Pizza Hacks

“Don’t settle with good, fight for great”-Jim Collins

I’m fascinated with life hacks: health hacks, home improvement hacks and of course pizza hacks.  

Pizza is arguably one of the universe’s greatest gifts so why would something so inherently awesome even need to be hacked?

The millennial in me wants all pizzas to have participation trophies, but the truth is that all pizzas are not created equal.  Therefore, the idea that one slight tweak could optimize a pizza eating experience has got my attention.

Finding an edge. 

Some hacks are as easy as extra cheese, but most are not so obvious.  It could take years to stumble upon a decent hack through trial and error, so instead of finding out the hard way, I’m pooling together some of the pizza hacks I’ve discovered right in my area.

Below I’ve listed some of my tricks of the trade, but I hope to take away more than I share by writing this.  I want to open a conversation on what can take already awesome pizzas to the next level.

Top Six Madison Area Pizza Hacks 2019

Rosati’s- Super Thin

This Chicago chain has a worthy deep-dish and pan, but they go the other way with thin-crust too—not many people know this but they actually have a “super” thin-crust option. They take their normal thin and give it an extra squeeze through the dough rolling machine.  Try ordering super thin with extra cheese and you are in for a Midwestern tavern style treat that can get you through the lonely nights when your missing Gus’s in Whitewater.

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Rosati’s Super Thin

Ian’s Pizza-Par-Bake

If you get slices to go, stop that quick-handed pizza-tender and have him skip the oven and go for a takeout box.  By taking your pizza home par-baked you set yourself up for a huge win later.  Preheat to 450 at home, keep a close eye and you’ll get a perfect melt and char on those slices that are just as good or better than the restaurant.

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Papa Murphy’s-Get it four ways

No more half and half limitations, Papa Murphy’s will let you dial in your topping choices four different ways on a single pizza. If you want a slice of plain cheese, Hawaiin, sausage & mushroom, and green olive you can now get them all nicely divided up in quarters—it’s great for the whole family.

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Sugar River Pizza-Skip the crust

If you’re sticking to a low carb or keto diet Sugar River Pizza Co. in Verona has got you covered—they’ve got a pizza bowl.  Take any of your favorite toppings and they’ll throw em in a bowl, smother them with cheese and serve it up with sides of sauce.  The best of pizza without the carb-heavy crust.

Toppers Pizza-Subbing Sauces

One of my all-time favorite switcharoos is swapping BBQ sauce for pizza sauce on the Meat Topper at Toppers, try it and you will forever bow down to its sweet, savory, salty, smokey awesomeness.  Also, step up your red sauce dipping game by giving the infamous Topperstix a spin with a side of pizza sauce (the sauce they put on pizzas) instead of the default marinara.

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Toppers Meat Topper with BBQ sauce

AJ’s Pizza-Get it thinner.

I’ve noticed that places that hand toss their own dough often stretch larges pizzas thinner.  I’ve found this to be especially true at AJ’s pizza in Verona, so I always opt for a large over medium.  I’m a thin-crust lover through and through so I’ll take whatever advantage I can to get my thins as thin as possible.

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Aj’s  Pizza in Verona

Simple adjustments can take our favorite pizzas from good to great.

Ordering a pizza straight off the menu is a lot like living the status quo—it’s easy—but it can be dangerous as we don’t realize what we’re missing out on—things can also get awfully mundane.

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great says “Good is the enemy of great.””Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

What pizza taught me:

There are many paths to achieving success, some are quicker than others. With the right mindset, we can not only push our pizzas from good to great but everything else in our lives as well.

What I’m eating: Scraping the toppings off a Pep’s supreme pizza.  The equivalent of my own pizza bowl (low carb hack to work on my spring break beach bod).

What I’m reading: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success Adam Grant.

Cover photo cred: low carb-pizza-thm-s-pizza-bowl-keto, My Montana Kitchen, October 27 2016 Sarah Hardy

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 

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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-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