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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

The Pizzaioli

“Every great player has learned the two C’s; how to concentrate and how to maintain composure” -Byron Nelson

A pizzaiolo is a professional pizza maker; often donning a flour-laden apron while wielding a weather-worn pizza-peel; artfully churning out pies in the Neopolitan style.  Dedication to any craft deserves admiration and for those committed to preparing pizzas full-time, I have the utmost respect.

At Eataly in Chicago, I got a front row seat to observe a couple classically trained pizzaiolo’s in action. Their bodies flowing in a focused ceremonial dance—stretching dough balls, ladling sauce, pivoting between bowls of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves—weaving within each other and a 900º oven with the precision and grace of a martial arts masters.

A packed Friday lunch rush put these pizzaiolos were under the gun. Amidst the chaos, their faces were fixed with an intent and stoic expression, framed between red baseball caps and surprisingly clean white t-shirts —rock-solid composure for one mission only: Put out exceptional pizzas.

La Pizza & La Pasta

Eataly is an international Italian eatery—the brain-child of Italian born Oscar Farinetti—it’s U.S. locations are notably backed by celebrity chef Mario Batali.  The multi-level marketplace celebrates all things Italian:  freshly made pasta, old-world deli meats and cheeses, imported sauces and accompaniments; a smorgasbord of handcrafted desserts—Tess’ go-to is the Gelato. Multiple restaurants and food counters provide delicious morsels around every corner, naturally, I gravitated toward La Pizza & La Pasta where they spare no expense with their wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas.

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Steve Dolinsky in Pizza City, USA says the pizzaiolos of La Pizza are trained by an outsourced company from Napoles called Rossopmodoro that comes in and coaches them up to perform with an authentic edge.

I was mesmerized by their well-executed operation.

Pizzaiolo #1 preps the pizzas and begins by plowing little wads of dough out of a plastic tray; afterward gently tossing them into a mound of flour.  From there he starts a deep tissue massage that widens into a 10-inch pizza skin.  Next comes a splash of sauce, a handful of fresh mozzarella and a sprinkle of basil.

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Pizzaiolo #2 swipes his pizza-peel under the pizza and spins it around into a gold dome-shaped wood-burning oven.  His job is to rotate the pizzas and let the flames kiss them in just the right spots, every so often tossing a log on the fire.

After about 90 seconds the pies are pulled and plopped in front of Pizzaiolo #3 who cuts them up and expedites them out into the restaurant.  Over and over again it goes.

What’s better than a pizza that takes 90 seconds to bake?

In a 900º oven, pizzas need undivided attention and the oven-tender must be extremely diligent.  In about 90 seconds the pizzas are charred up and ready to serve.  The simplicity and quality of Neopolitan style pizzas make them special; a few select ingredients showcase themselves.  A chewy, blackened crust provides the backdrop for a portrait of bright sauce, fresh basil, and gooey fresh mozzarella.

The fresh mozzarella is my favorite part and has a much different texture than typical shredded.  It has a smoother, more subtle milky flavor—not as salty—the slight squeak of a fresh Wisconsin cheese curd.

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I admire the finesse of a pizzaiolo, but I was happy to be on the opposite side of the pizza, napkin in lap, ready to eat.

“Sprezzatura” according to prolific writer John Mcphee in his book Draft No. 4 is an Italian term from the 1500’s that means someone with “effortless grace, all easy, doing something cool without apparent effort.”  In other words just being plain awesome and it seems to me, these pizzaiolos must have picked up some “sprezzatura” from their Italian trainers.

Preparing Neopolitan style pizza takes precision and attention to detail.  According to Eataly’s site “In Italy, pizza-making apprentices train under experts for years before earning the title pizzaiolo”.  That means it can take years of practice to master a pizza that bakes up in 90 seconds.

I’m sure they’ve dropped a few dough balls from time to time and may have burned a few pizzas, but their experience has led them to a smooth operation and proficiency in pizza making.

What pizza taught me:

A cool, calm and collected confidence is not only “sprezzatura” it’s something to strive for in any endeavor.  Watching a pizzaiolo execute his craft is a sight for any pizza lover, their training and tradition offer a lesson in mastery as well as a quick, tasty 10-inch pizza.

What I’m eating: La Pizza & La Pasta Counter at Eataly Chicago-Margherita pizza

What I’m reading: John Mcphee Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process

 

 

 

The Thinnest Pizza I’ve Ever Had

“Decision making can sometimes seem like inner civil war.”-Jim Rohn

Who would have imagined the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had would be in Chicago? 

When most people think of Chicago -style pizza, they picture a pie, an inch thick that’s covered with chunky sauce.  My initial thoughts of “Chicago-style” reflect renown Chicago chef Grant Achatz’s first impressions as he recalls moving to the windy-city area “deep-dish is not pizza, it is a casserole”.  I hold no pizza prejudices, just as Achatz doesn’t, but when you come to Chicago the limelight is undoubtedly fixed on deep-dish.

So, many are surprised to find that the true pizza for Chicago natives, is their thin-crust tavern-style. Tavern-style is known for its cracker-thin crust and square or “party-cut” that’s perfect for sharing.  It’s greasy, cheesy and crispy and the small square pieces provide easy maneuvering, it’s just about everything you could ask for out of a pizza.

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For once in my life, I’m siding with the folks of Chicago on something. 

The next time I’m aggressively and haphazardly cut-off on the interstate, I won’t disapprovingly mutter ******* fib *******instead, I’ll put aside the reckless driving, enormous egos, epic sports rivalries and picture the glory of their thin tavern-style pizza.

There are hundreds of pizza joints in Chicago, so as my trip approached I had a level of anxiety about which places to hit in my narrow travel window. Since I was accompanied by my wife who didn’t want to eat pizza every meal, I knew I had some careful decisions to make.

Soon an overabundance of top ten lists propelled by Google, Trip Advisor and Yelp flooded my mind and proved to make finding a spot even more difficult and complicated than I imagined.

Pizzeria Via Stato.

I was staying in the heart of downtown, right off Michigan Avenue, surrounded by all the notorious deep-dish places like Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, Gino’s East and Uno’s, so deep-dish would have been a no-brainer, but I wanted the real-deal tavern-style.  My fear was that the majority of the infamous tavern-style joints I was in search of would be sprinkled throughout the suburbs and a trek from our planned activities.

Through my research, I stumbled upon Pizza Via Stato right near our hotel that at first-glance looked thin, cheesy and promising.  Approaching Pizza Via Strato on State street I was taken aback when I realized it was attached to a hotel.

Hotel pizza! Tess teased.

Here I was in Chicago the mecca for thin-crust tavern-style pizza and I was going to get hotel pizza.  I envisioned my pizza cred going down the drain.  But, for some reason, it felt right.

To my delight, it was no ordinary hotel pizza and to clarify it’s a pizza-bar off a pretty nice Italian sit-down spot called Osteria via Stato.  It was undoubtedly the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had.  It was so thin I would have had no problem putting down multiple pizzas.  The crust was true to the cracker-crust depiction; the outer crust had baked air pockets almost like a pita chip that shattered when you took a bite.

The cheese to crust ratio was a cheese-loving midwesterners dream come true.  The pepperonis were as crisp as the outer crust and the sauce minimal, which made for a very crunchy contrast to the gently bubbled cheese.

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I’ve only experienced the corner piece of the square cut pie.

With only a couple of days to explore the hundreds of available pizza options in America’s third largest city, I found what I was looking for, but holy moly there’s a lot left to explore.  I barely even saw the tip of that iceberg, but next time I’ll be much more prepared—while in Chicago I found a guide.

A major score on my Chicago trip was finding my new favorite book Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town by Steve Dolinsky.   Pizza City, USA is a guide-book that explores the plethora of diverse pizza options throughout the windy city.  The book explores the 101 best pizza joints ranging from tavern-style to deep-dish, Neopolitan to Roman style—they are reviewed and ranked (Thanks for the recommendation Bret!).

The book follows the argument that Chicago’s wide-ranging pizza offerings make it the best pizza city in America. As you thumb through the book which is rich with food-porn worthy imagery it becomes hard to disagree with Dolinsky.  I was pleasantly surprised that Pizza Via Stato made the 101 best pizza places list (I actually hit three off the list while there, but I’ll get to those later).

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Decisions, decisions.

Venturing to a notorious pizza city with an abundance of top-notch spots can be a little intimidating and decision making for the pizza enthusiast can become quite difficult.  The more choices we have the further away we get from a clear decision, as we get lost in a deluge of options.

After I overwhelmed myself with loads and loads of pizza ideas online I didn’t know what to choose. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he says “We live in a world saturated with information.  We have virtually unlimited amounts of data at our fingertips.””But what I have sensed is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information.  We have come to confuse information with understanding.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s thoughts deal with information overload, and how often it may be more beneficial to not overanalyze decisions and instead go with our unconscious choice-making, in other words, go with our gut.  Often our initial thought is the best one before it gets muddled with complexities.

What pizza taught me:

An overabundance of options can make decision making difficult.  Often the best course of action is to follow our initial gut reaction, in doing so I found the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had.  Chicago is one heck of a pizza town—if it’s the best, I’m not sure yet—but I’m excited to try and find out.

What I’m eating: Pizza Via Stato- tavern-style pepperoni

What I’m reading: Steve Dolinsky Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town

 

Different Pizza for Different Folks

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself” -Marcus Aurelius

In Madison, we are fortunate enough to have a pizza for every occasion; slices the size-of-our-heads after late nights out, thin crust party-cuts for family-time on Fridays and even pizza that’s a little more elevated in composition, more sophisticated—worthy of a romantic date night out.

A trip across town.  

Recently Tess and I checked a notch off the 2018 pizza goal list and ventured to the east side of Madison to Grampa’s Pizzeria. In the Willie Street and Atwood neighborhoods, you can expect to get the boundaries of your palette pushed a little further with forward-thinking restaurants like Pig In a Fur Coat and Mint Mark, but where does the pizza fit in?

Grampa’s Pizzeria plants it’s flag as the place to sit down and enjoy an elevated pizza experience and is no exception to the farm-to-table rule of thumb. Grampa’s and it’s on-site herb garden are very much what you would expect from an establishment on the east side; a youthful, carefree, modern scene where art, music, and DIY enterprising coalesce; punk rock ethos infuse the food, fashion and all things craft.

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The progressive side of pizza. 

Inside Grampa’s, it’s cozy, like I imagine the idealized hipster version of what a grandparents home would look like: a dimly lit dining room, strewn about tattered books and old photos—melon coly dream-pop pulsing in the background.

Tess and I were faced with a food enthusiast’s first-world pain—everything on the menu looked good.  From the small plates and salads to the pizza, as usual, we couldn’t make up our minds, so we decided on a little bit of everything.  We started with the Mozzarella small plate (they make those delicious balls fresh every day) and the Beet salad.

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Gourmet pizza.

There are nine pizzas on the menu, which are composed of a handful of simple yet quite experimental ingredients. There’s a pizza with pork confit on it, a pizza with a Korean fermented condiment called gochujang sauce and one of their most popular pies called the Barberini which showcases ricotta, calabrian chiles, watercress, and honey.

To join the party we went with the Brassacre! which consisted of Brussel sprouts, bacon, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, and grana.  Brussel sprouts and bacon are a great combo so I knew the Brassacre! could do no wrong.  Crispy, thick, asymmetrical chunks of bacon, (more of the pork belly persuasion) were sprinkled throughout, which provided a salty, fatty contrast to the Brussel sprouts.  The olive oil and garlic base was a decadent match to the cheese.

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We also opted for a traditional pie; pepperoni and sausage to provide us a baseline to measure their fundamental pizza components; cheese, sauce, and crust.  The pizzas are very thin and cut in squares which is my preference.

The pepperoni had more of an artisanal flare and depth of flavor than the average pepperoni, they were slightly thicker and had a light smokiness.  The sausage was a highlight for me, it was rich and fennel forward, with a nice spicy balance.

There’s a pizza out there for everyone.

Grampa’s Pizzeria and it’s varieties of pizza parallel the wide-ranging and often avante-garde culture of those east side neighborhoods.  These days with our lives so intricately integrated through technology, it’s more important than ever to practice tolerance and hold ourselves to a higher standard.  It doesn’t matter what your opinion is, just be nice about it.

Deepak Chopra says “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 and survives the storm.”

What pizza taught me:

A night out in the enlightened part of town is a nice reminder that we should keep our minds and taste buds open and not only respect other folks pizza preferences but their ideas and lifestyles as well.

What I’m eating: Grampa’s Pizzeria; Brassacre! Brussel sprouts, bacon, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, and grana. Pepperoni, half sausage pizza.  Mozzarella small plate and Beet salad.

What I’m reading: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking -Malcolm Gladwell

Are You Going to Eat That?

“Sometimes all you have to do is ask, and it can lead to all your dreams coming true” -Randy Pausch

Who in their right mind abandons a pizza?  Who has the heart to desert a perfectly fine pizza on the ledge of a pizza-truck pick-up window?

Door County Brewing Co. 

I witnessed the culprits recklessly strolling away with a red blinking restaurant pager in tow—one too many craft beers to notice.

It was a bustling Friday night at Door County Brewing Co.’s outdoor beer garden in Bailey’s Harbor WI.

Echoes of live music from the indoor taproom bled into the air and a bonfire flickered a mellow glow over rows of packed picnic tables.  Amidst the patrons, I spotted the highlight for which I’d come to explore.

Beyond the brews of Door County Brewing Co. they provide some delicious eats; epic meat and cheese boards, corn dogs and push-pops; but I was after the pizza-truck parked out back called Harbor Pizza.  With a “mobile stone oven” local restaurant Chives had expanded their operation and set up shop to serve pizzas to brewery customers.  It appears they feature about three different 12-inch varieties on any given night.

No, pizza is going to waste on my watch.

As I walked by to glance at the menu and observe their outdoor operation, I admired the steady stream of pizzas lining up as customers would approach and trade in their restaurant pagers for their pies.

As the night progressed, each time I’d pass by I couldn’t help but notice one little pizza at the end of the counter that was never picked up.  Every so often I’d crane my neck from where we were sitting and notice all the other pizzas joining their owners and that one pizza continually going unclaimed.

With closing time approaching, I couldn’t help but meander over to the disregarded pie and inquire about its future.  A kind dread-locked pizza-truck employee wielding a pizza peel gently turned around from tending the oven and noticed me gesturing towards the pizza.  “Did someone forget their pizza?” I asked.

“No one ever came back for it, man”

I had to ask whether it’s next home would be the overflowing bar trash can or if someone was going to claim it and to my utmost excitement my newfound hero replied: “you want it?”.

The good samaritan then spun his charred pizza paddle, swooped in to pick up the pie and slung it back in the oven with a smile on his face. A true gentleman indeed (he even gave us a box!).

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The orphan on round two.  

A few minutes later and the pizza was piping hot and back in business with a giddy new family. I chuckled all the way home, pizza box open in hand, reliving the silliness of the moment; the forgotten pizza resurrected and gifted by the kind-hearted pizzaiolo.

What pizza taught me:

It never hurts to ask the pizza-lovers proverbial question “is someone going to eat that?”.  Never leave a pizza behind (or a loved one for that matter).

What I’m eating: Abandoned pizza at Harbor Pizza pizza-truck at Door County Brewing Co. in Bailey’s Harbor, WI.

What I’m reading:  Own the Day, Own Your Life: Optimized Practices for Waking, Working, Learning, Eating, Training, Playing, Sleeping, and Sex -Aubrey Marcus

 

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