Like any other college town in America, Madison, WI, has plenty of pizza places, ranging from the simple yet sublime (Roman Candle) to debatable whether it’s really pizza (Rocky Rococo). But when it comes to cheesey breadsticks, there is only one choice: Pokey Stix from Gumby’s Pizza.
Delicious while sober, Pokey Stix perform God’s work when you’re drunk — the soft pizza dough soaks up the excess alcohol while the garlic butter and cheese provide that jolt of grease necessary for proper absorption. The blend of mozzarella and Parmesan makes the dough a salty masterpiece, but the threat of an all-sodium bite is alleviated by the accompanying dipping sauces, which cut through salt with their soothing blandness. Newbies usually go with marinara, but Pokey aficionados know that ranch is the real way to go. When warm, stringy cheese meets the cooling spice of the ranch sauce, you have achieved true Pokey bliss.
Side note: Around the turn of the millennium, Gumby’s switched from a brandless ranch sauce to Ken’s ranch salad dressing, which didn’t have the same zip. Now, 11 years later, it was heartening to see the old ranch back in the saddle. I’m guessing it’s due to my friend Laura’s hostile rants against the poor college kid on the phone whenever we ordered Pokeys. (“Which ranch do you have tonight? Is it that Ken’s stuff? WTF? No, I don’t want that Ken’s crap. Why can’t you bring back the good stuff? I’m going to keep asking for it until you do it.”)
The Pokey Stix experience can’t be summed up in a few descriptors about dough and cheese, though. Yes, that’s what the individual components taste like, but the Pokeys gestalt is so much more. To me, Pokeys are:
- Stumbling into your friend’s dorm room at 2am in a booze-soaked euphoria (or melancholy, depending on the night)
- Thursday nights watching Friends and then scrambling to finish your homework in the 90 minutes before ER started
- Ravenously celebrating Badger victories because you were too cheap to buy anything to eat during the game at Camp Randall
- Cramming 15 people into one room to marvel at a new show called South Park
- Frantically writing student newspaper headlines while your friends make “free” long-distance calls back to their parents on the office phones
- Tearfully packing up your apartment and heading out town, nervously anticipating post-graduation life and hoping Gumby’s has a location wherever you end up finding a job