"I must admit, I felt a bit awkward about halfway through my slice of mushroom and pepperoni," wrote legal office assistant Brad Vogel about a lunch a couple of weeks ago at the recently-expanded Ian's Pizza at the top of State Street.
The pizzeria was originally nestled into a tiny sliver of a space in the 100 block of State -- a seemingly cursed location that has been home to a succession of eateries, including La Brioche, Madison Masala, the Madison Bistro, and Peacemeal Vegetarian Restaurant, among others. Ian's took over the space in the spring of 2005 and has served slices and salads to hungry lunchgoers ever since, albeit with a grand total of three small, round tables.
There was great excitement among many downtown workers when word broke last fall that Ian's would be expanding. This was made possible by the closing (after 32 years of business) in July 2006 of the State Street Arcade, the sex shop just one door over from Ian's. Through the fall and winter, the former confines of the Arcade were gutted and renovated, adding a couple thousand square feet of space to the pizza joint.
The revamped State Street location is actually Ian's second outlet, one that is set to become the new home of its pizza delivery operations. Theoriginal Ian's is now a campus institution, on Frances Street at University Avenue, near the Kohl Center. And there's now a third Ian's on the way, slated for opening sometime this year. Don't look for it in Madison, though, as this purveyor of mac-and-cheese and steak-and-fries slices is looking to break into the Chicago pizza market.
The bigger and better version of Ian's-State opened a few weeks ago, and at least a few people have contemplated, mostly in jest, the meaning of eating their pizza at the site of the former Arcade. Another nosher wrote, "I've been thinking that I'll feel a little skeevy eating in such a space, pondering what's happened there as my masticating pulverizes the pizza topping."
No worries, though, as both he and Vogel give good marks to the renovated dining area, noting its bright, freshly-painted yellow walls, the artwork hanging on the walls of the new dining room, and the general metamorphosis of the space.
Having not eaten there myself for quite some time, these comments inspired me to grab lunch at the new Ian's a couple of days ago. Grabbing a slice of the Chicken Pesto and a bottle of soda, I took a seat in the vivid yellow box while Lupe Fiasco was pulsing from the speakers in the pizzeria's kitchen. It was a late lunch, so the room was empty, providing me a good look around the room.
The new dining room is indeed a welcome addition. Seating is plentiful, beckoning weekday lunchgoers and weekend tourists with comfortable seats and tables. It'll likely be a major draw on Farmers' Market Saturdays, Concerts on the Square Wednesdays, and for other downtown events that will be heating up around the same time the weather does. Carl Peronto created the art on the walls, described by Vogel as an "intriguing" set of photo collages. They depict a variety of iconic Madison locations, and are overlaid with whimsical images of animals, giving them a place to play in the city. The art is provided by the State Street Gallery, located just a storefront over from Ian's.(The gallery also provides art at Michelangelo's Coffee House, across the street.)
"Who knows what used to be where I am sitting?" asked Vogel. The question is good, but the pizza is even better.
Note: This item was edited to correct the title of Vogel's job.