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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Pizza Always Has a Place

“A tradition is kept alive only by something being added to it” -Henry James

Thanksgiving is the ultimate day of gratitude and eating, so where’s the pizza?  The way I see it, on a day devoted to giving thanks and indulging on carb-loaded delicacies, pizza is a natural fit.  I know it doesn’t necessarily fit the traditional flavors of the Thanksgiving spread and doesn’t exactly match the classic ambiance we envision at the table with Grandma, but I believe there is a place for pizza somewhere.

It turns out many other people feel the same way.  And no, I’m not suggesting I was the weirdo that brought a pizza to the Thanksgiving dinner table (though I’ve considered it).  I’m talking about the pizza eating that takes place around the holidays when we are surrounded by family and friends.

Finding a place for some pie. 

Many people enjoy their pizza the night before Thanksgiving to avoid cooking or to recharge after drinks with old friends.  My Aunt Karen used it as an easy meal for traveling relatives with busy schedules in the days following Thanksgiving.  She explained that she had limited time to connect everyone before they departed; pizza was the most viable option.

My pizza indulgence takes place the night of Thanksgiving, long after the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes have made their appearance, when a faint glimpse of hunger starts to resurface.  I’ll be back at home, snuggled into my spot on the couch and while many may grab for the leftover Turkey sandwich, I spring for some pizza.

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Pizza brings a little more zest to round-two.  

For many years my brother Jeff and I have had a “pizza on Thanksgiving night” tradition. With all of the restaurants closed we always had to pick our pizza from the freezer section of our local grocery store or gas station (which ever was open).

Now after all these years I’ve swapped my brother for my my wonderful wife Tess. With this years festivities approaching we contemplated our frozen pizza options and decided to mix things up.

One of my favorite evolutions to take place in the frozen pizza aisle is the addition of cheese sticks.   The cheese stick is basically a sauceless pizza crust, basted with garlic butter, smothered in cheese, cut in strips and dunked into sides of sauce.  Over the years they’ve seemed to become more prevalent in restaurants (Toppers is king, but that’s a whole ‘nother post) and are now to my excitement even popping up the freezer section.

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Portesi Cheese Fries.

So, with a hankering for some cheese sticks and with Toppers my normal go to closed on Thanksgiving day (they are only closed 2 days a year), I went with Portesi thin crust Cheese Fries.  The Portesi Cheese Fries are native to central Wisconsin and hail from Stevens Point.  I originally found out about the Cheese Fries from a friend Steve, who has a serious passion for the garlicky, cheesy breadsticks and firmly suggests you have to go thin crust (there is a rising crust option).

The Cheese Fries are loaded with more cheese than your typical item from the frozen section. They come prepackaged with a marinara sauce for dipping, but with the generous portion of mozzarella and garlic butter base it’s almost unnecessary.

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Time to pop in a movie and preheat the oven.

The debut of the Portesi Cheese Fries into my Thanksgiving routine reminds me that the joy we take from such traditions is up to us and it’s fun to switch things up every now and again.  Our lives will inevitably change and if we cling to traditions too much we can end up disappointed.

The entry for November 23 (Thanksgiving) in Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic is fitting “The things we are attached to can come and go, our reasoned choice is resilient and adaptable.  The sooner we become aware of this the better.  The easier it will be to accept and adapt to what does happen.”

What pizza taught me:

Embracing a tradition can bring a lot of warm nostalgia, but we shouldn’t be bound by old ways.  We can change locations, invite new guests, or add some pizza, all that matters is that we enjoy ourselves and our favorite people.

What I’m eating: Portesi thin crust Cheese Fries

What I’m reading: Ryan Holiday The Daily Stoic