Over the past several years, we’ve seen a happy explosion in the population of serious pizzerias in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area — everything from the growing Black Sheep Pizza coal-fired mini-empire to Red Wagon Pizza to the Tru Pizza truck to the one-two combo of Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza.
As it turns out, our neighbors to the southeast have also been faring well. If you’re hungry for a slice in Madison, Roman Candle or Naples 15 or Grampa’s Pizzeria all offer serious quality in the town hitherto probably best known for birthing the gloriously trashy chain known as Rocky Rococo’s.
Pizza lovers hanging out on Madison’s booming East Side are advised to add Salvatore’s Tomato Pies to the hit list. Salvatore’s is the second location of a chain that got its start in the Madison exurb of Sun Prairie. The restaurant’s slogan, “The Best Pizza in Madison is in Sun Prairie,” was supported by the steady stream of pilgrims making their way 25 minutes to northeast to taste pies including the Carbonara, the Jalapeño Assesino, and the Forza.
We rarely quote restaurant websites for the simple reason that they’re typically fluffy confections of meaningless marketing. But the Salvatore’s website contains information that merits quotation:
“We add no sugar to the tomatoes, and use locally produced fresh herbs to craft our sauce. The crimini mushrooms we use are grown here in Wisconsin, as is the Zucchini and other vegetables. And then there is cheese, Wisconsin produced cheese. We add no sugar to our dough either. We ferment the dough in order for it to develop a natural sweetness. Our sausage and pesto is made in house. All this of course means that our food and labor costs are a bit more expensive, but you can’t beat the result.”
The restaurant’s pizza backs up the words. We tried a few of the pies (including the Forestiere and the simple basil-finished Tomato Pie) and liked them all. The crust had a chewy, crispy substance to it, the sauce was balanced and bright, and the ingredients tasted uniformly fresh. Best of all was Salvatore’s Fig and Bacon pizza ($15 for a 12″ pie; $22 for a 16″ large).
Big bold slices of Cabernet-poached mission figs dominate the pizza, and are set off by a balsamic-red-wine reduction, Gorgonzola cheese, and crunchy-chewy little cubes of ravishingly tasty bacon. We could eat this stuff all day — it’s a charming mixture of quality cheese and the gentle sweetness of figs, set off by the acid of wine and quiet funk of Gorgonzola, harmonious and greater than the sum of its parts.
Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, 912 E Johnson St, Madison, WI; 608.238.6040