A Slice of Country: Pizza Farms in Wisconsin
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Pizza and road trip: bingo!
News of the Wisconsin pizza farms reached me, as it does many, by word of satisfied mouth. Recruiting a companion to make the country drive wasn't difficult. I've been with my husband long enough to know that all I have to do is combine the words pizza and road trip, and bingo!
We start tracing the Mississippi River, then turn inland at Nelson in search of the Stone Barn, one of the handful of pizza-farm options sprinkled along the state's western edge. We wind through beautiful farm country, a lovely emerald jumble of lush crop fields and leafy hardwoods. When the hum of asphalt becomes the crunch of gravel, our arrival into Wisconsin farmland is official. Up ahead, we spot the barn. Its salvaged century-old stone walls hold a bona fide gourmet pizza restaurant, clean and bright, filled with metal tables, local art and a wood-fired oven in one corner.
This barn-bistro is owner Pam Taylor's vision, one that crystallized after she bought this 50-acre farm 20-some years ago. Once her renovation of the property's Victorian home was complete, she set her sights on its musty, crumbling barn. "When people found out I was going to open a pizza restaurant in the middle of nowhere, they thought I was nuts," Pam says.
We witness patrons' appreciation of Pam's brand of pizza as we read the menu and eavesdrop on conversations. Intriguing choices lurk among the requisite toppings. At the slate bar, we order the Muffaletta, a riff off the classic sandwich complete with Canadian bacon, olives and pepperoncini. We balance it with the Margherita--simply cheese, tomatoes and basil.
With our number and drinks in hand, we head out to a table in the courtyard. Jazz plays, and other diners sip wine and talk quietly at their tables. Some head over to the antiques store housed in the old granary or snap photos in front of the cornfield at the courtyard's edge. A massive central planter holds basil, rosemary and other pizza herbs. All other toppings Pam gets as fresh and local as possible.
The server arrives carrying gigantic melamine trays loaded with our pizzas, beautifully simple, cracker-thin works of art. We eat as much as we can, but this outdoor party is just kicking off because this experience leaves me eager for Pizza Farm Adventure: Part II. My friend Heidi is a willing copilot.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from mid-May through early October, customers gather in the Stone Barn for pizzas starting at $18. (715) 673-4478; nelsonstonebarn.com
On to Suncrest Gardens Farm
We take the same riverside route, plunging into that beautiful Wisconsin farm country a little farther along this time, at Alma, to make our way to Suncrest Gardens Farm. Again, the road winds, the gravel crunches, and the graying wood barn marking our destination makes its grand appearance.
Heidi and I belly up to the ordering side of the barn, capped off by the massive igloo-shape wood-fired pizza oven. After examining today's offerings, topped in ingredients mostly grown here, we order and take a number. Pizzas come in to-go boxes, which folks can open anywhere on the farm's manicured lawn. We flop down on a blanket, clearly lowbrow compared to nearby setups involving tables, candles and stemware.
Suncrest is a working farm, which makes waiting part of the experience. Teens snap photos of llamas, while couples feed crusts to chickens. Woodsmoke, bluegrass music and a rooster crow ratchet up the ambience. "Sure beats sitting in a smoky air-conditioned room," a patron says.
Savoring the day
The farmer wielding the pizza paddle is Heather Secrist, who grew up near here. She left the Midwest, only to return by way of these 16 acres. Greener pastures I can't imagine. She began selling vegetables to locals in 2003, adding wood-fired pizza night a few years later to counteract the unpredictability of farming.
A bell clangs, and our number appears above the pick-up window. Within minutes, we dig into pie topped in squash, carrots, onion, basil; another in artichokes, kalamata olives and feta; both heaped with cheese.
As I close the box on the leftovers and pack up, I'm savoring the pizza almost as much as the blend of country drive, relaxing location and tasty local food. It shouldn’t be hard finding a partner for Pizza Farm Adventure: Part III.
Suncrest Gardens Farm is open Thursdays in May, Thursdays and Fridays June through August, and Fridays in September. Pizza from $18. (608) 626-2122; suncrestgardensfarm.com
Click to the next slide for links to pizza recipes from Stone Barn and Suncrest Gardens Farm.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2011.)
The Stone Barn's Alaskan pizza
Lox-style smoked salmon, capers, sweet onion and dill top a cream-cheese base. Bagels and lox inspired Pam Taylor to create this pizza. "Leftovers are good served cold for breakfast," she says.
Suncrest Gardens Farm Garden Delight
The Stone Barn's The Modena
Topping The Stone Barn's Modena pizza: Marinated chicken, sweet onion, mushrooms, snap peas and feta on an oiled crust. "The flavors, accented by feta and balsamic vinegar, blend for a creamy, tangy taste," says The Stone Barn owner Pam Taylor. "The vegetables add a crisp, element."
Suncrest Gardens Farm's Pesto Pizza
Suncrest owner Heather Secrist uses kale in her pesto for this tomatoey creation. "Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays for use throughout the year," she says. "Once frozen, place the cubes in a freezer bag to pull out as you need them."