Tag Archives: ian’s

Even Ian nods

Readers of this blog know I am a major booster of Ian’s Pizza, so I was thrilled a few months ago when Ian Gurfield announced he was opening a more upscale pizza place, S2 Pizzabar, just a few blocks from campus.  And S2 Pizzabar lived up to my expectations, serving individual-sized pizzas on a good thin crust with locally sourced toppings in a big handsome bricky room.  At last the cursed address, home to dead restuarants Opa, Maza, and the Saz, could serve lunch in peace!

But no — apparently even Ian couldn’t make a living at 558 State, and S2 Pizzabar will close on March 17.  The place was pretty full both times I ate there; I’d be curious to know in more detail what made this business fail so quickly.  Even Opa lasted longer, and Opa was always kind of empty and confused.

If you’re on State in the next couple of weeks, stop in and get a pizza while you still can; it’s good pizza and I’ll miss it.


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How to ruin your Thanksgiving

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.


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Full disclosure:  a few days after I posted this, a nice PR person from Ian’s mailed me a thank-you Post-it and a coupon for two free slices.

Reader, I used it.

Feel free to ignore my opinions about squid pizza from now on if you feel my integrity is now suspect.  I know I can’t be bought.

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In which Ian Gurfield is a mad genius

Squid pizza. Sliced pepperoncini as a visual pun on the rings of fried calamari. Available at Ian’s through Friday. Do not miss.

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Madison pizza round-up

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.

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Two good things I ate this week

Yesterday, a bowl of gumbo from New Orleans Take Out on Monroe.  So richly spiced as to be almost black, so thick with roux and file that it was almost not a soup.  This is non-traditional but I crumbled up and added my sweet cornbread to make of it a kind of granular black spicy undefined entity that was the best thing I ate this week.

Today, the Beef n Brew special slice at Ian’s Pizza.  Available only through tomorrow.  Thin-sliced coffee-rubbed steak from Fountain Prairie, roasted wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, and gravy.  Autumnal, superb.

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Eat this today — tacos al pastor pizza at Ian’s

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.

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Reuben pizza

This was supposed to be a post in honor of the genius of Ian’s Pizza, who have outdone their usual high standards with this month’s Thursday special, the Reuben Pizza. Make it your business to be somewhere near State Street on October 18 or 25 so you can sample it.

This won’t be exactly that post, because a bit of Googling revealed that the Reuben Pizza has a long history. The version at the Gaslight Restaurant in Huntingsburg, IN is especially well thought of. (That last link is from Reuben Realm, the kind of food-obsessive project the Internet was invented for.)

None of which really diminishes the greatness of Ian’s. I lived for seven years in New Jersey, which features some excellent pizza but suffers from a crushing pizza orthodoxy. Even something you can get in every mall, like pineapple, or barbecue chicken, is considered dangerously exotic. Here in Madison, pizza is much less of a high-church experience; they play around a bit. As most famously exemplified by our fair city’s signature pizza, Ian’s mac and cheese pie:

(image by Eating in Madison A to Z.)

Anyway, the reuben pizza. Crust, Russian dressing, corned beef, sauerkraut. Perfect, even for someone like me who doesn’t like mayonnaise on pizza. Who can say where the line is? Macaroni and cheese, corned beef, guacamole, a fried egg, Russian dressing, or chicken tikka masala on pizza are all terrific as far as I’m concerned. But I think ranch dressing on pizza is disgusting, and french fries on pizza are just too much (though the guys at Ian’s tell me their “steak, barbecue sauce, and fries” slice is second in popularity only to the mac and cheese.) What’s remarkable about Ian’s isn’t that they’ll dump any old thing on a pizza — anyone could do that. It’s the thought involved. As in their Friday special, the cheeseburger pizza. Now everybody makes cheeseburger pizza. But Ian’s chops up the pickle and puts that on too! That’s thoughtful. (This pizza, too, has fries, but here the fries are chopped into little cubes — I’m OK with this.)

I think what makes the pizza good is that it’s in complete consonance with the virtues of the original sandwich, which is to say, hot bread and melted cheese. Which makes me think: you know what would be a great pizza? The patty melt pizza. Hamburger, melted swiss, fried onions — and little fragments of grilled rye bread on top. With all due humility, I feel that this pizza, if realized, could be my greatest contribution to human civilization.

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