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Pizza is simple. It’s usually just a few ingredients—flour, yeast, salt and water—on a wooden peel dressed with colorful toppings and slid into an oven by a pizzaiolo.
For as simple as it is, pizza takes on many forms. Sometimes it’s a late-night craving or a game-day staple or the main course for a special occasion. (And in a few rare and awesome cases, it might even be a proposal when served in the shape of a heart.) But in Madison, the art of pizza making is not only simple, but simply exceptional with Wisconsin terroir. The city’s dough tossers have creative touches that make each pie different, and there’s ample options to choose from. No two places offer the same slice in this food-forward college town. Sicilian, Neapolitan, New Jersey-style, Chicago deep-dish, New American, steel-pan—you name it, Madison’s got it.
And while there are several pizza capitals of the world that claim their pizza is best, we wouldn’t trade our signature pies for anything.
Angelo’s Italian Restaurant
This is a lively Monona favorite with a local, laid-back bar scene made for meeting up with friends after a Badgers game and passing the time while waiting for a table and a round of pizzas. The white pizza built on Alfredo sauce and topped with Italian sausage, onion, mushrooms, artichokes and black olives, as well as the chicken ranch pizza—chicken breast, fresh tomatoes, bacon, garlic and red onion topped with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses and a ranch dressing sauce—are a couple of the more gastronomical indulgences on the menu. After the big win, who’ll be counting calories, anyway? House-made gluten-free and whole wheat crusts are also available. $$$ 5801 Monona Dr., 222-1464; Angelo’s McFarland, 4706 Farwell St., McFarland, 838-2233
Since 1960, Buck’s has been the pizzeria known on Madison’s west side for carry-out. Pepperoni, sausage, pineapple and mushrooms are some of the traditional toppings that fill out a square-cut pie in 8-, 12- and 14-inch sizes handed to you steaming hot inside a paper bag. When ordering multiples, you may want to bring a friend along for the ride as these pies are not easily stackable. If hot-out-of-the-oven is what you crave in the comfort of your own kitchen, take home one of their partially baked pies. Or start (almost) from scratch and purchase a ball of their dough. There’s reliability here and a consistent product—that could be why they’ve pleased generations of pizza lovers. $$ 219 Cottage Grove Rd., 222-8011
Café Porta Alba
Having grown up less than an hour from Naples, Italy, owner Vincenzo Pugliesi knows Neapolitan pizza. Imported ingredients such as San Marzano tomatoes and bufala mozzarella cheese are what you can expect to find on many of the thin-crust pizzas (even the dough is made with Italian flour) that come out of his wood-burning oven imported from a third-generation oven maker in Naples. A respite for shoppers as well as a date-night destination, this cozy corner restaurant is a Hilldale Shopping Center gem. $$ 558 N. Midvale Blvd., 441-0202
Grampa’s has got all the ingredients down for candlelit ambiance. It feels like home because it is a home—a renovated house on Willy Street (and a former gun shop) in a neighborhood that gathers here frequently for good thin-crust pizza. Expect specials to feature lush ingredients, such as heritage Waygu beef, maitake mushrooms, caramelized onion and provolone. The Puerco—tomato sauce, pork confit, bacon fat and Gorgonzola—is yet another rich choice. When deciding which to choose, don’t forget the mozzarella cheese, handmade daily. Sit at the bar if the wait seems lengthy; you won’t be sorry and may even be glad for the extra time you’ll get to make up your mind. $$ 1374 Williamson St., 283-9580
Open the door and walk down the steps to the basement of the historic Italian Workmen’s Club on Regent Street, where wood paneling lines the walls and strings of colorful Christmas lights crisscross the low ceiling, even in July. Here in the Sicilian family-owned restaurant, all pizzas are made with cheese and either tomato sauce or olive oil. You decide what comes next from a list of no fewer than two dozen toppings. The wait can be crazy long, but you may find solace at the bar, perhaps with an Aperol spritz. The Pecatonica hot dog pizza is for those who think outside the pizza box. $$$ 914 Regent St., 257-2874
She’s the new kid on the block, and she’s got pizza. Lucille sits like a queen on the corner of King and Pinckney in a two-story building dating back to the 1850s, when streetcars crossed in front of her doors. Get a fresh cocktail or choose from the many craft beers available while pizzaiolo Chris Gragg tosses you the wood-fired pizza fittingly called “The Queen,” with fresh mozzarella and basil atop house-milled tomato sauce. For something different, be sure to check out their pan pizza, baked in a rectangular pan, with a thick, crisp crust. Ingredients are local, such as on the porky Sausage-Fest with house-made sausage, pepperoni, Nueske’s bacon and smoked ham. $$$ 101 King St., 283-0000
Located across the parking lot from the Sequoya Public Library, this family-friendly Food Fight Restaurant Group establishment serves a thin, cornmeal-dusted crust with toppings even a picky eater will find hard to resist. True to Food Fight’s mission, children are treated as guests: Luigi’s offers them an individual cheese pizza along with kiddie cocktails to toast with their adult dining companions. Both local and Italian ingredients blend nicely with toppings such as house-made meatballs, Tuscan roast chicken with herbs and roasted vegetables. An eternal favorite is the Bada Bing—white sauce, bacon, Fontina, grilled asparagus and herb-roasted mushrooms and Wisconsin mozzarella. This, and a glass of house-made sangria, makes for a good night out with the family. Thin, double-dough or gluten-sensitive crust is available. $$$ 515 S. Midvale Blvd., 661-7663
Gather family and friends and head downtown to experience the cuisine and culture of southern Italy with chef/owner Salvatore Di Scala. Born in Ischia, an Italian island 19 miles from Naples, Di Scala was trained in Neapolitan pizza making by a pizza master. He’s been in the U.S. since 1984 and keeps his cozy restaurant true to his family’s way of cooking, bringing out the flavor potential of fresh, elemental ingredients. Out of a tiled wood-fired oven that proudly displays “Napoli” come such crisp and charred specials as Momma Anna’s pizza—named after Di Scala’s mother and topped with San Marzano tomatoes, anchovy filets, black olives, capers and olive oil—and the Malafemmena with mozzarella, ricotta cheese, salted pork and olive oil. $$$ 15 N. Butler St., 250-6330
Novanta Neapolitan Pizza & Mozzarella Bar
Novanta means “90” in Italian, and 90 seconds is exactly how long pizza bakes at 900 degrees in the wood-burning oven imported from Italy. Nicholas Mattioli, chef and owner of this counter-service pizzeria since 2013, is traditional in his pizza-making approach, using only water, yeast, salt and milled flour imported from Italy. San Marzano tomatoes also make his pizzas truly Neapolitan; however, the house-made mozzarella cheese and creamy burrata, made fresh daily, are all thanks to Wisconsin cows. The Lombarda—pear, Gorgonzola and arugula—or the Capricciosa—tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, roasted peppers, olives, mushrooms and basil—are two choices that will help you get to know and love this place. $ 8452 Old Sauk Rd., 831-7740
Husband and wife team Derek and Darcy Lee, who have served up hand-stretched wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza at the original Pizza Brutta on Monroe Street since 2007, recently opened a second location in the Middleton Hills neighborhood. The casual-quick service pizzeria delivers a blackened and blistered crust with wood-smoked hearth flavor. The menu is divided into pizza rosso (crushed tomatoes) and pizza bianco (olive oil). Here is where you may want to try the signature prosciutto pizza, which is also Derek’s favorite, that comes topped with olive oil, rosemary, onion, arugula, parmesan, onion and prosciutto mozzarella. $$ 1805 Monroe St., 257-2120; 6712 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton, 841-1882
Salvatore’s Tomato Pies
Tomato pie is the layering of olive oil, cheese, toppings, then sauce and is what owner and chef Patrick DePula, a New Jersey native, grew up eating. The sauce is his grandmother’s recipe, but every other ingredient, including the flour used to make his crust, is all Wisconsin. The Madison Magazine 2016 Chef of the Year enlists dozens of local producers to help him create specialties such as the Forza (Madison location)—with ’Nduja Artisans pepperoni, Calabrese chili peppers, Farmer John’s smoked Gouda, roasted garlic, ricotta cheese and tomatoes. The popular Fig and Bacon (both locations) begins with Cabernet-poached mission figs, Gorgonzola cheese, and a balsamic red wine reduction, and ends with bacon. $$$ BOM 121 E. Main St., Sun Prairie, 318-1761; 912 E. Johnson St., Madison, 238-6040 (DePula also operates a pizza food truck for events and catering.)
Sugar River Pizza Company
In the picturesque village of New Glarus, near the historic train depot and among quaint shops, sits this little pizzeria with a lovely dining patio alongside the Sugar River State Trail. To the west-siders’ delight, a new location just opened in Verona as well. Choosing among the extensive list of specialty pizzas could be a challenge. Bella River, with spinach, mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, green peppers and onions, is a good vegetarian choice, but then there’s the MacDaddy, which tastes like a Big Mac, consisting of beef, pickles, onions, cheese and crust topped with special sauce and lettuce on the side. $$$ 957 Liberty Dr., Verona, 497-1800; 700 Railroad St., New Glarus, 527-5000
Villa Dolce Italian Restaurant
What is a pizza bar and why aren’t we there right now? In a revived historic house on one of the main streets of charming Middleton, a light and airy space is filled with the aromas of Italian ingredients. Overload your senses on homemade grass-fed ragu, fresh vegetables, basil, 15 different soft cheeses, grilled chicken and shrimp and caramelized onion. Time may seem to stand still in this modern Italian café. Finish all your pizza and you may want to have the house-made gelato for dessert. $$$ 1828 Parmenter St., Middleton, 833-0033
These Madison pizza establishments are expanding homegrown franchises statewide—and even are steaming up shop windows as far as Seattle.
Falbo Bros Pizzeria
Two University of Wisconsin-Madison students started tossing pies in 1992. Now you’ll find this Best of the ’Burbs-winning pizza in Madison on South Park Street and Sherman Avenue and also in Middleton, Sun Prairie and Iowa City.
What began on Atwood Avenue in 1997 by the Glassel and the Nicholson families expanded with a location on University Avenue and spun off six additional independently owned and operated franchises throughout the Green Bay area.
Ian’s Pizza still calls Madison home, as the flagship location is a State Street staple. Today, Ian’s Pizza is not only enjoyed in two locations in Madison, but in Milwaukee, Denver and Seattle.
The Roman Candle
Offering no less than 30 topping choices, the pizza phenomenon that began on Williamson Street in 2005 has since grown into several posts in the Madison area—including Middleton, Fitchburg, inside the Madison Children’s Museum and a new location coming to Monroe Street—as well as throughout Wisconsin, reaching as far as Milwaukee.
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