By ROBIN GARR
Ahh, pizza! Iâ€™ve long argued that this all-American Italian treat is one of natureâ€™s most nearly perfect foods.Â Salty, crisp, gooey, dripping with delicious cheese and loaded with all manner of goodies, itâ€™s a decadent snack.
And yet, if you bring just a bit of moderation to the party, taking a ration of healthy veggie toppings to ameliorate the meat loversâ€™ delights – and maybe skipping the extra cheese – you can turn a sizzling pie into a meal thatâ€™s arguably â€¦ well â€¦ if not actually good for you, at least not so bad. And thatâ€™s something, right?
Pizza is popular. I can name more than 50 local, independent pizzerias in town, without even counting restaurants that include pizza on the menu without specializing, like Cafe Classico, Cafe Lou Lou and Garage Bar, for example, not to mention (yeah, letâ€™s not) the bland facsimiles of pizza vended by the corporate chains.
It doesnâ€™t take a genius to perceive the connection between intense clusters of pizzerias around the cityâ€™s most prominent nightlife zones, Baxter-Bardstown and St. Matthews. Pizza is, after all, an even better antidote to a night on the town than the traditional White Castle burger.
When youâ€™re in a hurry,Â you wonâ€™t find a faster pizza â€“ at least not a faster good pizza â€“ than youâ€™ll get at Uncle Maddioâ€™s Pizza Joint, conveniently located on the Bardstown strip at Grinstead Drive, in the retail mini-strip that replaced the old green John Riley Auto Service building.
I wonâ€™t say Maddioâ€™s builds the best pizza in town, but itâ€™s far from the worst. Locavores will praise its commitment to natural beef and free-range chicken, and the vegetarians and vegans among the stripâ€™s hipster crowd will award it extra points for including such niceties as tofu and vegan â€œcheezâ€ among the offerings.
But where Maddioâ€™s really stands out in the fresh-service concept. This 30-unit Atlanta-based chain brings to bear the same service model that youâ€™ll find in fresh burrito shops like Qdoba, Moeâ€™s, Salsaritas and Nuluâ€™s popular indie, Taco Punk. Enter, walk through the line, and the friendly folks behind the counter will assemble a pizza to your order from bins of fresh prepped ingredients, then give it a run through a conveyor oven that brings it to sizzling heat within moments after you sit down.
Prices have gone up a buck or so since it opened last year, but itâ€™s still quite fair at $7.99 for an individual pie, $13.49 for medium or $18.49 for extra large. Three dough choices, six sauce options, eight cheeses and more than three dozen toppings give you plenty to work with to come up with the pie thatâ€™s just for you. Thereâ€™s also a good choice of salads and paninis if youâ€™re not in a pizza mood.
An individual traditional-crust pizza topped with herb pesto sauce, grilled Angus steak, goat cheese and baby spinach was very good, although the sauce was a little pungent with dried herbs, and the bits of steak, already cooked before their ride through the oven, came out crispy and well-done (but still flavorful).
Just to push the envelope, we also tried a full-bore vegan pie with crispy fried eggplant and tofu dice and Daiya vegan cheese, with garlic olive oil on a whole-wheat crust. It was surprisingly good, and if the tapioca-based â€œcheezâ€ wasnâ€™t quite mozzarella, it came remarkably close, with a virtuous calorie count.
With an excellent caesar side salad ($2.99) and a small cola and iced tea, we got out for a very comfortable $22.31.
Uncle Maddioâ€™s Pizza Joint, 2011 Grinstead Drive, 502.690.8871, www.unclemaddios.com.