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 Art of Order Taking

“The knowledge of courtesy is a very necessary study; like grace and beauty, it breeds mutual liking” -Montaigne

In between fantasizing about my weekly pizza excursion and photographing it, I’ve got to order it.  While I wish I could skip right to the pizza-eating part, first I’ve got to pick up the phone, express my vision to the pizza guy and get the logistics figured out.

Though I love pizza, I tend to have mixed feelings placing my order.

Of course, there’s an inherent joy in pitching my weekly plan to another person willing to listen, especially someone who will play a roll in executing it.

And, having a person on the line makes it easier to articulate complex orders and confirm any important questions that may arise (How thin is the thin-crust? Do you cut your pizza’s in triangles or squares?).  

But, there’s the chance that interaction feels like a necessary evil—a social exchange so poor that it’s hard to find pleasure afterward.

I’m talking about the times when nothing is confirmed or heard properly and we aren’t even upsold extra cheese (come on, basics!).  Sometimes the communication is so bad our pizza-night lands in a pickle as we end up with incorrect items, missing toppings and no sides of sauce.

With the prevalence of online ordering, we don’t need to worry about these situations as much anymore, but technical difficulties and peak order periods that cause shops to unplug are still ordinary, meaning we’re faced with picking up the phone and calling in our orders old-school.

When handling information as delicate as someone’s pizza order, it’s evident the employees manning the phones have a great responsibily and must have the utmost attention to detail.  They set the tone for the entire experience—their demeanor, pace, and politeness in that initial contact is crucial.

When I want fuss-free ordering I turn to a spot where the front line employees excel and a great customer service experience is almost guaranteed.

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Rosati’s West in Madison. 

When it comes to phone order taking, I consider Rosasti’s West on Mineral Point Road to be masters (at least in my experience, in which there are many).  They are kind, competent, concise and pleasantly nail the interaction every single time.   They repeat everything back to you and will take on most requests.

Beyond killer customer service, you also get the option of “super-thin crust” if you’re in the “know”.  Perhaps the greatest pizza hack of all-time besides “extra-cheese”; all you have to do is ask and they’ll gladly give your crust an extra spin through the dough rolling machine.

Any place that has the option of “super-thin” is good in my book, so I usually go with super-thin, extra cheese and maybe some pepperoni or green olives.  Some nights if I’m feeling frisky I may even venture further into the menu and throw myself a little “Chicago Thanksgiving” complete with an Italian beef sandwich, Chicago style hotdog, and maybe even a calzone.

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Calzone (Yes, there is an inch of melty cheese in there)

A botched interaction is more expensive than you might think.

The pain-free ordering at Rosati’s greatly increases my to desire to eat there, so I return to them regularly.

On the other hand, a pain-filled ordering experience can haunt me for months and causes me to pause, consider my choices, no matter how good a spots grub might be—I just don’t want to deal with shenanigans when it’s pizza time.

These days with so many options at our fingertips it’s easier than ever for customers to fall in and out of love with a restaurant based simply on their service and it’s harder than ever to regain that trust and loyalty.  One wrong order, miscommunication or argument and that customer could be gone for good and that could mean losing out on big bucks for the restaurant.

In Seth Godin’s book, This is Marketing he urges businesses to consider the “lifetime value” of a customer when interacting with them.  It takes massive amounts of time, money and energy to earn the business of new customers, so when you’ve got them it’s critical to treat them well, woo them and hopefully retain their business to make good on your investment.

One customer can add up to thousands of dollars in sales over the course of a lifetime of repeat orders.  So, there’s no time to mess around with anything less than stellar service.

What pizza taught me:

A pleasant encounter can make our day, especially if there’s pizza afterward.  Considerate and concise communication is something to strive for—a worthy pursuit that will undoubtedly yield more than well-executed pizza orders.

What I’m eating: Rosati’s “super-thin crust” green olive, extra cheese

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

A Personal (Pizza) Day

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” -Confucius

Has a stress-filled day ever turned you to food? 

When I’m pushing my threshold I’ll get the urge for pizza—my security blanket—the thoughts of cheese and pepperoni often tempting me to yank the steering wheel across busy lanes of traffic to the nearest Little Caesars.

I know, it goes against my cardinal rule of “no pizza until Friday”, but on the brink of burn-out, it’s easy to rationalize a mid-week pizza sesh.

Last week I faced such a stress-inducing day that stress-eating pizza seemed like just about the only viable method of managing.

To cheat, or not to cheat?

As I internally debated my moment of weakness, I weighed the pros and cons of breaking my diet, by breaking for pizza:

A mid-week slice would certainly turn my frown upside down?

But, what about the regret and disappointment I’d create for my future undisciplined self?

Those thoughts wrestled in my mind on my commute home, until off in the distant some shiny new signage, on Madison’s Mineral Point road caught my eye.

A new spot in town I’d been hearing about, with the promise of “a super fast pizza experience”.

And just like that, I knew my answer.

We all deserve a break every now and again?  Right?!

Ordering pizza on a Tuesday.

Thanks to the fad of fast-casual pizza shops popping up all over the country getting a “superfast” pizza made-to-order is getting a lot easier.

National quick-serve pizza chain Mod Pizza has recently expanded 3 new locations to the Madison area and their speedy, customizable pies are perfect for an impromptu visit.

It’s like the Subway or Chipotle of pizza, where you stand in line in front of a sneeze guard and pick your toppings as you move towards the register.  Then the pizza goes into an 800° oven and minutes later out comes your pizza, just the way you want it.

At Mod you basically get an 11-inch canvas to go crazy and with 30 available toppings, the customizations are endless.  What’s better than your own personal pizza when you’re trying to give yourself some personal time?

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Tess’s pick

A slice to keep my sanity.

Pizza at the end of the week is usually the carrot that keeps me going, but everybody needs a break sometimes and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

No matter how disciplined or motivated we are there will always be moments in life when we reach a boiling point and we need a breather.

The most important part of giving ourselves a cheat is simply getting back on the horse.  Instead of beating ourselves up we just need to course correct and move on.  It’s not like one hiccup in a diet routine is going to derail it.  If anything we’ll most likely come back rejuvenated and inspired to get back to action.

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Mod cheese sticks, surprisingly good (ordered with extra cheese).

What pizza taught me:

When the stressors of life are peaking, maybe some personal time with a personal pizza is the ticket to avoiding burn-out.  If some unexpected extra mozzarella can keep me mentally stable, I’ll take it, even if it’s on a Tuesday.

What I’m eating:  Mod Pizza-cheese pizza

What I’m reading:  Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization -John Wooden

The Frontier of the Frozen Section Part 1

“The cure to information overload is more information” -David Weinberger

Frozen pizza is truly a gift to the pizza enthusiast—considerably one of modern man’s greatest culinary reimaginations (a rung right below the creation of pizza itself). 

Thanks to the frozen pizza we can have pizza whenever we want; any time of day, without leaving the house.  A perfect pairing for lazy days, late nights, entertaining friends or as a quick dinner with the family.

We simply have to wait for the glow of the little red preheat light to give us the go-ahead and in 12-15 minutes we’ve got piping hot pizza.

Beyond convenience, the frozen puts us in control—we don’t have to worry about the inconsistencies (or interactions) of a restaurant.  We can cook it well-done or almost doughy, cut it in any shapes we want and put our spice racks to use—seasoning it to perfection.

We are fortunate to live a time of such luxury.  There’s only one problem…

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The frozen section dilemma.

The real challenge these days becomes picking out the right pizza.  Sifting through the ever-growing selection of the frozen pizza aisle to find the brand that suits our preference best is not as easy as it used to be.  Tombstone alone has close to 20 different variations to choose from.

For some, the choice is a no brainer, it’s the warmth of tradition—classics like Jack’s or Red Baron or whatever you grew up with—for others, it could be the influence of mouthwatering TV advertising from the likes of a brand like DiGiorno.

What fascinates me most are the eccentric regional up and comers like Brewpub “Lottza Mottza”, Palermo’s “Screamin’ Sicilian”, “Connie’s” and “Urban Pie”, and my favorite from right in my backyard O’Grady’s.  I’ve found many of these young pizza brands are pushing the boundaries of frozen pizza quality, so I’m setting out find the best of the best among them.

Recently I came across one of those startups with a mission to craft pizzas that reflect the overlooked styles of middle America.  With three words, I was sold.

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Milwaukee Style Pizza.

Outsiders Pizza Co. is a brand that is popping up all over the pizza aisle. It appears they’re out to capture heart and soul of midwestern pizzeria’s into frozen form; they’ve currently got a Milwaukee Tavern Style and a Detroit Style.

They explain on their website “Outsiders Pizza was born to celebrate these under-respected regional styles. Because damn good pizza can come from anywhere.”

Though they are backed by a Nestle incubator in Ohio, the idea that they are trying to showcase “lesser-known regional styles from places that reminded us of our hometowns” is wildly refreshing to me.

So, being the proud Wisconsin boy who’s excited to celebrate just about anything that rises to fame out of the midwest, I was thrilled to explore a Milwaukee Tavern Style option equipped with cheese curds and everything.

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That’s right, cheese curds.

Cheese is the key to any Wisconsinites heart, so I had to start with the “Spicy Sausage and Cheese Curds” Milwaukee Tavern Style option.

Once I sunk my teeth into a pool of melted curd, it was obvious that the coveted Wisconsin delicacy’s time to shine on a pizza was long overdue.  After all, it’s a sure-fire way to take a frozen pizza up a notch into extra cheesy greatness—a level that can hardly be reached by brittle white shreds.

The curds are nestled between peppers, onions, and spicy sausage chunks that lay on a woven bed of thick cut mozzarella rectangles about the width of a stick of Orbit gum.  All of the ingredients are brought together by a spicy red sauce and to create a true tavern style experience the instructions recommend a square cut (how cool is that).

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The future of frozen’s.

Outsiders Pizza Co. is one of the many brands that get me excited about the future of the frozen pizza aisle.  They’ve got a great mission and a righteous pizza.

Outsiders also helped me realize that having a plethora of options isn’t always a bad thing—we can use our accumulated knowledge to find a choice that fits us best.  I believe pizzeria caliber frozen pizza is still out there and my search will continue with the hope that one day we’ll have a product that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

What pizza taught me:

We live in an age of unlimited choices and that can make choosing awfully challenging. There is a bright side though: There’s a higher chance we can connect with our perfect niche or find our perfect pizza.  With cheese curds on frozen pizzas, the world seems like a better place to me.

What I’m eating:  Outsider Pizza Co.: Milwaukee Tavern Style: Spicy Sausage and Cheese Curds

What I’m reading:  Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization –John Wooden

Photo cred: Adam Kuban

The Perfect Bite

“The five senses are the ministers of the soul” -Leonardo Di Vinci

The first bite of a slice is a fantastic experience for all five senses. 

From the moment you open that warm box and get a waft of garlic, basil, buttery cheese, and cardboard, it’s undeniable your sense of smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste are in for an epic treat.

It all begins, as your eyes flicker back and forth making an initial scan for the best slice—searching for the piece where the toppings fall in the just the right places—the perfect pepperoni count—maybe even one with those pepperoni slivers that get lodged in the extra cheese that spills into the canyons created by the pizza cutter.

Next, you gingerly pick up your chosen slice.  You pinch a dry corner of flour-dusted crust—you can feel the heat emitting from the molten cheese and grease that sieges it.

You let out a gentle, whispered blow, your mouth slightly whistling as your breath sends steam rolling off of it—simultaneously cooling it down and speeding up eating time.

Finally, the best part, your sensory pleasure cruise crescendos as you open up wide and your teeth and gums plunge into melty cheese—unleashing grease that graces the roof of your mouth.  The sauce and toppings mix as your lips close around them—all of the elements merging together into a harmonious collision.  The lapping of your tongue fusing together the flavors into a compacted ball of pizza mush with each gyration of your jaw.

There’s nothing quite like that first bite and usually, it’s gone before I think twice.

Recently I witnessed my 1-year-old son frantically scarfing down his dinner as fast as humanly possible.  Prior to that, for about half an hour, he had whined for it, moaned and groaned for it and then as soon as he had it, down it went in the blink of an eye.

“Slow down and enjoy it, buddy” I commented.

Then, I paused and pondered those words for a second: slow down and enjoy it?  

I thought about when I get that pizza box in front of me and my taste buds are about to be stormed with a deluge of salty goodness, I quite often go HAM and just devour it all as well.

Maybe I’m the one who needs to slow down?

Shouldn’t I savor my favorite moments?

Perhaps I could reach new levels of pizza eating enjoyment if I just paid more attention?

Taking that first bite to another level. 

Best-selling author and reformed stock market manipulator Jordan Belfort (portrayed by Leonardo Dicaprio in the film The Wolf of Wall Street (no worries, he says he only uses his powers for good now)) takes that idea one step further in his recent book on persuasion Way of the Wolf.

In the book, he describes a process called “neuro-linguistic programming” in which he explains we can achieve a primed state on demand by honing in on our senses while in a moment of success.  The theory says that we can condition ourselves using sensory experiences to create behavioral patterns.

In essence, it works by connecting powerful emotions to memories, similar to the way we get the warm and fuzzies when we smell fresh cut grass in the summer, cookies around Christmas or pizza straight from the oven.  When we experience those sensations we get transported right back to the time we enjoyed them.

So, the idea behind Belfort’s concept is to manufacture that effect by concentrating on the most intricate details of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings when we are in “the zone”.  By doing that we can create a connection or an “anchor” to that moment.  We can then call upon that “anchor” by using whatever sensation we connected it to and in doing so trigger our A-game when we need it.

So, looks like I’m carrying around pizza seasoning in my pocket from now on.

What pizza taught me:

I don’t know if romanticizing pizza will help me reach my ideal state, but slowing down and cherishing that first bite made me realize how close to perfection pizza already is.

What I’m eating: Marco’s Pizza: hand-tossed old world pepperoni pizza

What I’m reading:  Jordan Belfort Way of the Wolf: Straight Line Selling: Master the Art of Persuasion, Influence, and Success

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).

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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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

 

Summer into Fall

“Nothing is worth more than this day” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

September in Wisconsin is something to behold. As Summer reunites with Fall, the two grasp each other like old friends, reliving their glory days, hocking it up over the time they made it 70º and sunny in the Midwest.

We luck out with gorgeous weather from both seasons; a vibrant sun and bright green grass—a crisp cool breeze circulating through open windows and of course, football on TV.  When the temperature drops to “just right” time moves a little slower; the magnificence of this world becomes clear and undeniable and our pizza tastes a little sweeter.

As rare as these moments may be, I recently explored Wisconsin’s primary tourist temptation—Door County—I got the weather and the pizza and despite my habit of overthinking everything I managed to savor every moment.

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The Luther’s take Door County.

On the annual Luther family vacation pizza is a must—as you can probably imagine we take our pizza excursions quite seriously—so, we head to Door County’s primary pizzeria Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza.

Picking up pizza’s at Wild Tomato has become a Luther family tradition; a legacy I’m proud to pass down to 5-month old Ellis.  Ellis even showed his support by wearing his “Born to be Wild” Wild Tomato onesie (I can’t believe it’s been a year since Tess and I bought it in anticipation of his arrival).

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As we approached a swarming Sister Bay—one of the main attractions of the Door County Penisula—we became enamored by the realization of soon scoring some wood-fired slices.  In true Luther fashion and overexcitement, I begin to overanalyze: How many pizzas? What toppings? and What time should we call the order in?  With this amount of traffic, how can we assure proper logistics to get this pizza hot and fresh back to the rental?

I often have to remind myself to chill the F’ out.

The busyness of a restaurant is a tell-tale sign of its greatness and Wild Tomato can handle some high-volume. They have indoor and outdoor seating, an outdoor bar, and a designated pick up entrance complete with two operational registers that have a constant flow of customers.  They churn out very high-quality pizzas in a high traffic area and do it with the utmost finesse.

The sauce at Wild Tomato reigns supreme; it’s fresh, earthy and has the perfect balance of herbs.  Actually, all of their ingredients are premium; from the crumbled sausage to the pesto to the dollops of goat cheese.  They don’t skimp on the mozzarella either as everything is covered under a nice snug cream-colored blanket.

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A perfect opportunity to savor the moment.

In Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity he shares advice passed down from his parents that led him through unnerving odds  “Live for the present and the future will look after itself”.  This motto is one I need a constant reminder of.

When I stop fretting about when I’m going to get my pizza, how long it’s going to take and where I’m going to get it, I can enjoy the details that actually make pizza fun.

I can savor the subtle notes of basil in the sauce, the salty, buttery depth of the mozzarella and the crispy crunch of a well-done pepperoni.  These nuances can invoke the same hyper-aware elation that the brief period of perfect Wisconsin weather can.

What pizza taught me:

I can romanticize summer, fall, and pizza all day long, but the truth is life’s magic is everywhere if we slow down and appreciate it.  Those beautiful days that hang in limbo between summer and fall will always be my favorite, just as Wild Tomato pizza is, but there no point in ruminating over when and where I’m going to get them.

What I’m eating: Wild Tomato Wood-fired Pizza

What I’m reading: Losing My Virginity Richard Branson (it’s a long-ass book!)

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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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