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