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!)

img_2787-e1572135823515.jpg

 

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.

IMG_2786

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

 

 

 

Making It to the Market (For Wood-Fired Pizza)

“Art is too important not to share.” -Romero Britto

What’s the best way to lure a husband to an outdoor craft fair on a cold and rainy fall day?

Set up a wood-fired pizza stand complete with wood-burning oven.

Apparently, the coordinators of such events in southwestern Wisconsin have gotten wind of this fact, because they’ve rewarded me on back to back drizzly cold weekends to get out of bed and attend an early outdoor craft fair with made-to-order wood-fired pizza.  Thank you and thank you.

Fall is the perfect season for orchards, hayrides and markets and oh boy, does my wife love a good market, especially one that’s outdoors, in her favorite season and loaded with crafts.

For me, a fall weekend is a great time to sleep in and recharge my batteries, eventually popping in frozen pizzas and binge-watching Netflix shows and football in my comfiest of outfits.  But, when Tess (and wood-fired pizza) beckon, I follow.

IMG_2510

Two Wood-Fired Pizza Stands in Two Weeks

Round one:  Firepie Pizza at The Makers Market, Sun Prairie

The annual Makers Market in Sun Prairie is an event that naturally brings great joy to Tess as local artisans present clothing, candles, jewelry, soaps, and artwork.

I sought out the waterlogged tent that sheltered a neat little stack of chopped wood and a petite portable metal oven with flames flickering out the back end.  Through the veil of rain droplets falling from the canopy, I could see a duo busy in action; rolling out mini dough balls, pinching toppings and rotating 10-inch pizzas through a mini oven.

IMG_2491

Firepie is described on facebook as “Utilizing the most mobile pizza oven on the market, our Ooni Pro delivers authentic wood-fired pizza in as little as 60 seconds!”.

The pie indeed had a nice flame-kissed outer crust and a chewy, slightly thick center which provided proper support for the cheese and a balanced portion of toppings.  Each pizza was assembled to order from a list of about 7 different classic options like pepperoni, Hawaiin and deluxe.

We settled on deluxe and took turns swapping the umbrella for the pizza.

IMG_2499_(1)

Round two:  It’s Good For You Pizza at Fall Village Vintage Market, Mount Horeb

The Fall Village Vintage Market in Mount Horeb stretches along three blocks of the downtown area of the small community and has all the same clothing, candles, jewelry, soaps, and artwork as Makers Market but even more.  It has more food vendors, live music, trolls and you could order drinks at establishments and walk the streets with them (that’s right trolls, they take their Norwiegen heritage seriously).

In the middle of the festival sat the concrete dome for which I came.

img_2598.jpg

It’s Good For You Pizza sets a high bar for any pizza truck or stand.  It’s Good For You goes for quality over quantity, with only three options to choose from and all three of them executed incredibly well.  Their enormous traveling oven (I honestly can’t believe they haul that thing around!) and high-caliber ingredients definitely give them a leg up.

I went for the pepperoni pie and it was exceptional.  The crust was the star and the wood-fired method really elevated its flavor and texture; it was super thin, but crispy and chewy at the same time—a balance that seems hard to strike for many pizza joints.

The sauce was as simple, but that’s what made its bright tomato flavor shine.  The pepperonis were slim and crisped up and the mozzarella blistered to a nice brown.

IMG_2606_(1)

Pizza made from scratch is the perfect accompaniment for browsing the craftsmanship of local artists.

I hope this trend of mobile wood-fired pizza stands continues to climb, especially at events I wouldn’t usually attend, so I get off my butt and go experience them.

Regardless of which pizza was better the spirit behind all those vendors to lug around, assemble and display their art for the community in the damp early morning in Wisconsin is admirable.

What pizza taught me:

Perhaps it’s worth getting out of bed for the local scene, even if there isn’t a slice on the line.

What I’m eating: Deluxe pizza (sausage, pepperoni, onion, green pepper) at Firepie Pizza at Makers Market in Sun Prairie and Pepperoni at It’s Good for You Pizza Fall Village Vintage Festival in Mount Horeb.

What I’m reading:  Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur –Derek Sivers

 

Getting Back to Cheese

“Everything in life goes back to the basics” -Kron Gracie

There’s something soothing about plain cheese pizza.  A mattress of crust, sheets of sauce and a security blanket of melted mozzarella that provide the same comfort as crawling into bed after an exhausting day.

There’s magic when we press into that first bite and pull back an elastic tapestry of cheese that sways between us and our slice like a hammock in a breeze.  We are reassured “everything will be ok” as we sink into that salty, buttery mozzarella, herbaceous marinara and the roasted aroma of charred dough that gently rocks us to sleep.

With no frills to sidetrack our experience, a slice of cheese allows us to embrace the harmonious foundation of which all pizzas are made:  Crust. Sauce. Cheese.

An uncomplicated classic that’s perfect for when life gets complicated.

When looking for solace in my house the easiest and quickest place to turn is the freezer.  Within that ice speckled box sits my key to homeostasis: Jack’s thin-crust frozen cheese pizzas.

While I appreciate Jack’s pepperoni, sausage, supreme and maybe even a bacon cheeseburger now and again, there are times when I need to get back to the basics— back to that blank canvas of yellowish-brown molten melted cheese (with any luck there’s a 5 for 10 deal at the grocery store!).

img_23251.jpg

Can a step back get us ahead?

The simplicity and familiarity of Jack’s crunchy outer crust and even layer of cheese are sure to get me into the right headspace.

Perhaps the key to maintaining mental vitality is in dialing everything back to zero every so often (or the oven to 425°).  Getting back to the basics puts us in control, we can calm our tensions and silence our apprehensions by going through the motions of what we know through and through.

Whether it’s tidying up the house, doing laundry that’s piled up or treating ourselves to the most basic of all pizzas when we direct our focus towards the fundamentals we can recharge and begin again refocused.

What pizza taught me:

Sometimes the quickest way forward is simply back to square one (or the corner triangle slice).

What I’m eating:  Jack’s thin-crust cheese pizza

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

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:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 6.39.02 PM

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?

4eb95c02b3332.image
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.

IMG-1725
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 Slices of Summer: 2019

“Keeping a journal is like taking good care of one’s heart.”-Ted Kooser

I’m fortunate so many Wisconsin summer activities include pizza.  Heck, there’s pizza at Summerfest, Brewer’s games, Noah’s Ark, even at weddings when sweaty “cha-cha slide” dancing patrons are rewarded with slices as a night-cap.

Amidst all that fun, it’s easy to lose track of all the great slices I score along the way, so, a couple years back I started keeping a journal.

Initially, it was a place to organize my thoughts and dump my ideas, but it turned out to be especially useful for logging the pizza I came across when out exploring.  After a few years into it, that journal has become one of my favorite possessions.

As I sit outside soaking up the tail end of this fun-filled summer I thumb the pages of my beloved pizza-archive and reflect on all the glorious slices I’ve had over the last couple months.

Let’s do a recap…   

IMG-1675

Summerfest Pizza.

At Summerfest, you not only get 800 musical acts from all over the world, but you also get an epic spread of festival food.  You’ve got classics like Saz’s cheese curds, AJ Bombers bacon cheeseburgers, Famous Dave’s ribs, sausages at Klements Sausage and Beer Garden and Robby’s Roasted Corn.

As for me, I bee-lined it to the Pizza Man booth.

Pizza Man is a Milwaukee staple since 1970 so it’s fitting they finally set up shop at the “city of festivals” largest festival.  At the Pizza Man booth you a get a slice about the size of a paper plate.  The crust is thin, almost brittle around the edges, with a chewy center loaded with toppings.

IMG-1685

Wedding Pizza.

Summer is wedding season, and in your early 30’s the wedding invites can start to stack up quickly.  Luckily for me, I’ve noticed a trend at receptions in which the evening is concluded with pizza as a snack.

Sometimes its late-night delivery while other times it’s a little pizza buffet provided by the venue or caterer.  Next time you’re out celebrating someone’s big day keep an eye out after 10pm—there’s nothing like a late-night slice and a slow dance to celebrate summer love.

Brewer Game Pizza. 

Most folks think of peanuts, footlongs, and waffle fries when they hit the ballpark, but Miller Park the home of our beloved Brewers has some pizza joints sprinkled throughout the stadium.

IMG-1700

A couple years ago Miller Park did a $20 million concession stand overhaul and we scored more pizza!  If you’re in Section 210 or 218 you’re in luck, because you’re in pizza town.

I opted for a slice of Zaffiro’s on level 1 behind the “Johnsonville Party Deck”.  It was greasy, thin and cut in squares and a perfect pick-me-up for the seventh-inning stretch.

Door County Vacation pizza. 

A trip to Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula can truly rejuvenate the soul, it also nixes a huge craving of mine which is Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille.

IMG-1680
Cheesy slices ready to go at the back-bar.

The Sister Bay location leveled up their game this year by offering pizza by the slice at the back bar.  So, instead of bearing an excruciating wait (up to 2 hours sometimes!) you can now grab a slice and enjoy it at the waterfront or maybe at an outdoor concert in the park across the street.

Wisconsin Dell’s Pizza. 

Every year Tess and I will do a quick little weekend getaway to the Wisconsin Dells, to enjoy the waterparks and a “kid-free” night out at a resort to act like kids.

Though there are tourist fixtures like Moose Jaw and Pizza Pub, the main event for us has become “late-night hotel room Dominos“.  After hitting the waterslides and lounging around the swim-up bar we’ll hit the hotel room, crank down the AC, put on some late-night comedy and eat some thin-crust cheese pizza in bed (I may even use the hotel-room towels as napkins).

IMG-1696

This summer was one for the history books (or at least my current Moleskine). 

Opening up that journal provided me a path to fond memories—a quick skim allowed me to count my summer blessings and gear up for fall.  Out of all that great pizza over the course of this summer, the best was the pizza I shared with Ellis.  He can eat pizza now!

IMG-1487

What I’m Eating:  Leftover “Hotel room Dominos”.

What I’m reading: Awaken the Giant Within -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.

marias-table-up.jpg

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.

 

IMG-1667

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!

 

Reheating the Perfect Slice: New York Style Edition

“The true method of knowledge is experiment” -William Blake

I’m always looking for ways to level up my “pizza reheating” game. With my eyes typically being bigger than my stomach, most Saturday mornings I’ve got a fridge full of leftover slices and while cold pizza has its perks, I usually want them back in their piping hot pristine form.

So, I’ve been on a mission to refine my reheating skills.  I know there’s got to be a formula for evenly melted cheese and a crispy crust on round two.

The test subject for my first reheating experiment was a New York Style pepperoni slice from Pizza Di Roma on the west side of Madison.  I’ve found that New York Style is one of the hardest slices to reheat properly at home.

Looking beyond the standard methods.  

I ashamed to admit it, but many times my impatience will get the best of me and I’ll toss my leftovers into the microwave.  While nuking them is good for a quick fix, I feel guilty submitting quality slices to those harsh rays—it seems they do more harm than good.

The result after a zap is usually a soggy crust and oddly melted cheese; one half of the slice is cold and the other half will burn your tongue.  For some styles like New York style, the microwave is an absolute death sentence as the high gluten flour that makes pizza crust chewy constricts and becomes tough.

The oven is the more foolproof option, often pizza boxes suggest you put the slices on a baking sheet and preheat to 350°.  This does a better job, but the slices can easily get dried out and lose a lot of flavor, especially the cheese as all the moisture evaporates under the direct exposure from the upper heating element.

So, what’s next? 

How else can we get a solid reheat at home?

Throw another slice on the barbie! (said in an Australian accent)

There’s nothing like getting outside on the 4th of July, firing up the grill and gracing the neighborhood with the pleasant aroma of crisping meats.  So, this Independence Day as I was torn between the grill and the pizza box, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to test out an alternative method for getting my perfectly reheated slice.

It’s well known that the grill can be quite handy for cooking Jack’s frozen pizzas and charring up homemade pies made with fresh dough, but I was about to discover perhaps the best pizza application for the barbeque yet.

Reheating a slice the size of my head on the grill.

When you get a New York style slice at the pizzeria, it’s usually coming out of a calibrated pizza oven with the temperature dialed way up and that is often hard to recreate with our ovens at home. With the grill, on the other hand, extremely high temperatures are easy to reach and we can better mimic the features of a pizzeria oven.

What I found after liting my gas grill and getting it as hot as possible was that because the slices take high heat from the bottom and only get residual heat on the top we get perfectly melted cheese and a delicate crisp crust.

A perfect reheat?

Turns out grills aren’t just for brats and hotdogs as our leftover pizza gets an upgrade over open flames.  As far as New York style slices go, I would argue that the grill is the ticket and it will definitely be my method of choice going forward (weather permitting).

What pizza taught me:

Each variety of pizza with its unique make-up of ingredients will require a little experimentation to reach reheated perfection.  The only thing I can do with the wide array of pizzas that end up in my fridge is to keep tinkering with them and that’s a job I’ll happily accept.

What I’m eating: Leftover Pizza Di Roma

What I’m reading:  Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think -Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans Rosling, and Ola Rosling