Gumby’s Pokey Stix

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

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.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

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


  1. Kirsten

    My mouth is watering just remembering the amazing Pokey Stix w/ ranch. I didn’t go to school in Madison, but my college had a Gumby’s as well. It is the one thing I must have any time I return to my alma mater.

    If only the University of Minnesota had one… I could enjoy that bliss more often.

  2. Jodi

    Mmmmm… love those Pokey Sticks! We must have been at UW at the same time, as those TV show references are spot-on.

    Go Badgers!

  3. Katie C

    When will the Gumby’s folks ever open up franchises in major cities? Right now in Chicago I have to pay $20 for substandard post-bar pizza or worse yet, order from Dominos, while all I really wanted in the first place was Pokey Stix!

    Lets start a national movement!

  4. Aaron Landry

    Mmmmm. I used to visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison frequently in the late 90’s and Gumby’s Pokey Stix were my favorite food. I never used any marinara nor ranch. I ate them straight up. I want some right now.

  5. David Foureyes

    Our favorite part of ordering from Gumby’s in the 90’s was the ubiquitous order of Pokey Sticks and the list, and if you were on the list, they would pickup beer for you with your delivery. So many weekend nights of wandering back from the bar’s early and calling Gumby’s or the ultimate nightcap…

  6. April U

    YES! Pokey Stix are one of my happy college food memories. (along with Frank’s Place taco bar, Liz Waters waffles, this place called Noodles that didn’t exist anywhere else yet….)
    Badger class of ’02

  7. Martha

    We had Gumby’s in East Lansing, MI at Michigan State as well. I hated their pizza but I still haven’t found a cheesy breadstick as good as Pokey Stix here in MPLS.

  8. Jon T

    Going to school in Eau Claire, the closest analogy for us was Toppers breadsticks. They are fantastic and in my opinion very similar to Pokey Stix. There is a Toppers in uptown.

  9. Mark

    Those look identical to Toppers. Toppers also offers ranch, nacho cheese, marinara, etc. I’ve eaten at he Toppers in Stevens Point, WI, Eau Claire, WI, and Uptown.

  10. Kit

    True bliss. Thanks for the reminder of a wonderful, wonderful college memory. Also remembering Memorial clearing right before 7p on Thursday nights.

    Remember Gumby’s would have coupons in that coupon circular — Mystical Fortunes, I think it was. Does that still exist?

  11. Kate

    Were we crammed into the same room of people watching South Park? (Taped on VHS in another city because the local cable company at the time didn’t carry Comedy Central?)

    I have so many fond memories of Pokey Stix, but my favorite doughy late-night food in Madison was the Beer Nuggets from Pavlov’s Pizza. Deep-fried, beer-flavored pieces of pizza dough served with marinara. The outside crisy-crunchy, the inside almost challah-textured. So, so delicous, and I’ve never seen or heard of them anywhere else.

  12. Jill

    Kate – ha, maybe! Did you live in Chadbourne from 1997 to 1999? Yes, my first exposure to South Park was on VHS. I think someone later organized a student movement to petition the Madison cable company to carry Comedy Central. Or ALF. Or both.

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