Occupation: Owners ' 'And we cook, as well!'
Where: Cafe Porta Alba, 15 N. Butler St.
Why you should go: This little gem has a European feel and handmade, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas ' the dialectical opposite of American chain-made pies. Plus, the desserts are divine.
What's the Porta Alba story?
Pugliese: I grew up on true pizza Napolitana. I lived in New York for years, promoting cultural events for the Italian consulate. My wife and I moved to Madison 10 months ago because she works for Lands' End.
I always wanted to have a restaurant like this, and Madison seemed perfect for it. We just opened six weeks ago. The name comes from the first pizzeria in Naples, which opened on Porta Alba square in the 1830s. Before that pizza was street food ' the ovens were on carts.
Bryant: My wife and I also came here from New York recently because of her position at Lands' End. Vicente and I met at a Lands' End party, and now we're almost brothers! I'm a stonemason by trade. I had a construction company in New York, and in London before that. I agreed to build Vicente's pizza oven. He explained the menu to me ' he was very excited, and I loved the idea. We decided to go in together.
Your best pizza?
Pugliese: They're all classics. We're in the process of being certified by the Maestro Pizzaiolo of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, a nonprofit agency that makes sure the restaurants it approves make their pizza according to standards set by the Italian government. There's only a handful of VPN-certified pizzerias in the U.S. ' even New York just has two.
The Margherita's the queen of pizza Napolitana. It's also the queen's pizza. You know the story? In 1889 King Umberto and Queen Margherita visited Naples. The queen was determined to try pizza ' she'd heard so much about it. Her aides were against it because pizza was peasant food, but they ended up going to the best pizzaiolo in the city. He added basil to the basic tomato and mozzarella recipe ' green to go with the red and white of the Italian flag ' in honor of the occasion.
I love the Margherita ' it's so simple. Less is more when the ingredients are good. One customer said he hadn't had pizza like ours since he was stationed in Naples during World War II. That says it all.
Bryant: We use the same flour mix the queen tasted ' still from the same mill in Naples. We import an exceptional sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic soils below Mount Vesuvius. The fresh mozzarella is from Wisconsin. It's excellent, and much better than importing it frozen from Italy.
Pugliese: We hope the lunch crowd picks up a little, but dinner's amazing. The second night we were open we had a full house and a party of 16 more waiting to get in. We had orders for 75 pizzas. We could barely handle it ' we were still trying to figure out where the sugar and forks were. We decided to sing instead of cry. Somehow, everything worked out.
Bryant: It's a small place ' we get to chat with everybody. Everyone has a good time. We've made some good friends here. It's about people as much as food.