Madison Area “Must Haves” of 2019

“Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” -John Carmack

Goal setting is serious business in the Luther household.  9-month-old Ellis is scooting towards the perfect crawl, Tess is dominating the Whole30 diet and I’m working on expanding my pizza expertise.

As I map my pizza eating curriculum for 2019 my natural urge is to go big:

  1. Try as many pizza places as possible (52 different pizzas in 52 weeks?).
  2. Travel the country on an epic pizza eating bender. 
  3. World pizzeria domination.
  4. Transcend space and time entering into a peaceful state of pepperoni and melty mozzarella bliss.

My pizza eating goals don’t lack any ambition, but with thousands of glorious, greasy options, limited free time and a baby where do I begin?

Every week I gather new recommendations, most of which are right in my back yard.  Madison’s got some diverse options, ranging from New York style to Neopolitan.

I’m not sure if it’s watching Tidying Up with Marie Condo on Netflix or reading about prioritizing in Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing, but the idea of narrowing my focus and pinpointing my aim locally is starting to sound like a worthy pursuit.

So, in 2019 I’m abandoning the idea of “going big or going home” and just focusing on going home—I’m compiling all the places in Madison that are overdue, have been overlooked or have just been put on the backburner.

2019 Pizza Goal List: Homing in on my hometown pizza.

Greenbush Bar- Downtown Madison

greenbush 2

Greenbush Bar is a name that pops up over and over again when polling Madison folks about their favorites.  It’s right off Regent Street and is tucked in the basement of the Italian Workman’s Club.  They serve up Sicilian style pizza in an old school setting complete with dangling Christmas lights.  Their notorious thin-crust creates lines into that basement that will leave you feeling like your waiting for a red cup at a college party.

The Pizza Oven-Monona

IMG-1508

Pizza Oven pizza was described to me as looking similar in style to my all-time favorite Gus’ Pizza in Whitewater so it immediately ranked as a high priority.  A quick skip down the beltline to Monona and you’ve got old school pizza parlor vibes and thin-crust pizza cut in squares.  The place even comes equipped with vintage arcade games and a nice bar perfect for weekend hangs.

Sugar River Pizza-Verona

sugar river 2

This up and comer has locations in Verona and New Glarus and has some pretty devote followers in the area.  The pies are loaded to the brim with toppings and they don’t shy from experimentation; the menu has everything from Asain Chicken to Baked Potato pizza.  They’ve got an assortment of delicious looking appetizers and a solid craft beer list as well.

Luigi’s-Midvale Madison Westside

luigis

I got a Food Fight Restaurant Group gift certificate for Christmas and I know exactly where I’m using it. At Luigi’s Food Fight bring their forward thinking ingredient list and craftsmanship that you’d expect from any of their eateries and apply it to pizza.  A modern environment and exotic spin on traditional pies make it spot I’ve got to get back to.

It’s Time Bar & Grill-Verona

img-6533.jpeg

After trying Marcines in Mount Vernon I’ve got a newfound appreciation for bar pizza, so when I heard about this super-thin-crust house-made bar pizza I knew it had to go on the list.  A colleague of mine described the crust as “brittle” and that was enough to make the super-thin-crust addict in me instantly start jonesing.

Naples 15-Madison Downtown

naples

This spot always pops up on my google maps searches and I always scratch my head wondering what the heck it is.  It’s a few blocks from downtown and looks like a nice Italian restaurant that happens to have wood-fired pizzas on the menu.  Like any good Neopolitan style the ingredients look simple and of the highest quality.

Zoe’s Pizza-Waunakee

zoe's
Zoe’s Meat Eater, complete with crumbled sausage.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for crumbled sausage.  I’ve always been fond of noodles on pizza too, so when I heard about a spaghetti and meatball pizza I was instantly intrigued.  Zoe’s has a whole list of heavy-duty pizzas and it’s not too far off the beaten path.

Buck’s Pizza-Cottage Grove

Screen Shot 2019-02-01 at 6.33.22 PM

 

Everything about Buck’s hole-in-the-wall vibe seems like it should be right up my alley.  It’s very thin, cut in tiny squares and comes in a paper bag.  Buck’s once had a location right in my area, but now like an endangered species, they’re down to just one that remains in Cottage Grove.

Pizza Brutta-Middleton 

pizza brutta 2

Pizza Brutta is on top of their wood-fire kissed 10-inch game.  They take their menu up a notch with a broader menu and funkier concoctions than similar Neopolitan places.  They have locations in Middleton and on Monroe Street.

Finding my one thing.

Author Gary Keller in his book The ONE Thing explains that we need big goals, but a narrow focus to accomplish them.  He recommends asking the “Focusing question”:  “What’s the one thing I can do right now, such by doing it, will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”.

By searching for that “one thing” you clear the clutter, you can find your most important, doable task and put all your energies towards completing it.  This creates a ripple effect on all your future efforts.

I will most likely not be traveling across the country with a toddler for the pizza tour of my dreams in 2019, but if I widdle down my lofty pizza goals I can get the momentum going.  First I’ll take Madison, then surrounding communities, eventually Wisconsin and the dominos will topple.

What pizza taught me:

Extra large pizza goals are great but if they’re not specific they can be overwhelming and intimidating. By narrowing our focus with a well-defined, achievable goal we can chip away at our big-picture goals one slice at a time.

What I’m eating:  Leftover Pizza Hut Pan pizza for breakfast as I plan my 2019 pizza goals.

What I’m reading: The ONE Thing -Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan

 

Pizza’s Ultimate Sidekick

“Never settle for average” -Steve Jobs

Can a pizza place capture our hearts with a menu item that isn’t even “pizza”?  Those who’ve ordered pizza after midnight in any Wisconsin college town would have to adamantly give a big “hell yes”.

With the new year here I feel like I need to switch it up from same old tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. So, I’m opting for a slightly different option from one of my all-time favorite places, where you not only get great pizza, but you also get pizza’s garlicky, ooey gooey, extra cheesy, stick-shaped half-brother.

Toppers Pizza.

Toppers Pizza could be personified as punk rock, as they playfully push boundaries with their menu and loudly vocalize their vendetta against the system (in their case Dominos Pizza; recently unleashing an ad campaign calling out Dominos lack of product quality that ended up in a lawsuit).

They use menu creativity, quality, and marketing charisma to forge a competitive edge against the big boys and of course, they are open later than anybody else so it’s naturally the pizza of choice for party people and real-life punk rockers.

img-1496.jpg
The Triple Order

The Sticks are Stacking Up.

With Toppers rapidly climbing the ranks of the chains and expanding franchises across the U.S. it’s fun to remember that behind the wheel of their accelerated growth sit their legendary Topperstix.

The famously decadent fusion of pizza and cheesy garlic bread known as Topperstix are a dippers dream come true—smothered in cheese, sprinkled with toppings if you wish and served with a variety of dipping sauces like ranch, nacho cheese, and garlic butter.  The combinations are so crave-worthy that midweek daydreams of them often send me reaching for the ranch bottle.

They aren’t the only cheesy breadsticks on the block, but they definitely own the block. 

With Toppers headquartered in Whitewater WI. I’ve had the privilege of eating Topperstix my whole life.  Triple orders fed grade school sleepovers, provided afternoon snacks in high school and were a prized nightcap in college.

Before there were Baconstix and Nachostix, I remember the first time I ever tried a triple order and thinking Why on earth doesn’t every pizza place have this!?  Back then cheesy breadsticks to that caliber were not a menu norm, I haven’t done the research but I feel Toppers was a pioneer in the cheese stick revolution.

img-1502
In a recent marketing jab Toppers pits, their Famous Topperstix vs. Dominos Stuffed Cheesy Bread, those who have enjoyed a good batch of Topperstix know there is really no competition.

Topperstix aren’t the only menu item that makes them a leader in pizza innovation either.

They’ve got some off the wall house pizza combos as well.  My personal favorites include Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese Topper, Old School Sausage and Pepperoni and my own spin on the Meat Topper in which I sub a BBB/pizza sauce mix for the standard pizza base sauce—it’s rich, smokey, savory and sweet, amazing.

Never Settle. 

Toppers Pizza inspires me not only because they blazed the trail for cheesy breadsticks and their house pizzas are as alternative as 102.1, but because they embody their slogan Never Settle.  

They always have new menu items in development, riffs on classics and tweaks to their sauces for the stix and that’s what makes them fun.  Regardless if you agree or disagree with their rapid menu changes you have to respect their ambition to continually improve.

img-1497
Meat Topper with BBQ sauce base.

What pizza taught me:

Every Friday I order pizza, so it’s nice to shake things up a bit with some Topperstix that have all the greatness of pizza but are not exactly pizza.  Never Settle is a good mantra for 2019 as when we are too attached to a particular view or way of doing things life gets stagnant.  Luckily there are places like Toppers that not only welcome pizza innovation but make it incredibly delicious.

What I’m eating: Toppers: Triple order original stix with extra cheese and Meat Topper with BBQ/pizza sauce mix as the base (referred to as MATAS by the OG’s)

What I’m reading:  Sam Walton: Made in America –Sam Walton

 

The Best (and Most Procrastinated) Pizza of 2018

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending” C.S. Lewis

Since writing my 2018 pizza-eating goal list last January there’s a pizza spot that has continuously tempted me but always got put on the backburner.  Maybe it was the 20-minute drive into the middle of nowhere it would take to get there or the fact that impromptu pizza pilgrimages weren’t as easy with a newborn on board; either way after a full year of procrastination, countless recommendations and consistent reminders from friends and colleagues I finally took a scenic drive for the most highly prized pizza in the Dane County area.

Bar pizza on another level.  

Mount Vernon like many itsy bitsy rural unincorporated Wisconsin communities comes equipped with a church and a bar.  In Wisconsin when most think of bar pizza, they think of an Emil’s frozen or some Portesi Cheese Fries tossed in a little metal pizza oven next to some Green-Apple Pucker bottles.  Mount Vernon’s watering hole, on the other hand, holds an epically magical homemade pizza that has put them on the map.

img_5361-1.jpg

Raising the bar (pizza).

Marcines Bar & Grill has people flocking from all over southcentral Wisconsin for good reason; an inch thick layer of exceptional toppings on a crust that’s as tiny as the town.  I didn’t know what “excessive toppings” meant until I tried Marcines.

It’s like the cook was double-dog-dared into fitting a 20-inch pizza’s worth of toppings on to a 12-inch crust and just nailed it. They offer thin and thick crust—both require a fork and knife as either option basically just provides a vessel in which to shuffle gobs of melted mozzarella, over-sized sausages, and pepperonis into your mouth.

The quote of the day: “Look this bite doesn’t even have any crust, and I’m ok with it.” -Tess

img_5348

Everything from the sauce to the sausage is seasoned extremely well.  The sauce has a deep tomatoey depth of flavor and is not at all what I would expect from bar pizza.  They use really good cheese too, it’s stretchy and wraps itself around everything. Gazing upon a cooled slice you can marvel at the cheese woven through the toppings like the boroughs of an ant farm.

The sausages are so large they look like meatballs and are balanced between a subtle sweetness of fennel and salty pork.  They are hearty yet tender— with a nice texture that’s not too fatty.  They were so delicious even no-sausage-on-pizza purists conformed. Tess, for example, doesn’t usually go for sausage on pizza, but she couldn’t resist Marcines and said it was actually one of her favorite parts of the meal.

Getting our pepperonis in a row.  

New Years is a great time to take stock, tie up loose ends and do a little self-assessment.  As I began to reflect on my 2018 I realized that I had a major box to check off my pizza goal list and I couldn’t stand the idea of heading into the New Year not having tried the #1 pick from last year.

It’s not easy finishing what we start as life pulls us in as many different directions as Marcines mozzarella does, but there is a profound joy that comes from seeing a plan through.  Over the years I’ve often started to enjoy the simple pleasure I get when completing a task more than the tangible benefit the task itself brings.

The French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry says “True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating new things.”

img_5362

What pizza taught me:

It’s better late than never. Whether it’s a New Years goal, resolution or just eating some anticipated pizza, the feeling of seeing our commitments through can often be the most rewarding part of any experience.

What I’m eating: Marcines pepperoni and sausage

What I’m reading:  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die -Chip Heath and Dan Heath

 

 

A Wonderful Slice

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole doesn’t he?”-Clarence the Angel

The level of holiday cheer at the Luther household this year is about as cheesy as a pizza with extra mozzarella.  Christmas time always gives me the warm and fuzzies, but with a smiley little 8-month-old squirming around the house, it seems fitting to crank the Christmas spirit-o-meter to 11—amp up the decorations, music and classic movies.

I’ve got a duty to mold some great memories right?

As my family grows bigger I face the delightful dilemma of having an increasing amount of Christmas celebrations to attend within a short amount of time.  The solution for my immediate Luther side this year was a faux X-mas eve get together the Saturday night before Christmas Tuesday.  The result of that festivity was one for the record books.

IMG_5021

Gus’ Pizza for Christmas.

I’ve always felt pizza and Christmas go hand in hand, maybe watching Kevin from Home Alone ordering cheese pizzas and telling the delivery driver to “get the hell outta here” inspired me.  Every year I ask for a Gus’ pizza for Christmas and it usually gets shrugged off as a goof, but this year I got the yuletide miracle I was looking for.

A glistening greasy Gus’ pizza was about all I could ask for.  I was like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation crying in the attic while watching old family videos.  The folded cracker crust and stretchy cheese gave me a nostalgic sense of Christmas magic.

IMG_5018

Christmas memories share a lot in common with excessively cheesy pizza. 

While I welcome Gus’ as an addition to our Christmas festivities, one tradition that stands the test of time for the Luthers is watching It’s a Wonderful Life.  Every year we gather around the tree, eat way too many appetizers and enjoy each others company as the black and white glow of the 1946 Christmas Classic plays in the background.

It’s a Wonderful Life follows an ambitious man named George Baily, who has led a good life but has always put others ahead of himself in spite of his true passions.  He finds a new level of appreciation when an Angel named Clarence helps him see the world through an alternate lens—one that is void of his presence. He gets to witness the positive impact he has had on those in his family and community.

It’s a familiar Christmas theme, but one that reminds us of the importance of keeping our relationships strong.  I’ve eaten Gus’ my whole life and it provides me a similar reminder of comfort and gratitude. It’s a feeling I am excited to pass down to my son as every day we create memories I hope he will happily hold on to.

What pizza taught me:

Pizza, just like the holidays can be a good reminder of all our blessings.  Every interaction has a ripple effect, sometimes it takes a reminder from a holiday, a greasy Gus’ Pizza or an Angel names Clarence to realize its value.

What I’m eating:  Gus’ Pizza: cheese, half pepperoni half gyro meat, large order cheese sticks.

What I’m reading:  Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration -Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull

 

Presumptions

“Despair ruins some, presumption many.” -Ben Franklin

As I sat at the Cheers bar in Boston (the one of classic 80’s sitcom fame), I listened to some New Yorkers sitting next to me adamantly protesting the notion of any decent pizza in the vicinity of Boston (during a Yankee/Red Sox playoff game to boot).  As one of America’s oldest cities, Boston certainly is rich with history, from its role in the American Revolution to Fenway Park, but what about the pizza?

Though I’d expect some dynamite clam chowder or some signature baked beans, I’ve never heard much about the pizza and the opinions soaring around the bar made me wonder if these New Yorkers were biased or if Boston really has second-rate pizza.  So, with a finite amount of free time at my disposal, I set out to discover Boston’s finest.

IMG-1436

Step #1: Ask the locals. 

I had 24 hours to eat pizza in Boston, so every slice counted. With a limited amount of time, I wanted the best of the best—something authentic, historic and adorned by the locals—so my first move was to start by asking the natives.

For pizza advice, I usually skip the concierge and go straight to the valet—I want the voice of the people.  When you ask the average joes you skip the cookie-cutter touristy stuff and get real honest feedback and usually the best recommendations.

Step #2: Cross-reference the web.

Next, I like to fact-check against the internet.  Pizza preferences are relative to individual opinions and there’s a lot of puffery on the web, so it’s always helpful to cross-check promising pizza intel before making a commitment.  Pictures can really help validate the pizzas you have learned about from the locals.  Eater.com is my usual starting point, followed by a general Google image search.

When I end up on sites like Yelp I always avoid reading the reviews as people are fickle and I don’t want my pizza experience to be biased by someone’s crappy day and emotional meltdown.  I visit Yelp just to make sure that the pictures of the pizzas match cravings at the time.  I wanna make sure the thin is thin and that the cheese is in ample supply.

Step #3: Find the common denominator.

Then I go for the most recommended place between the two. For Boston, various top ten lists praised the likes of Ernesto, Picco, Antico Forno, and Regina Pizzeria. The common denominator between the Bostonians I questioned on the streets and the internet led me to the small Boston chain called Regina Pizzeria.

img-1431.jpg

Regina Pizzeria.

Since 1926 Regina Pizzeria has been one of the most famed pizza joints in Boston, so I ventured to its original Northend Italian neighborhood location on Thatcher St.  The tight-knit quarters of the dining room and natural wear and tear of the fading tabletops and booths gave a rich sense of the history of the restaurant, much like the cobblestone streets that disorderly zig and zag across the city.

At Regina we had the best seat in the house, we were parked directly next to the pizza cutting station.  The piping hot pizzas pulled out of the ancient looking brick oven, tossed up into a service window then pinched down onto a table designated for slicing them.  Grease would splash as rapid strokes of the pizza cutter swiped from end to end.  If pizza pictures are considered food porn, I was getting a real live striptease.

Regina Pizzeria pizza is like New York style but with a slightly thicker hand-tossed crust.  They use a brick oven that provides a nice char along the outer rim.

img-1433.jpg

Who to trust?

I’m glad I ignored the initial impressions about Boston pizza I heard at the bar.  It would have been easy to assume that the New Yorkers hailing from arguably the best pizza city in the world would know what they are talking about, but if I had taken their word I may have missed the awesomeness of Regina Pizzeria.

That’s the trouble with assumptions.  We may not only miss an opportunity if we follow the wrong guidance, but hearsay can also cloud our experiences with unnecessary stigma and lead us to a crummy time when conditions aren’t that crummy.  Opinions can be as loud as those New Yorkers at Cheers bar and the internet amplifies them even more.

Being too presumptuous can also be dangerous not only to our pizza but also to the people around us as we judge them.  Don Miguel Ruiz says in his best-seller The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom  “Don’t’ make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want.  Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.  With just this one agreement you can completely transform your life.”

What pizza taught me:

It’s a good idea to never assume gossip is gospel and to inform ourselves from a variety of sources before taking a stance. Whether surfing the net or interviewing the locals for the next binge-worthy pizza spot, it pays to keep an open mind.

What I’m eating: Regina Pizzeria half pepperoni, half sausage

What I’m Reading:  The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom Don Miguel Ruiz

 

 

Leftovers

“There is nothing permanent except change.” -Heraclitus

Thanksgiving weekend is usually a four-day eat-a-thon and my favorite part is the leftovers.  It’s not just turkey sandwiches and stuffing either, as it turns out when Thanksgiving Thursday hits, Wednesday naturally falls in place of Friday and we get faux Friday night pizza mid-week.  So, along with my turkey-day leftovers, I’ve also got a fridge full of pizza.

As I’m lounging on the couch, feet-up, working up my next appetite I’m contemplating the cold beauty of the leftover slice.  That amalgamation of cheese and toppings twisted into a cold statue of its former self, like Han Solo frozen in carbonite.  The once contrasting textures of crispy crust, melty mozzarella, and pepperoni set into a savory pastry-esque version—a cool tomato sauce filling running beneath the surface that can rescue the mouth from the dryness of hardened cheese.

 

The paradox of leftover pizza. 

I’ve found that the quality of leftover pizza often has little correlation with how good the original pizza was.  Pizza in its piping-hot prime and a pizza a day-later can differ by a great deal.  Some pizzas just don’t reheat well and are not enjoyable cold, while others can shine in their coagulated state.

For example, my favorite pizza of all time is Gus’ Pizza in Whitewater WI; Gus’ is super-thin square cut tavern-style at its finest.  It’s a superstar fresh out of the oven, it’s crispy and greasy and cheesy, but it doesn’t hold up well the next day.  It’s sauce to cheese ratio doesn’t make for the best cold slice and when you go to reheat it the chemistry is off (I would welcome pro reheating tips if someone has figured this out).

On the other hand, simple chain pizza like Pizza Hut pan style is outstanding cold.  Tess swears by Dominos thin-crust cheese pizza leftover and will let it sit after it’s been delivered because she prefers it room-temperature or cold.  That’s the paradox of leftover pizza.  The pizza that’s the best at the pizzeria can be the worst leftover and the pizza you’d least expect like chain pizza can be the best later on.  Luckily, sorting through this is quite enjoyable.

IMG-0752
Tess driving to Thanksgiving with a leftover slice on her lap.

What’s the best leftover pizza?

What’s your favorite pizza? is my favorite question, therefore what’s your favorite leftover pizza? is my next favorite question. The perfect slice for breakfast will always be in the eye of the beholder but asking what’s your favorite leftover pizza? is a fun game to play and there is a lot to learn.  Ording a pizza and doing your own research is even better.

With my mind in the thankful Thanksgiving mode, I realize there is a lot to appreciate in a day old slice.  We get a second chance to experience our pizza.  We get to enjoy a different set of attributes and can prepare it in a variety of ways.  Leftover pizza is quite versatile as it’s great on the go, can be eaten hot or cold, can be enjoyed for any meal of the day or just as a snack.

What pizza taught me:

Whether you prefer your leftover pizza cold, room-temp, nuked or reheated at 350°, there is no doubt it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  This Thanksgiving weekend I’m thankful for my family, friends and my fridge full of leftover pizza.

What I’m eating:  Leftover Rosati’s-Super thin-crust, extra cheese half pepperoni, half green olive.

What I’m reading:  The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done Peter Drucker

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_3005

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.

IMG_3007

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.

img_3014.jpg

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