Tag Archives: reuben

Diversity Road

I spent last Wednesday morning working in the profoundly pleasant Prairie Cafe in Middleton Hills. This is the kind of unassuming place that you’d assume would make really first-rate breakfast and soups and maybe a heavily besprouted chicken-salad sandwich, but where you might hesitate to order a hot lunch. In fact, the corned beef hash, while homemade, was just so-so, while the reuben was really first-rate. The cold black-bean and corn salad that came alongside in lieu of coleslaw was even better, a crisp contrast to the thoroughly correct hot goopiness of the reuben.

Middleton Hills, it turns out, is a Duany Plater-Zyberk development in the “New Urbanist” style. Which means mixed retail and housing, walkability, density, stores fronting directly on sidewalks, cheap houses and expensive ones on the same block, and so on. Basically, if you take every feature of America’s soul-killing suburbs that people like to complain about, invert them, and build housing developments based on the result, you get something like New Urbanism.

As for me, I grew up in one of America’s soul-killing suburbs, and I like them! One of the nicest features of the Near West Side of Madison is that you can get on your bike and be in an authentically urban landscape in 15 minutes; or, after a 15-minute drive in the other direction, you can pull up in the oversized parking lot outside the even more oversized grocery store and load your station wagon until it groans.

Anyway, Middleton Hills. My first impression is that it’s charming; the houses all share a mild kind of Prairie style, but no two on the block look exactly alike. The main drag, Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, winds around a big and agreeably wild pond; lots of cattails, lots of birds, grass not too kempt. The street names do a good job of congratulating you for your participation in sustainable development — John Muir Drive, Aldo Leopold Way, and, best of all, Diversity Road.

My second impression is that it’s completely empty. You can see that the streets are laid out to encourage pedestrianism and unplanned human interaction, as in Princeton, a favorite town of Duany Plater-Zyberk’s, and mine. But at three in the afternoon, the only people I saw were a trickle of kids coming home from school, and a birdwatcher. The birdwatcher and I watched a sandhill crane for a few minutes. Then I sat down to continue revising a long-overdue paper with Michel and Venkatesh about sums of three squares. (Among other things, the paper features a careful explanation of the group structure — more properly, torsor structure — on the set of representations of a squarefree integer n as the sum of three squares. More on this when the paper’s finished.)

What makes Princeton’s streets lively and new-urban, of course, is that it has a big and interesting downtown, whose shops and restaurants serve not just Princetonians but residents of the surrounding towns. Middleton Hills has a grocery store, the Prairie Cafe, a pizza place, and a Starbucks — not enough to draw foot traffic away from Madison, or, for that matter, downtown Middleton. If this post pulls in a throng of reuben-lovers, I guess I’ll have done my bit for the New Urbanism.

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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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