Eat this week’s magnificent Ian’s special: pizza with turkey, cranberries, green beans, and fried onions. It’s very unlikely your family will serve you anything as good as this.
The alphabetical gourmands of Eating in Madison A to Z are up to “Pizza ____.” I recently tagged along on their visit to Pizza Oven on the West Side: the resulting review just went up on their blog. Seems a good time to set down some of my own thoughts on Madison pizza.
Ian’s: Pizza without boundaries. The experiments are exciting even when they don’t work. I’ve blogged enough already about this cultural treasure. Today Milwaukee, tomorrow the world. Glass Nickel is a worthy contender in the same genre — the Thai Pie, in particular, is an experiment that’s become a perfected piece of pizza technology. Also, they have delivery trucks that run on pizza grease.
Thin crust pies. The best is Pizza Brutta, on upper Monroe, which makes a very thin, irregular, faintly sweet crust with nice blackened bubbles around the rim. The traditionalist to Ian’s mad scientist. My second favorite place to eat pizza in Madison. Try the Portabella. Greenbush Bar and Cafe Porta Alba (just re-opened in Hilldale) have devoted followings, and are always packed, and make a good thin crust pie; but nothing to match Brutta. Pizza Oven isn’t in the league of Greenbush and Porta Alba, but is charming if you grew up in the suburbs in the ’70s, and you won’t need to wait for a table in this cavernous shed-like former Hooters.
Thick crust pies. I’m against thick crust pies. I don’t even know who, if anyone, makes them here.
New York pies. The best is Casa Bianca, way out west on Junction Road. I’m told on good authority that the proprietors are not actually New York Italians, but Macedonians who ran a pizzeria at home and kept it up when they moved to Wisconsin; and moreover that they train just-arrived Macedonian immigrants to make New York pies, then send them out to open New York pizzerias in other Midwestern cities that lack one. Looking this up on Yelp, I see that Casa Bianca seems to have gone out of business. But I’m leaving this up because I found the story about the Macedonian pizza entrepreneurship lab kind of heartwarming. I guess your only choice for New York pie now is Pizza di Roma on State, which mimics the experience of getting a big floppy extra greasy slice at a no-name pizza counter in Manhattan pretty much exactly, for better or worse.
I haven’t tried and have no opinion about: Rocky Rococo’s, Gino’s. I’ve had mediocre Italian food at and thus have low expectations for the pizza at: Porta Bella, Paisan’s. I’ve had good Italian food at and thus have high expectations for the pizza at: Osteria Papavero (lunch only) and Cafe la Bellitalia. I am put off by the name of and thus have low expectations for the pizza at: Pizza Extreme.
While we’re on the subject of glorious culinary syncretism, I want to endorse in the strongest possible terms today’s special pizza at Ian’s: a “tacos al pastor” pie with juicy chunks of marinated pork, fried onions, and pineapple over mozarella cheese and tomato-chipotle sauce. It’s one of their finest achievements and I believe it’s today only. Ian’s stays open until 3am, so there should be plenty of time to get down there if you’re out of state or something.
Don’t miss the superb blueberries currently on offer from Flyte Family Farm, available at the Saturday market on the corner of Mifflin and Pinckney. Yesterday night I had two fresh pints of these and no idea what to make for dinner. But I also have this little crepe pan I’ve been learning to use since I accidentally left my nonstick skillet empty on the stove and bubbled half the coating off it. So: I made some crepes (using this recipe) and filled them with blueberries and sheep’s milk ricotta from Butler Farms.
Delicious! But labor-intensive to put together, especially since my little pan makes just one crepe at a time. So here’s a question, pancake fans: what if I’d just mixed the ricotta and blueberries into the batter and fried it like a pancake? Would that have been just as tasty? And if I do mix the cheese in the batter and fry it, would something simple and cheap like cottage cheese be as good as fresh ricotta?
The crepes were a success, but the food victory of the week obviously belongs to Adam B. Hirsch, who recently became the first person to eat at all three Ian’s Pizza locations (two in Madison, one in Chicago) in a single day. Cue Olympic theme!