Salvatore's Tomato Pies opened last month in Sun Prairie, with former Dane County Supervisor Patrick DePula at the helm and partner Drew Griffin, formerly sous chef at Natt Spil and a line cook at the Weary Traveler, running the kitchen.
DePula, a native of Trenton, N.J., looked back to his roots when dreaming up Salvatore's. The tomato pie is Trenton's unique variation on American pizza, built "in reverse," says DePula, with the cheese layered on the crust first, then the toppings, and lastly the tomato sauce. "It's a rustic sort of pizza, says DePula, with "some blister and char" on the crust. Cheese is Grande whole-milk mozzarella, and sauce is made in-house from Stanislaus tomatoes - and a 100-year-old family recipe. (Fresh tomatoes will be used during the window they're available locally, DePula notes.) Sausage is house-made. DePula's wife, Nichole, also of the Concourse Hotel, makes the bread, pizza dough, ice cream and other desserts.
The partners used a brick oven "cobbled together" in DePula's backyard to test out pizza recipes; for the restaurant, they invested in a 40-year-old gas deck oven.
Salvatore's, at 503 W. Main St. in Sun Prairie (608-318-1761), just got its liquor license. Currently it's serving mostly the tomato pies, but not just ordinary ones. "We created a special this week: Cabernet-soaked mission figs, gorgonzola, bacon and balsamic/Cabernet reduction," says DePula. More entrees are in the works, like chicken cacciatore and braised pork featuring RP's Pasta.
Local food goes local
Local foods are making their way out of city bistros and back to eateries in smaller towns where such products come from in the first place. Last spring Steve Fearing and Lisa Buttonow took over the former Wounded Knee bar in Lime Ridge, Wis., population 169, on the northwestern edge of Sauk County. They reopened it in May as the Branding Iron Roadhouse (608-986-2807, brandingironrh.com), featuring burgers made from pasture-raised, all-natural Angus beef, reared on Fearing's land just outside of town.
Fearing, who started with eight Black Angus heifers in 2003, says that "the bar business isn't what it used to be; people don't just sit around and drink anymore. I wanted food to be our number-one item." Most bar owners get their meat from the big distributors, Fearing notes, and he acknowledges that his way is "pretty labor intensive."
The Branding Iron Roadhouse is a pleasant, wood-paneled country tap with a pool table, dart game, a couple of booths and, of course, a Friday fish fry. In addition to Wisco traditions like Sunday Packers Bloody Mary parties and a "biggest buck" contest, you'll find something you won't necessarily find at area taverns - Wisconsin microbrews on tap, including Potosi, New Glarus and Capital.
Cheeseburgers come topped with a choice of Carr Valley Cheese, headquarters of which are a couple miles north of Lime Ridge. (Fearing's dad used to haul milk for Carr Valley Cheese years ago.) Buns are baked for the Roadhouse by Esther's, an Amish bakery nearby. Are you sitting down, city dweller? The price for this quite tasty burger is $3.75; with cheese, $4.50.
Business has been good - Fearing credits the recent Reedsburg Fermentation Fest tour for bringing in visitors from as far away as Chicago. Customers also come more regularly from towns like Reedsburg, which Fearing appreciates: "I'm one of those people who'll drive someplace to eat good food."