesday and a plethora of other pizza quirks that I’m sure would irk the enlightenment out of a Zen master.

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As usual, she’s right; no-one could care less about the pictures of pizza I’m taking.

Beyond the ability to hush my self-consciousness, and reign in my ruminations, I recently discovered Tess also has a profound pizza insight to share with the world.  Her wisdom came unexpectedly as I arrived home on a Friday afternoon to her preparing a Jack’s frozen pizza. I was giddy to join in on her cheesy, picturesque Jack’s pepperoni pizza, and that’s when I smelled the faint smell of burning.

Wait! What??!  What are you doing!?

I gasped in horror as she recklessly committed unspeakable negligence against a poor Jack’s thin-crust.  The pie was at a torturing 425° for way too long; the sweltering heat blistering and marring the pizzas fair yellow mozzarella complexion.  The pepperonis shrieking as they began to sizzle and spit escape pods of grease across the oven walls that scream Help! Help! Let me outta here!

Charring a frozen pizza within near inches of its poor little life, brings a tear to my eye, but that’s the way my wife Tess likes them; dark brown and nearly burnt (no wonder she does this when I’m not around).

As I waited for an explanation and mournfully looked upon my fried friend, I figured “pizza is pizza” and went in for a slice.

To my amazement, it was extraordinarily crispy and delicious.  The cheese had more of a bite to it; more of chew, a deeper flavor too.  Who can argue with crispy pepperonis? I became intrigued by this “almost burning the pizza” cooking technique and the following day I insisted she teach me her secrets.

Upon plopping a Jack’s in the oven I inquired about how she knew when to take it out and she responded: “Once I smell it, I know”.  Long story short, you leave it in the oven for a period that seems way too long and then sprinkle parmesan cheese on it as soon as it comes out so it melts on it.  

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The right one.

Tess is notoriously right and I appreciate her shooting me straight and telling me to chill the F’ out with the pizza nonsense from time to time. Having open lines of communication and tolerance for each other allows us to experience new things, like burnt Jack’s pizzas that are delicious.

Sometimes we have to muster up and give a little more than expected to those we love. We may have to take that 5am shift with the baby or go out of our way to the grocery store, maybe even assure our loved one that no-one cares about excessive pizza pics.  By pleasing them with a little extra effort—  a little more finesse we can exceed their expectations, then it all comes back around.

I’ve heard successful relationships are comprised of the attitude that it’s 90% giving and 10% receiving from both parties involved.  What that means is we should always be prepared to give way more than we expect to get back.

What I learned from pizza:

Successful relationships are comprised of more give than take. The more we give the more we get and a beautiful cycle is born. It’s those little things like the assurance at the restaurant or the lesson on burning a Jack’s properly that add up and build a stronger bond.

What I’m eating: Jack’s pepperoni (nearly burnt with parmesan sprinkled on it)

What I’m reading: Side Hustle –Chris Guillebeau

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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

 

 

 

What’s Your Go-to?

“There are not more than five cardinal tastes; sour, acrid, salt, sweet and bitter, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted” -Sun Tzu

We all have a “go-to”—the quintessential pie that hits our spot, that classic combination or twist on toppings that just sings to our soul; beckons us back for more.  The “go-to” could also be defined as our interpretation of the perfectly concocted pie; our favorite toppings, perfect cheese, proper portions, on the appropriate crust.

For me, it’s most often pepperoni and excessive cheese, for Tess it’s green olives, for my Dad it’s the kitchen sink. I have multiple friends who would give up their first born child for beef, bacon, sausage at Gus’ in Whitewater and a work colleague who gets sausage, bacon, jalapeno everywhere he goes, no matter what.  That’s the power of the “go-to”.

“Go-to’s” are like excuses, bellybuttons, opinions, and assholes in that everybody’s got one. That’s the beauty of pizza in general—everybody has their own spin on it and it’s reliable.  Therefore, “What’s your favorite pizza?” is my all-time favorite question because it’s a topic of conversation almost anyone can entertain and have a good time while doing so.

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Glass Nickel: the default for the many Madison folks.

Though, I’m pretty committed to thin crust, every now and again I’ll get the hankering for some extra cheesy hand-tossed pizza loaded with toppings and for that, my Madison go-to is Glass Nickel. Glass Nickel was founded in 1997 in Madison, WI, and now have several locations across the state.

When I think Madison pizza I think Glass Nickel and it makes sense because many in the area find Glass Nickel and the term “go-to” synonymous.   Everywhere I turn whether a luncheon or work-function there’s a Glass Nickel box in the vicinity—when I poll friends and colleagues Glass Nickel is the common denominator.

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Pepperoni & Sausage pizza with extra cheese (that I didn’t have to ask or pay for!)

Extra cheese without asking for it.

I personally appreciate Glass Nickel because I don’t need to order extra cheese, they come loaded that way. They use a “house cheese blend” that bakes up with a great oozy and gooey consistency.  The crust is stretchy and filled with little air pockets, like a good artisanal bread and is dusted with cornmeal.

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cornmeal dusted crust

While many times I will opt for classic pepperoni and sausage (dynamite hand-pinched sausage) I have to say they are on top of their “specialty” game.  Some of the stars include the Fetalicious, which is a pie loaded with tons of feta, the Thai Pie complete with Thai peanut sauce, and my personal favorite and “chicken bacon ranch go-to”  The Ranch.

As far as chicken bacon ranch pizza’s go, The Ranch is far superior.  First, off they use good quality chicken that is slow roasted in-house.  Roasted in-house? What pizza place does that? They use these little crispy bacon bits, red onions, and fresh tomatoes that are nestled in a bed of mozzarella.  The best part though is the creamy ranch base that bakes into the crust to form this pillowy, velvety golden base.

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Slice of  The Ranch

Go-tos are not only reliable, they’re relatable. 

You can’t read a book by its cover, but can you read a man by what he orders on his pizza?  I love learning about other people’s favorite pizzas because it almost feels like a glimpse into their soul; a quick look at their quirks and what comforts them.  When you ask “what’s your favorite pizza?” it feels like people open up to you one topping at a time.

Henry David Thoreau said, “is there a greater miracle than to see through another’s eyes, even for an instant?”

The go-to is so intriguing because it can be so simple for some and so complex for others. I have a different go-to for pretty much every different pizza restaurant I frequent, so I get it.

What pizza taught me?

Your go-to is that pizza you can rely on; it’s that pizza that’s faithful to us when we need something familiar. Go-to’s offer us a way to connect and learn from others. The next time you’re stumped on how to spark up a conversation just ask “what’s your pizza “go-to?”

What I’m eating: Glass Nickel The Ranch and Deluxe

What I’m reading: Never Lose a Customer Again Joey Coleman