Madisonians who bemoaned the passing of the cozy and stylish Café Porta Alba when it ended its run at Hilldale Mall late last year thankfully didn’t have long to wait to have the Neapolitan-pizza shaped void in their lives filled.
While the old Hilldale space awaits the opening of Madison’s first Shake Shack later this month, a second location of Novanta Neapolitan Pizzeria has taken up the wood-fired pizza mantle a mile or so up the road on University Avenue.
Tucked into the edge of a new, mixed-use building that is part of the Quarry Shoppes and Apartments complex, this version of Novanta—like its sister restaurant on Old Sauk Road—is designed as a model of slick and delicious efficiency.
Orders are taken at a counter, and a pair of colorful, white-and-red painted brick ovens kick out the wood-fired pies quickly: A recent phoned-in carryout order took slightly more than 10 minutes to appear. Given the pies take a mere 90 seconds to cook in the high-temp ovens—hence the restaurant’s name, which means “ninety” in Italian—you’ll never find yourself waiting long.
Novanta’s calling card is its homemade mozzarella cheese, which is whipped up fresh on site each day. Generous dollops of the soft cheese dot all but one of the 14 pizzas on offer here.
The list of sauced (8) and unsauced (6) pies is more than enough to satisfy (and even expand) your Neapolitan playbook. Each one is about 10 inches and features a thick, hearty crust and a veritable carpeting of toppings.
On the tomato-sauced side of things, the Diavola ($11) is carried by oversized, paper-thin slices of pepperoni and sweet onions that fit together on the crust like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The Salsiccia ($11) was also hearty and flavorful with a mix of sweet Italian sausage, garlic and basil leaves.
Vegetarians can opt for a solid if unremarkable Margherita ($9) or dive into any of the unsauced pizzas. Best bets include the Alice ($9), which features a zingy balsamic glaze, and the Lombarda ($10), which finds pear slices and Gorgonzola cheese lounging on a comfy bed of arugula.
Pizza is the main attraction at Novanta, obviously, but there are a few other worthwhile things to explore.
For instance, an order of Caprese ($11) came with a massive, ice-cream size scoop of fresh mozzarella and a seriously solid basil pesto spread—but only three small pieces of bread on which to spread it. That’s what you call an imbalanced entrée. You had better make sure you’ve got some additional baguettes hanging around the house—either that or spend a couple extra bucks to order additional slices on site.
A trio of salad options can add some more greenery to your Novanta experience, and they can be ordered as full or side options. The one to go for is the Gorgonzola ($9). The combo of pungent cheese and cranberries mixes beautifully with the oil-and-balsamic vinegar dressings. You won’t find it on the website menu, but a daily Pasta Bolognese ($14) special is both an everyday option and Novanta’s only nonpizza entrée.
Most of us order pizza because we’re looking for a quick-hit comfort food that is packed with flavor. Novanta makes it very easy—and very tasty—to scratch that itch.