Since opening its first restaurant here in 2001, Ian’s Pizza has become something of a pizza institution in the city, in the words of General Manager Adam Nagy.
The popular pizzeria, which became a hit for its by-the-slice option when it first opened on Frances Street, added a second location on State Street a few years later. It now has a third site in the newly renovated Garver Feed Mill at Garver Green behind Olbrich Botanical Gardens on the city’s east side.
Ian’s began serving pizza, salads and ice cream in the historic building, constructed more than 100 years ago, in mid-July. It is the first of 11 independently-owned local businesses scheduled to open in the 60,000-square-foot space at 3241 Garver Green.
A friend and I checked out the new restaurant last week and were surprised at how busy it was. When we arrived around 7 p.m., a line was formed at a counter where customers can place orders and watch the food preparation process.
Fortunately, things at Ian’s move fast. Within a few minutes, we had found seats at the bar. The dining area has a host of tables and counters where people can sit to enjoy the food, but we chose seats at the bar to get a good view of the operation.
Ian’s serves pizza by the slice ($3.50 for cheese and pepperoni, $4.50 for any specialty slice) or by the 12-, 16- or 20-inch pie. It does a brisk pickup and delivery business along with its brick-and-mortar restaurants.
It offers classic pies (such as pepperoni, sausage, mushroom or a combination of those plus other combos), signature pies and a build-your-own option. The kitchen also puts out some terrific salads and desserts, and the bar offers a good selection of craft beers on tap (and some commercial choices, as well).
If you start with a salad, you’re not likely to be disappointed. Get a signature salad ($7-$9) or a side salad ($3.50) to go with a pie, and you’ll discover Ian’s uses lots of local produce and fresh ingredients. For example, the Wisco salad ($9) combines mixed greens with spicy pecans, dried cranberries, apples, bacon and blue cheese for a delectable mix of textures and sweet flavors. It comes topped with a fine maple balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
Ian’s melon salad ($9) also is wonderful. Watermelon and cantaloupe provide sweetness that is complemented by spicy arugula and romaine along with a green chili dressing for an added kick. An excellent Southwest salad ($8) pairs romaine lettuce with a corn and bean medley, crisp tortilla strips, pepper jack cheese and green chili with a ranch dressing.
We sampled a few slices of signature pizza, including a special slice of roasted vegetables with marinara sauce ($4.50) that turned out to be our least favorite. The vegetables were slightly overdone, and the pie generally lacked pizzazz.
But that was definitely not the case with the kitchen’s outstanding pesto pizza ($4.50). With flavors of garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, basil and Parmesan, this pie hit all the right flavor notes and got high marks in the healthy-eats category as well.
Less healthy but still delish was the barbecued chicken-bacon-ranch pizza, which came with mozzarella and was surprisingly sweet with a slightly spicy kick.
Ian’s pies are distinguishable for their crusts, which are not super thin but have just the right amount of crunchy flavor. A single slice with a side salad would be plenty for a good lunch meal. In fact, a slice and a signature salad was all I needed for dinner, along with a Fantasy Factory IPA to wash it down.
Ian’s Pizza is ideal for a quick, casual meal at lunchtime or for dinner. It is affordable and tasty, and the folks who serve it are friendly and helpful.
It’s clear this business is going to anchor the Garver Seed building redevelopment. People on Madison’s east side appear to be thrilled with both of those developments—the renovation of an historic structure and a third Ian’s pizza location in the city.