I had the receipt from my first meal at S2pizzabar taped next to my computer screen for a while.
Salted Caramel Brownie
- like poetry.
S2pizzabar is the new venture from Ian Gurfield, of Ian's fame. Rather than open another outlet devoted to his thin-crust, unexpected-topping-combo pies, he wanted to go the wood-fired-oven route. It's not intended to be pure Neopolitan pizza. "We are inspired by the simplicity of Neopolitan pizza, but our goal is to root s2pizzabar in the culinary traditions of Wisconsin; namely, beer, cheese and sausage," Gurfield writes on the S2pizzabar website.
Gurfield proves himself a standup guy by pointing customers to Cafe Porta Alba, Naples 15 or Pizza Brutta if they want pizzas truer to the Neopolitan style. But this wood-fired pizza can stand up to them - especially the ricotta pie, made with pools of fresh house-made ricotta and topped with fresh spinach, kalamata olives and red chili flakes, rustic with a bright sauce of garlic sautéed tomatoes.
Unlike the original Ian's, where crusts are crisp, s2 emphasizes a soft crust with a generous, puffy lip. The crust is good; the subtler flavors of sourdough and a hint of sweetness come through more as the pie cools down. There's a decent chew to the crust, though I also had a pie here that could have been classified as crispy.
The crust is meant to be the canvas for simple, fresh toppings on a focused selection of 12-inch pies. I found that the simpler pies here work less well than the more piled-on varieties. The cheese pie topped with the Italian dry salami sopressata (sourced from Olympic Provisions of Portland, Ore.), could have used more of the sopressata, with its milder flavor than the average mass-produced round of pepperoni. The tomato sauce seemed to retreat completely into the cheese blend. Maybe this cheese is meant to be the hat tip to the Dairy State mentioned on the website, but it reminded me more of a New York-style fold-over slice.
I had the same sticking point with a current special, the bacon date pizza, with the bacon and the date not quite standing up to the cheese and tomato sauce. I couldn't help wishing for the bacon date combo to be paired with the milder ricotta.
A pie I would order at every visit if I could was a special that's since rotated off the menu: potato with Nueske's bacon, topped with a chivey sour cream dressing that really works. There's enough bacon for flavor, but not to overpower; the potato also comes through. It's not that the pizza tastes like a loaded baked potato, exactly. It's more like what baked potatoes would taste like if they were pizzas.
The autumn salad has also rotated off the menu, due to lack of availability of the seasonal ingredients, but it's indicative of the high quality of the salads here: good greens, excellent vinaigrette that doesn't come on too strong, seasonal elements (apples, carnival squash) and a little something unexpected (pepitas!).
A salad is a great counterpoint to the richer pizzas. Right now, order the winter slaw, a brilliant tangle of carrots, red cabbage, celery, sliced apples, parsley and, again, the excellent touch of toasted pepitas, pulled together by a vivid apple cider vinaigrette.
The beer menu covers the bases, from straightforward (PBR, Miller High Life, Point) to more particular (Warped Speed, Hopalicious). Four wines join house-made soda - orange Creamscicle, ginger and jalapeño lime. Whatever you think about the concept of jalapeño lime soda, rest assured with this one that you can really, really taste the jalapeño.
For dessert, there's spiced pecans or a salted caramel brownie from Batch Bakehouse. The brownie, delectable on its own, is a heavy finish considering the rest of the menu. Something lighter would be a good fit - gelato? Italian cookies? But those would also seem to call for espresso, or at least coffee. Which would be welcome, too, because S2 would be a fine place to linger with friends. It's a happy and attractive spot with long, light wood tables, tree-trunk stools (more conventional seating is found in the rear dining area) and friendly staff.
Small points. I'm happy to have this pizza on State Street.