Restaurant review: Madison's Lucille takes pride in its pizza
MADISON—Lucille might be in danger of being loved to death—and deservedly so.
The pizzeria opened on King Street across from the State Capitol last May, specializing in deep-dish steel-pan pizzas, wood-fired Neapolitan pies, craft beers and innovative cocktails.
Along with its fantastic pizza, Lucille offers some deliciously interesting salads and sharing plates that you ought to check out as well.
But unless you're in the mood for some competition while you dine, you'll probably want to visit Lucille on a weeknight or during daytime hours. From Thursday after work through Saturday night, the restaurant is likely to be wall-to-wall customers, which means at least a short wait.
But the real problem with the 150-seat restaurant being filled to capacity is the noise level, which makes conversation almost impossible.
Lucille is housed in a two-story space with an open floor plan at street level and a wrap-around mezzanine and seating on the second floor. From the second level, diners get a view of the bar and customers below or the Capitol across the street. (The stately white dome rising above the square is an impressive sight.)
The building, which used to house a bank and, later, Madison's alternative weekly newspaper, Isthmus, wasn't made to hold this many people, each competing to be heard over the in-house music and general din.
That said, Lucille really is a scene unto itself, and tapping into its youthful energy can be kind of exhilarating when you're in the mood.
Of course, a restaurant in a stylish, urbane setting alone won't pay the bills unless there's something good happening in the kitchen as well. Chef Evan Dannells clearly is in control of his domain.
Our party of five visited the restaurant on a recent Friday night, knowing there would be a wait to be seated.
We checked some of the bar's fine craft beers (about 25 varieties are on tap) and sampled items from the menu's snacks list while we waited for a table. Fried Cedar Grove cheese curds ($8), served with paprika-lime mayo, featured a crispy breading and were about as tasty as any I've come across.
After a short wait, we were seated on the second floor. From that vantage point, we could appreciate the restaurant's industrial design scheme, which blended nicely with its frenetic, hyper-urban vibe.
The kitchen's salad choices are some of the best in town. The Italian pantry salad ($11) offers outstanding flavor and is definitely made to be shared (order a half salad if you plan to have it alone). It combines winter greens, baby mozzarella and piquillo pepper with artichoke hearts, Sicilian olives, fresh basil and red wine vinaigrette for a salad of unparalleled flavor, a friend and I agreed. It maintained that flavor the next day.
A roasted apple and bitter greens ($13) salad also was a pleasure: bitter greens, beauty heart radish, roasted apple, candied walnuts, blue cheese and apple cider vinaigrette provided savory flavors and lots of texture.
Lucille's salads are definitely worth going out of your way for, but its pizzas border on the sublime. As mentioned, diners have a choice of going with the more traditional thin-crust pie, which is wood-fired and comes in 11-inch rounds, or the 12-inch by 8-inch steel-pan version that is a hybrid of Sicilian and Detroit-style deep dish. (Think Rocky Rococo meets Little Caesars, only much better.) Each pie makes six slices.
The deep-dish is thick and rectangular and served in a black steel pan. This creates a crunchy, golden-brown exterior that is further caramelized around the edges with Shullsburg cheddar.
The thick, almost spongy dough is fermented with New Glarus Spotted Cow beer, and the pizza is covered with fresh tomato sauce and shredded brick mozzarella for creaminess. The kitchen makes a point of using locally sourced ingredients.
The tiki pizza ($20) uses sweet tomato sauce and smoked mozzarella as the basis for a filling, nutritious pie that is topped mild jalapeno, ham, rum-soaked pineapple and red onion, with edible confetti flowers layered on top to further the Hawaiian effect.
Chief among the wood-fired pies is the black garlic and mushroom ($22). This house-made pie is made from finely-ground wheat flour, which goes through a 36-hour, slow-rising fermentation period. Each is hand-formed, hand-tossed and topped with simple, pure ingredients, then cooked in a dome wood-fired pizza oven to achieve a blistery, delicate crust. Quality ingredients such as pancetta, leeks, kale, roasted cremini, maitake and trumpet mushrooms are enhanced with Taleggio cheese and black garlic mascarpone.
Although not quite as filling as deep-dish, the wood-fired pies are equally impressive and flavorful.
Service at Lucille is very good. The hardest part is communicating with servers over the noise—and that's not counting when the establishment brings in DJs a few nights a week for live entertainment.
The restaurant does take some reservations, but it limits those to before 6 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.
Lucille is likely to be around a very long time at its prime location on Capitol Square, and if you're a fan of good beer and great pizza and salad, this is a must-do dining experience.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.