Madison, Wisconsin: A Disappointing Dud at The Roman Candle

Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time in Madison, Wisconsin. —The Mgmt.

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The Roman Candle

1054 Williamson Street, Madison, WI 53703 (map); (608) 258-2000‎;
Pizza Style: Thin
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Creative toppings aren't enough to overcome mediocre everything else
Price: Slices start at $2.75; 12" pies start at $8.99; 12" Specialty Pizzas start at $11.99

In preparation for a trip to Pittsburgh in early May, I turned to the Serious Eats community for pizza advice and ended up discovering Vincent's Pizza Park (reviewed here), a spectacular pizzeria that I never would have found on my own.

For my recent trip to Madison, I decided to try the same tactic and a bunch of helpful Serious Eaters chimed in with advice. A couple popular recommendations, Ian's (Chicago location reviewed here) and Pizza Bruta (reviewed by a Slice reader here), have already gotten coverage on Slice, so I narrowed my choice to Glass Nickel or The Roman Candle.

Both places offer thin crust pies that intrigued me with their massive range of toppings. I'm not a knee-jerk anti-chain eater, but I have to admit, I ultimately went with The Roman Candle because there were so many more Glass Nickel locations.

The flip side of that decision is that in assuming that Glass Nickel suffers from too much delegation in management, what I ultimately did was hold the company's success against it. I don't know if Glass Nickel is better than The Roman Candle, but based on my visit to the latter, I have a hard time imagining that it's worse.

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The menu at The Roman Candle is more than a little intriguing. The best-selling pie is the Pestoral: pesto, feta, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, kalamata olives and roma tomatoes. Meat eaters might be drawn, as I was, to the name of the Animal Lovers pizza, but will shy away when they discover that, in fact, it comes topped with a garden of vegetables and no meat whatsoever. Carnivores are teased elsewhere on the menu where the meatiest pizza, which comes with bacon, ham, pepperoni, prosciutto and sausage, is named the Dead Man Walking. I settled on The Roman Candle, the restaurant's eponymous pie.

The Roman Candle comes with banana peppers, sausage, and fireworks sauce, one of seven sauces available. In deference to my vegetarian dining companion, only half the pizza was Roman Candle; the other half was Veggie Candle, which includes artichoke instead of sausage. I try to be as positive as I can in these reviews, but after a couple of bites, I have to confess—I was shocked the place had been highly recommended by anyone.

Maybe I caught The Roman Candle on a bad night, but the nicest thing I can say about the pizza is that the mozzarella was good. And when the cheese is the best part of the pizza, there's a problem.

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The fireworks sauce was neither particularly explosive nor particularly saucy. I don't know if the sauce was overcooked or they started with insufficiently juicy tomatoes, but it was more like a paste than a sauce. The sausage was fine; nice and porky, but not particularly flavorful and the large chunks left more than a couple of bites without meat. The banana peppers and artichoke were typical jarred versions of each vegetable.

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The crust appeared promising, but was unpleasantly chewy. The cornicione is noticeably thicker than the bottom crust, so I assume the dough wasn't rolled through a machine. Maybe it's from the screen it was cooked on, but something was done to the crust that made it less than enjoyable.

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For the first time in my life, the best thing I got at a pizzeria was a salad. This spinach salad came with candied walnuts, blue cheese, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries, and was topped with a raspberry vinaigrette. In short, it was all one can expect from a midsummer salad from a restaurant that features local ingredients.

Rumor has it the ice cream at The Roman Candle is also quite good, but thanks to a planned stop later that night at the University of Wisconsin's Memorial Union for the school's deservedly famous Babcock ice cream, I can't vouch for the accuracy of the rumor.


Ian's Pizza: Built for Drunk College Students, But Good Enough for the Rest of Us
Madison, Wisconsin: Pizza Brutta [field report]
The Vinnie Pie Lives on at Vincent's Pizza Park in Pittsburgh