After the Underrated

“What is easiest to see is often overlooked” -Milton H. Erickson

Hitting a new pizza spot when traveling is a must.  With daddy duties and work, I’ve been pretty stationary lately, so when I do travel I’ve got to make my slices count.

I’m fortunate Tess always plays along nicely, just last weekend obliging my pizza escapades on her birthday weekender to Door County’s annual Fall Fest in Sister Bay.

While a Door County trip is always filled with epic sunsets, sightseeing, apple cider donuts, and supper clubs it doesn’t have that much pizza.

Actually, when most think of Door County and pizza, I’d bet they either draw a blank or imagine the winding lines and lengthy waits that come with the infamous Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza.  While Wild Tomato is delicious and the obvious choice for most pizza craving tourists, I had to wonder what else is out there…

Maybe, something a little thinner, a little crispier and cut a little more rectangular? 

For the last three years, Joe Jo’s Pizza in Sister Bay has been on my to-do list with their super-thin tavern-style pizza, but with only so many mealtimes in a day and vacation itineraries to max capacity, they’ve always taken a back seat to Wild Tomato. 

This year though I opted to follow the road less traveled to the pizza less eaten and finally made it Joe Jo’s (despite their insanely early closing hours, 8:30pm!)

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Toppings under the cheese, yes, please.

Joe Jo’ had a delicate and almost brittle outer crust that was speckled with spices—that dusting across the cheese gave the pizza a unique oregano forward flavor, which I quite enjoyed.

In common tavern-style fashion, they tuck their housemade hand-pinched sausage and pepperonis underneath the cheese and let that mozzarella toast up to a golden brown on top.  It’s finished off with a party-cut.

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Joe Jo’s was a welcome change of pace from Wild Tomato. 

There’s no doubt that Wild Tomato is the Door County staple for pizza, but Joe Jo’s had many perks of its own, for starters, you can skip the 1-2 hour long wait times that can accompany Wild Tomato during dinner time and you get a unique spin on a tavern-style pie (plus there’s gelato).

Joe Jo’s made me realize that to continuously expand my pizza prowess, I’ve got to break the norm and look beyond the most popular places, even though their reputations may make them the obvious places to hit.

The hippest and trendiest restaurants, with the rave reviews and lines around the block, will always have a place, but there’s beauty in discovering those mom and pop joints off the beaten path.

What pizza taught me:

Perhaps in the shadows of the things we put on pedestals, there’s something that suits us even better.

What I’m eating: Joe Jo’s half pepperoni and sausage

What I’m reading:  Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance –Alex Hutchinson

 

 

 

Dying for a New Delivery Option

“Abundance is not something we acquire, it’s something we tune into.” -Wayne Dyer

If you’ve lived in the same neighborhood for an extended period of time, it’s easy to assume you know the local pizza delivery scene like the back of your hand. You know the best time to order, what days to avoid, and when the solid specials are.

Lately, it feels like I can count my pizza delivery options on one hand and that’s got me feeling stuck.  I’ve long since mapped out all the local delivery zones and measured delivery times, so I figure I’m pretty tuned in unless a new spot opens up.

This past weekend, some mysterious force (craving) for a pizza joint I figured was well outside of my delivery area (5 miles away) urged me to do a little research.  I pulled up their website to scan the current menu offerings and check out their pick-up hours as I anticipated chauffeuring my extra cheesy pepperoni home myself (boo).

For the fun of it, I navigated to the “Delivery & Takeout” page to see just how far their delivery area extended.

Before my eyes were words that exceeded my wildest expectations:

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By some grace of the pizza delivery Gods, the beautiful little yellow shaded delivery radius wrapped well around my neighborhood.  I jumped for joy I as I could now drive straight home and shed the fear of my pizza rapidly depreciating in the front seat sitting through Friday night traffic (I need one of those heated pizza delivery bags like the pros!)

Who stepped up their delivery game on Madison’s westside?

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Photo by (Lindsay Christians, madison.com)

At a Food Fight restaurant, you can almost always count on a creative well-thought-out ambiance and a forward-thinking menu; now with their pizza operation Luigi’s on Midvale, you can get that delivered too (to my house!).

Food Fight Restaurant Group has a diverse portfolio of over a dozen restaurants around Madison.  Themes vary from taquerias (Canteen) to Hawaiin style poke (Miko Poke), gourmet burgers (Dlux) to upscale Italian (Cento) and even elevated brunch (Bassett Street Brunch Club) and apparently they are in the delivery biz now as many of those locations offer delivery options on their website.

At Luigi’s, you get the usual hipster flair, only reimaged to land on a hand-spun, corn-meal dusted crust.  You’ve got an array of diverse ingredients like Calabrian chiles and burrata that come sprinkled across a variety of red and white pies.

There are options like Fig and Prosciutto with mozzarella, goat cheese, caramelized onions, fig jam, prosciutto, arugula, and balsamic drizzle;  Bacon and Brussels with white sauce, fontina, bacon, and shaved brussels sprouts, and of course interpretations of all the classics as well.

The pie I sprung for was The Racket complete with white sauce, fontina, mozzarella, house-made sausage, herb-roasted mushrooms, chives, and truffle oil.  If you’re looking for the ultimate umami pizza experience then look no further because house-made sausage and mushrooms nestled in a garlicky white sauce and drizzled with truffle oil will seduce you down a road of savoriness.

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The Racket delivered.

Finding a new place that delivers doesn’t happen every day.

Or maybe it does?  

It’s quite easy to default to a “scarcity mindset”; one in which we believe there is only so much to go around.  If we live in anxiety of there not being enough or in fear of losing what we already have we greatly limit ourselves to the plentiful opportunities life presents.

Luigi’s provided a reminder to embrace an “abundance mindset”.  Through the lens of abundance, there’s peace in knowing we have unlimited resources (pizza options) at our disposal for a happy life.

What pizza taught me:

Instead of longing for a new delivery spot, I should be filled with enthusiasm that one is right around the corner.

What I’m eating:  Luigi’s The Racket

What I’m reading:  Awaken the Giant Within:  How to Take Immediate Control fo Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny -Tony Robbins.

The Circle of Slices

“As a mountain is unshaken by the wind, so the heart of a wise person is unmoved by all the changes on this earth” -Buddha

Six years ago I moved to Madison, started a new job and began my search for the most beloved pizza in my new city.   

The workplace, it turned out, was a pretty stellar environment for discovering pizza places. With a wide array of co-workers to poll, you quickly uncover a diverse range of preferences.

On one of my first days at the office, I recall chumming it up with my neighbor at the desk next to mine, our conversation naturally turned to our all-time favorite pizzas.

He could sense my passion as I eagerly painted mental pictures of greasy thin-crust pies cut in squares with toppings positioned under extra cheese.  As I rambled on about Rosa’s and Gus’s and the small-town pizza of my youth my excitement must have rubbed off, because before I could finish my sentence he blurted out:

You have to try Maria’s in Oregon!

He told me the tale of a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria off the beaten path, where the pies were thin, loaded with toppings and prepared with the same finesse and tradition by the same small family for 40 years.

It sounded right up my alley, and immediately topped my list of places to try.  But, as time went on my list kept getting longer and longer and somehow Maria’s kept falling farther and farther—they always ended up on the back burner.

Now, they’re closed.

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That’s right I missed out on Maria’s.  The phrase “you snooze, you lose” has never hit closer to home.  All I’ve got are the legends, the myths, some dingy yelp photos and a facebook post with all their tables upside down.

To make it worse, the closing of Maria’s came as no surprise, they posted early on last month that Sunday, June 30th would be there last day of operation.  I was forewarned and reminded by colleagues at work that my days for Maria’s were numbered, but still, I didn’t act.

As the sand in Maria’s hourglass thinned I heard rumors of lines out the door—die-hard, long-time patrons, stopping by to pay their respects like those gathering for a wake.  The Oregon Chamber of Commerce even gave an appreciation award to owners John and Joanne Indelicato for so many valued years of service.

As I sat at home and dwelled on the pain of missing out, an ad for the revamped Lion King floated across my Fire Stick homepage and provided me a reminder of one of the most fundamental laws of our universe.

The circle of life.  

Just as one local legend was closing their doors another was about to reopen theirs.  After a 2 year hiatus, Rosa’s in Whitewater was finally resurrected from the fire damage that put their operation on hold.  So, while Maria’s had folks lining up to pay their respects, Rosa’s had lines forming to celebrate their return. With death comes new life.

 

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Ed Sheeran is quoted by saying “Pizza is a circle.  Pizza is my life.  Pizza is the circle of life.”  While I can’t say I enjoy his music I do like his pizza analogy.

The way I see it though, life is more like one long pizza buffet, sometimes we’re up next for that piping hot slice of our favorite variety and sometimes the breadsticks bin is empty.

But, we need those burned frozen pizzas, 2-hour late deliveries, and lukewarm gas station slices to know the true joy of pizza when it’s perfect.  If it wasn’t for those sour moments the sweet would be meaningless.

We can use this insight to aid us in our day to day routine.  By tuning our minds to this balance, we can appreciate life when life gets tough.  The Tibetan Buddist Lama Yeshe said, “If you expect your mind to be up and down, your life will be much more peaceful.”

What pizza taught me:

Missing out on Marias was bitter, but that longing was recompensated with the reopening of Rosa’s.  When disappointment strikes as it inevitably will, it’s assuring to remember that we need the bad to appreciate the good.

What I’m not eating: Maria’s because I missed it.

What I’m eating: Rosa’s because it reopened.

What I’m reading:  This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See –Seth Godin

Thanks to Justin for the recommendation all those years ago and Amanda for the reminders to catch them before it was too late and the picture!

 

Slowing My Rolls

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”-Viktor Frankl

I could eat pizza every day and at one point in my life, I did.

It all started my freshman year of college when I first realized the freedom of being on my own.  I could stay out as late as I wanted, sleep in as late as I wanted and eat pizza anytime I wanted.

And why not eat it all the time?  After all, it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s versatile—a great breakfast, lunch or dinner (on many occasions I made it was all three).

I got along just fine eating pizza at every whim for quite some time too.  Living in a college town made it quite easy:  I had Gus’ Monday, Rocky’s Tuesday, Rosa’s Wednesday and Toppers Thursday.  Life was good.

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Then one day, just past my mid-twenties with the thrill of college life behind me, I noticed that some of the favorite clothes started to feel a little snug.  Shirts I had worn for years, filled with nostalgia no longer fit like they used to and my pants were getting tight in all the wrong places.

After a while, my mirror reflection was confirming what my constricting shirts and inner self-consciousness were:  The metabolism of my youth could no longer keep up; the daily pizzas were going straight to my hips, belly, chin, butt, arms, and back.  I was getting…..husky.

Slowing my rolls. 

Before long it was apparent that my diet needed to change and with a passion for pizza as strong as mine saying goodbye would be no easy feat.  The thought of losing the warmth and security of my old friend shot a ripple of anxieties through me.

What would I have left to look forward to?

Would dinner even be any fun anymore?

Would this mean I’d have to go grocery shopping?  And cook? 

Though I was apprehensive I knew the only way back from the belly I’d created and was to ease up on the cheese and dough.  I would need the discipline to pass on the late night deliveries and skip the leftover breakfast slices.

To curb my pizza habit I would have to figure out how to embrace change.  Looking back, the guide to making those changes may have been right in the blue and red pizza box on my post-college apartment table.

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Dominos.

The first pizza place that comes to mind when I think of change is Dominos.  For as long as I can remember Dominos has been innovating their menu—sometimes gently following the trends of other chain behemoths like Pizza Hut (introducing pan crust), other times aggressively jerking the wheel to save face (revamping their hand-tossed crust).

From twisty bread in the 90’s to those breadstick loaves in the 2000s to the parmesan bread bites and full circle back to the current garlic bread twists, Dominos is always evolving.  There’s practically a different Dominos menu for every phase of my life.

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My favorite time in Dominos history was in High School when they had the “Beat the clock” medium special in which the price of the pizza matched the time you called—my friends and I would load up.

Then in college, they revolutionized pizza specials forever with the trend-setting pick two for $5.99 deal.  Now they delve into technology leading the way with their pizza ordering app and “piece of the pie” rewards program.

Over the years they’ve experimented with pasta bowls, sandwiches, breadsticks stuffed with stuff and even used boneless chicken wings as the base for a crustless pizza amalgamation (still scratching my head on that one).

Whether you consider those experiments successes or failures Dominos continual exploration has undoubtedly contributed to their growth.

What shall I do in the next dire moment?  Focus my attention on the next right move.  -Jordan Peterson

Dominos ability to quickly pivot has allowed them to remain one of the biggest pizza companies in the world. I give them credit because course correcting is no easy task, especially if we don’t want to change the behavior that needs changing.

When I started packing on the lb’s it was apparent I couldn’t have my pizza every night and eat it too, but I didn’t want to give it up.  Change has never come easy for me and losing the comfort of those cheesy pizzas made me feel lost.

To ensure that I would have years of pizza eating ahead of me, it was obvious I’d have to switch it up—I would have to strike a balance.  I’d have to settle with only indulging on pizza once a week—for that night I chose Friday.  Today I’m healthier, happier and still enjoying my pizza everyday (by writing about it).

What pizza taught me:

Change is inevitable: our waist sizes can change, our jobs can change, our families can change and even our favorite pizzas can change.  How we adapt is what really matters.

When you stop growing, you start dying– William Burroughs

What I’m eating:  Domino’s thin cheese and garlic knots

What I’m still reading:  12 Rules for Life Jordan Peterson (it’s a long ass book).

The Slice Is Always Cheesier on the Other Side of the Box

“The way forward is sometimes the way back” -The Wiseman (Labyrinth)

In Wisconsin when the first feel of Spring hits, my immediate response is to get my car windows down.  It may only be 50 degrees, but I can’t wait to get that fresh crisp air across my face—I want the aromatherapy of the thawing, damp, greenish-brown grass that exhales from beneath the accumulated salt and sand on the ground.

With Winter and my windows winding down, I’m always brought back to one of my fondest memories: I was seventeen and basking in the freedom of my first job.  I was driving around my small hometown, blasting music, chasing girls and earning my pizza scratch all while delivering sandwiches for Jimmy Johns.

Though I didn’t deliver pizzas during that time (I always preferred to be on the opposite side of that transaction), recently it was a  pizza delivery driver that evoked those same youthful feelings as he dropped off my Friday night fix.

A rat-a-tat-tat on the door signaled that my AJ’s pizza had arrived.

My delivery driver couldn’t have been more than 16 years old—pimple faced, mop-headed and timid—blaring music echoed from the cracked windows of his car on the street.  Suddenly, I was in his shoes and I couldn’t help but imagine the excitement his night held.

Dashing around from door to door with his adrenaline pumping—the pulsing sound of whatever punk teenagers listen to these days charting his course from house to house.  All the while not knowing what each knock or doorbell ring would bring.

It was Friday night, the busiest night of the week, so he’d be autonomous—quick in and out of the pizza shop re-upping on deliveries and then back out on the road.  He’d be making some quick cash and then in few short hours off with his buddies to do all the fun things punk teenagers do these days. No responsibility and his whole life ahead of him.  I couldn’t help but feel a little jealous.

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AJ’s Pizza in Verona

I always cross my fingers when I order AJ’s Pizza in Verona because I don’t think I’m technically in their delivery area, but somehow they keep coming to me.

I imagine it’s because no one that works there is over 18—from the person answering the phone to that shaggy kid who comes to the door—it’s like the lost boys opened up a pizza shop in downtown Verona and could care less about who orders from where.  They’ll take the business and chance to get out on the road.

I appreciate their disregard for delivery zones.

AJ’s is one of the few places in my vicinity that delivers the kind of hole-in-the-wall pizza I crave all the time.  The pizza is thin and typically comes piled with extra cheese without even requesting it (I once ordered extra, and I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but it was overboard).

They cut the pies in triangles, I usually request squares to get it a little closer to my beloved mid-western tavern style. Also, I swear the larger the pizza you order the thinner the crust is, so I always go for at least a large even if my appetite calls for medium.

They also have killer cheesy breadsticks and their ranch is extra tangy and on the thin side; reminiscent of Rosa’s in Whitewater (extra nostalgia points).

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Wanting what I can’t have.  

The emerging Springtime and the youthfulness of that AJ’s delivery driver gave me feelings of my youth that were fun to romanticize and for a fleeting moment made me want to go back to my beloved first job, but would I want to be that AJ’s driver working on a Friday night?

Heck no, I want sweatpants, a couch, HBO and to be eating the pizza not delivering it.  It was a classic case of the grass is always greener, the old proverb in which we feel the circumstances and conditions of others are better than your own, even when that’s not the case.

What pizza taught me:

It’s tempting to be envious of other people and other pizzas, but it’s more fulfilling when we can learn to appreciate what we have.  I always joke that when I retire I’m going to go back to my favorite job of delivery driving, but I think I’ll stick with the memories.

What I’m eating:  AJ’s Pizzeria large pepperoni-cut in squares, small cheese sticks.

What I’m reading: Jack Kornfield The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace

 

I’m Sick of Pizza

“Change your thoughts and you’ll change your world.” -Marcus Aurelius

I’ve got a confession:  Last Friday night instead of pizza, I ordered wings.

Yes, that’s right, Friday night—pizza night—the most sacred night of the week, I voluntarily opted for Buffalo Wild Wings over pizza.

Maybe, it’s time to put the crushed red pepper and parmesan shakers on the shelf and retire my trusty pizza cutter.

Deep down, I’m not craving pizza at all.  I’ve got only one thing on my mind:  Spicy, garlicky, wings.

Is it time to close the pizza box? 

After 33 years of eating pizza every Friday I feel I’m drifting away from it.  The cheese, sauce, and crust combo has gotten stale and I’m off into a new realm of Buffalo sauce doused in ranch.

Wings have always been the side item, never the star.

For years I’ve loved wings but they’ve always taken a backseat to pizza (literally, pizza takes shotgun). They were always left sweating it out in the takeout box as I’d snap pictures and whisper words of encouragement to my mozzarella covered model; like a photographer immersed in his shoot.

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Buffalo Wild Wings: Spicy Garlic.

Recently I was introduced to Spicy Garlic sauce at Buffalo Wild Wings and that transformative experience has left me craving them frequently—going there for lunch and getting them for mid-week dinners.  My urge for their garlicky greatness is becoming undeniable.

The sheen of their uneven shapes glistening with spicy garlic sauce tempts me like a dark red forbidden fruit. Each one pulling me further into a spiral of wing infatuation.

Turning a (menu) page. 

After that Friday night without pizza, I felt like a guardian angel had granted me a set of wings.  Those drummies and flats gave me a fresh perspective, a new path, a new passion to pursue.

Maybe it’s time to stop obsessing over pizza and expand my passion into other comfort foods, like wings.  There’s so much great junk food out there and I shouldn’t limit my explorations to the confines of pizza.

What pizza taught me:

There’s more to life than pizza and tomorrow’s April Fools Day so I’m completely joking. Syke!  I got slices from Rocky Rococo’s for dinner on Friday.  Pizza for life.  Wings can wait until Saturday.

What I’m eating:  Rocky Rococo’s sausage and pepperoni superslice

What I’m reading:  12 Rules for Life:  An Anecdote to Chaos Jordan Peterson

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