I'd been hearing good things about Famous Joe's for while, so one Friday evening when we were in Madison, the hubby and I stopped in. The restaurant was small but well organized. The signs indicated that you ordered at the counter for lunch, but for dinner we were seated by a hostess. We arrived at peak dinner hour, so we had a semi-long wait before being seated. Which was totally understandable, but every time someone opened the door, the wind would swirl into the small entry/waiting area leaving me huddled next to the husband.
Our time waiting gave me plenty of opportunity to scope out the decor. Apparently, Joe is "Famous" because he has won one pizza contest after another. Artistic photos of Joe in action hang on the wall and trophies are displayed over the benches for waiting guests.
Once we were seated, our server asked if we had been in before. When we responded no, he said that, as first timers, we would be getting a free garlic cheese bread. We marveled over this and pondered the menu. Loaded down with calzones, pizza, salads, appetizers, pasta, and desserts, there was plenty of variety to choose from. We were intrigued by the novel ingredients. Sure you can get pepperoni and pineapple, but you will also find pancetta, red potatoes, chorizo, and fresh basil. We opted to try a large thick crust "Scotty" (aka the "Sicilian") which featured goat cheese, caramelized onions, mozzarella cheese, prosciutto de parma, fresh basil and a balsamic glaze.
We sipped our soft drinks and chatted. We noted the light fixtures made from recycled wine bottles and the small bar tucked into the back of the restaurant. It was noisy, the usual happy jumble of a kid filled pizza place on Friday night, but we were still able to hear each other well enough to have a conversation.
Our garlic bread came up first.
Each slice of bread had a thin, hard exterior shell with an airy interior infused with a garlic flavor. Topped with a light coating of cheese and a healthy sprinkling of Parmesan, each one was sized just right for dipping. The sauce itself was chunky, seasoned with a blend of Italian seasonings.
Our pizza (shown at the top of this post) arrived on a thin wooden board, which was perched somewhat unsteadily on the pizza stand. We were immediately struck by two things--the enormous size and the divine scent of fresh basil. I was mildly surprised to find that the pizza didn't have any sauce, but a reread of the menu showed that I had failed to notice that when ordering. The excellent balsamic glaze made up for it though. Despite being lightly applied, it was full of flavor and added a bit of oomph to the dish.
The pizza crust was made from the same dough as the garlic bread. It cooked up with a crispy exterior and a soft interior that was almost ciabatta-like. Flavor-wise, it provided a neutral base for the more showy toppings. The goat cheese added a tang and the caramelized onions a slightly crunchy sweetness. The prosciutto's flavor was powerful, and more meaty than I had expected. With it's bright pink color, soft chewy texture, and strong flavor, it struck me as amped up and undercooked bacon. As we continued into the dish, the prosciutto's saltiness became more overwhelming.
The hubby found the prosciutto tastier than I did and I suspect this is a case where I do not have a refined enough palette to appreciate it. The bright color and strong flavor are likely indicative of a high quality prosciutto. However, as someone who is not keen on fleshy textures or strongly meaty flavors, I would have been happier with a nice bacon. It does give me confidence in their ingredients however, and despite this not being to my taste, it made me curious to come back and try their pasta.
The total flavor combination of the pizza just didn't work for me. I found the crust a bit boring and the prosciutto overwhelming. However, there were enough good things (quality ingredients, amazingly fresh basil) that I would come back to try some of their other dishes. The food ran to the pricey side, but the pizzas were very generously portioned, we would have had plenty of leftovers even with a small.
Total for the meal: $31.25 (includes one large pizza, two drinks)
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