Hidden Gems

“You can only lose what you cling to” Buddha

What do I want?  Every Wednesday that question wracks my brain; whittle’s my wife’s patience to dust.  So much pizza, so little time, naturally mind goes in circles.

We all face that daily dilemma between a finite caloric intake and an infinite amount of pizza possibilities.  It feels as though we’ve got to pick our battles wisely; line up our cravings, shake ’em down and narrow down the cut.  We’ve got to contemplate crusts, consider cheese to sauce ratios and collaborate topping combinations to ensure a perfect pizza night.

Really though, it’s often after we stop over-analyzing that pizza destiny knocks.

Tess and I gratefully had a babysitter on a Saturday night and set out to relive our glory days of frolicking around downtown Madison, WI.  Fun for us comes from exploring uncharted culinary territory—our favorite past-time finding new restaurants.

To rekindle our spirit of adventure we wanted something new, something hip, somewhere we could observe Madison’s foodie elite.  We figured after 6 years we’d hit every spot downtown, but we had left one rock unturned.

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Natt Spil

Natt Spil has no sign and only accepts cash, but is ever so welcoming to the weary capital square traveler.  The space is as intimate as a Hobbit-hole; a DJ booth and globally influenced decor emit an aura that says “hot-spot for the hip”, the tattoed and those craving finely crafted cocktails.  Apparently, it’s also for those who are hungry for Asian inspired Dim Sum and pizza?

The name is Norwegian (meaning “night play”) and the menu is equal parts Asian, Mediterranean and pizza and that’s exactly the eclectic, eccentric sort of thing we were after.  I would say it’s Madison’s best-kept secret, but people have been telling me to go there for years.

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Stepping into an unmarked door. 

If you’re looking for Natt Spil just follow a trail of logs leading down an alley and you’ll hit their wood-burning pizza oven. The pizza has that great char and chew that you only find when your pie has been kissed by the flames of a raging hot wood-burning oven.

Tess and I opted for the Natt Spil Sausage that came delicately balanced with tomato, chevre, red onion and pepperoncini peppers (my favorite touch).  Bites of sausage and pepperoncini peppers excited the tastebuds with an acidic tang to savory counterbalance.

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Look no further.

Happiness and pizza are spun from the same dough. There are times in life when we don’t know what to do and maybe that’s when it’s more important than ever to detach and let the universe reveal the path.

Meditation master and spiritual leader Lama Gendun Rinpoche wrote: “Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower, but is already there, in relaxation and letting go.”  “Don’t search any further… Nothing to do, Nothing to force, Nothing to want, and everything happens by itself.”

What Pizza taught me:

The harder we try for happiness the further away it gets; just like our satisfaction when we set the bar too high for pizza night. When we relinquish our desires and let life happen that’s when a crispy, pristine Natt Spil pizza unexpectedly plops itself in our laps.

What I’m eating:  Natt Spil

What I’m reading:  Robert Greene Mastery

 

You’re Right

“We are never so vulnerable as when we love” -Sigmund Freud

I was out for pizza in a congested restaurant when I saw the perfect snapshot of a slice; the grease pools glistening—pepperoni’s posed in a way that begged to be captured. As I pulled out my phone, repositioned for lighting and went in for the photo shoot that’s when a hot flash of insecurity slapped me in the face.  I envisioned all the eyeballs in the room locking in on me; their collective gaze projecting scorching rays of judgment that stifled me in discomfort.

I began to sweat as I stewed in my own awkwardness; blushing as I imagined myself, the fool, hunched beside the table like a paparazzi who’d lost it— seeing celebrities in slices of extra cheese.

I felt uncomfortable about the impression I was making on everyone around me.  I was that stereotypical millennial unable to experience anything without proper documentation; that guy who couldn’t enjoy the moment without posting to social media.

Then a heaven-send—a voice chimed in: 

Just live your life man.

My inner confidence stepping up? Some benevolent being interjecting?  Sage advice from The Big Lebowski’s the Dude?

No. It’s my wife Tess.  The voice of reason who puts up with me brainstorming pizza blogs, going in circles about “what’s for pizza on Friday?” on Tuesday and a plethora of other pizza quirks that I’m sure would irk the enlightenment out of a Zen master.

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As usual, she’s right; no-one could care less about the pictures of pizza I’m taking.

Beyond the ability to hush my self-consciousness, and reign in my ruminations, I recently discovered Tess also has a profound pizza insight to share with the world.  Her wisdom came unexpectedly as I arrived home on a Friday afternoon to her preparing a Jack’s frozen pizza. I was giddy to join in on her cheesy, picturesque Jack’s pepperoni pizza, and that’s when I smelled the faint smell of burning.

Wait! What??!  What are you doing!?

I gasped in horror as she recklessly committed unspeakable negligence against a poor Jack’s thin-crust.  The pie was at a torturing 425° for way too long; the sweltering heat blistering and marring the pizzas fair yellow mozzarella complexion.  The pepperonis shrieking as they began to sizzle and spit escape pods of grease across the oven walls that scream Help! Help! Let me outta here!

Charring a frozen pizza within near inches of its poor little life, brings a tear to my eye, but that’s the way my wife Tess likes them; dark brown and nearly burnt (no wonder she does this when I’m not around).

As I waited for an explanation and mournfully looked upon my fried friend, I figured “pizza is pizza” and went in for a slice.

To my amazement, it was extraordinarily crispy and delicious.  The cheese had more of a bite to it; more of chew, a deeper flavor too.  Who can argue with crispy pepperonis? I became intrigued by this “almost burning the pizza” cooking technique and the following day I insisted she teach me her secrets.

Upon plopping a Jack’s in the oven I inquired about how she knew when to take it out and she responded: “Once I smell it, I know”.  Long story short, you leave it in the oven for a period that seems way too long and then sprinkle parmesan cheese on it as soon as it comes out so it melts on it.  

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The right one.

Tess is notoriously right and I appreciate her shooting me straight and telling me to chill the F’ out with the pizza nonsense from time to time. Having open lines of communication and tolerance for each other allows us to experience new things, like burnt Jack’s pizzas that are delicious.

Sometimes we have to muster up and give a little more than expected to those we love. We may have to take that 5am shift with the baby or go out of our way to the grocery store, maybe even assure our loved one that no-one cares about excessive pizza pics.  By pleasing them with a little extra effort—  a little more finesse we can exceed their expectations, then it all comes back around.

I’ve heard successful relationships are comprised of the attitude that it’s 90% giving and 10% receiving from both parties involved.  What that means is we should always be prepared to give way more than we expect to get back.

What I learned from pizza:

Successful relationships are comprised of more give than take. The more we give the more we get and a beautiful cycle is born. It’s those little things like the assurance at the restaurant or the lesson on burning a Jack’s properly that add up and build a stronger bond.

What I’m eating: Jack’s pepperoni (nearly burnt with parmesan sprinkled on it)

What I’m reading: Side Hustle –Chris Guillebeau

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