The original Ian's Pizza on Frances Street started as a slice-only joint featuring funky taste combos catering to the campus crowd. The State Street branch of Ian's knows its clientele, too, judging from a few variations on its menu. Foremost among these is the inclusion of salad in the menu, and no afterthought perfunctory side salad, either. As the equal billing in the name Ian's Pizza and Salad suggests, salad really does achieve a solid footing here.
Salads come in two sizes -- the mini three ($3.50) and the giant five ($5.50). The mini three is a good-sized bowl of mixed greens and your choice of three of the many available toppings. The giant is an even more generous bowl of greens with your choice of five of the arrayed toppings. Add-ons include tomatoes, red pepper, cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, hard boiled eggs, kalamata olives, chickpeas, bacon, sunflower seeds, Craisins, bacon, walnuts and more. Chicken and cheese can be added for an additional charge (fifty cents-$1.50).
The selection of dressings is equally thoughtful, and the payoff is that there are actually people going to Ian's and, incredible as this may seem, not even ordering any pizza.
The mixed greens are fresh and varied. I'd like to mention a few things about the dressings, but I can only vouch for the outstanding maple vinaigrette, a wonderfully mellow balsamic with a hint of maple that offsets wonderfully a salad made with any of the sweeter toppings like Craisins and walnuts. I can't tear myself away from ordering it. I've even started making something like it at home.
Another nice touch: The salad maker asks if you want your dressing light, medium, or heavy. As someone who prefers a light hand with salad dressing, I will say that light is very light, almost like an aura rather than an application. Medium is probably a good choice for most salad eaters.
You may find it odd that the beverage menu includes, prominently, milk, until you remember that the Madison Children's Museum is right across the street. The milk's from Organic Valley, and is available in regular, chocolate and strawberry. And since it's from Organic Valley, there's no high fructose corn syrup in the chocolate and strawberry.
If the idea of milk with your salad and pizza turns you off -- then you must not be from Wisconsin! But seriously, folks, if milk's not the ticket, there's Red Bull and Izze on the menu, as well as other mainstream sodas.
Of course, there's the pizza itself, available in large slices in an array of topping combos ($3 each; plain cheese or pepperoni, $2). There are no signs anywhere indicating which slices have what ingredients. Sometimes it's obvious, as with the mac 'n cheese pizza, or a simple pesto and tomato, but sometimes it's a little confusing (are those onions? Is that tomato or red pepper?) and it slows the ordering process down if you're a curious customer and have to ask.
Generally I find the act of standing there and asking "and what's this? And what's this?" conducive to making an ill-considered slice choice because I feel like I should hurry up. I do like Ian's slices, especially the buffalo chicken and the chicken cordon bleu. The crust is still pretty good, crisp without being of the ultrathin variety, thick enough to hold up to the onslaught of toppings on some of the slices.
Best of all, with the buses detoured off the Square for the rest of the summer, the 100 block of State Street is also bus free. This transforming the sidewalk tables at Ian's into a much more restful place to enjoy a slice, and, of course, a cool summer salad.