Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cafe Porta Alba -- Madison, WI

I am so excited to welcome my first guest blogger to the site! Her name is Leslie, and she and her boyfriend Keith are practically the authority on Southwest Wisconsin's best-kept secrets. I worked with Leslie for a year in Madison, during which time she introduced me to Cafe Porta Alba. To this day, it remains my favorite pizza place on earth! Please follow Leslie and Keith's blog, Driftless Appetite (you might have already noticed I have their RSS feed on the side of my blog!), and get ready to hear about some great food!

Recently I was asked by my friend Rachel in Cleveland to do a write up of my favorite pizza place for her blog  CLEZZA.  We've already written twice about Cafe Porta Alba on Driftless Appetite in 2009 and 2010 so I think it's about time to do another one. 

Neapolitan pizza is the oldest style of pizza, and the trendiest.  Over the last few years many great (some authentic, some not so much) Neapolitan pizzerias have popped up all over the place.  Vincenzo Pugliese, the owner, did not open Cafe Porta Alba because it was trendy, though.  He did it because he is passionate about pizza-- opening his own pizzeria has been a goal he has been working towards for most of his life.  And he (and his excellent staff) still work hard everyday to maintain their excellent level of quality.  I can honestly say I've never had a bad meal here (and we've eaten here at least 75-100 times.  Seriously.)

I can't provide an objective review of this place, that's like asking me to review my little dog Oliver (he's perfect!) or my grandmother's cooking.  But I'll try to give you an idea of why I love it so much.  The key to good Neapolitan pizza (which you probably know if you're reading a pizza blog) is in the crust.  It should be chewy on the inside, charred and crusty on the outside, and thin and slightly soft in the middle.  Once you got the crust right, you must be careful not to ruin it with excess- not too much sauce, not too much cheese, subtle toppings.  Cafe Porta Alba does this traditional style of pizza authentically and superbly.  They also have a wonderful selection of salads, antipasto and pasta in case any of your friends don't eat pizza (but you might want to reconsider your friendship if that's the case...).  The atmosphere is comfortable.  Black and white Italian movies are played on the flat screen TV as well as a rotation of pictures taken from around Naples.  There are many regulars, faces we've seen and gotten to know over the years.  It is a true testament to how good this place is.  To us it feels like going home to visit family (well maybe minus the annoying uncle). 

Pizza Pizza Pizza

Just for the record, we did not eat all of these in one sitting :)  Some were featured as specials and are not on the set menu list so I'll try to remember the names and/or describe them as best as I can.

1.  Karla's pizza (special) - fresh mozarella, spinach, parmacott0
2.  (special) - asparagus, mushrooms, fontina
3.  Margherita con Salame - fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, salame (Keith's favorite.)
4.  Napoletana - fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, anchovies (My favorite.)
5.  Marco Polo (special) - fresh baby mozzarella, basil, tomato, oregano, garlic
6.  Allegra - mascarpone, truffle oil, and mushrooms
7.  (special) - tomato, fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, parmacotto, basil, garlic
8.  Maialina - fresh mozzarella, tomato, salame, salsiccia, parmacotto
9.  Regina - Buffalo mozzarella from Italy, tomato, extra virgin olive oil, basil

If you happen to have some room for dessert, my favorite item right now is gelato affogato, gelato drowned in hot espresso.  I can't say anymore except that if you find yourself in Madison, Wisconsin Cafe Porta Alba will not disappoint.

The Oven From Italy


  1. Ooh, can I guest blog about pizza in Boston? I have 3 places I can talk about: all mediocre, but if you are looking for the incredible, wait and see and I'd be happy to reconnect with you when i find a good place :) I am also happy to talk about the pizza skins from Pizzeria Uno (like tater skins but with mashed potato underneath and a cheese/bacon toping). - Tanya L.

  2. Sure!!!! I'd love that! When you write up your review(s), just email me (if you have it) or send me a FB message. Also send along any pics you have with your writeup!