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Madison's Novanta serves wood-fired pizzas fast

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
February 12, 2014

MADISON—Good restaurants abound in Madison, but they're not equally distributed throughout the city.

It's easy to find a nice place to eat that's not part of a national chain downtown and on the near-west and near-east sides.

But we were heading to an event on the city's far west side last week, and choosing a restaurant in that area can be a challenge. We also had less than an hour to eat, and we wanted something other than burgers and fries from a fast-food franchise.

When a friend suggested we check out Novanta, a relatively new Neapolitan pizzeria on Old Sauk Road, we jumped on the idea.

Good move. Novanta turned out to be the ideal solution: quick, delicious, healthy and affordable.

The restaurant opened last summer as sort of an extension of Café Porta Alba, the popular pizzeria in Hilldale Mall.

Novanta occupies a narrow space in a strip mall that includes a Cousins Subs and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Unlike the gooey pizzas at many area restaurants, Novanta's Neapolitan-style pizzas are topped with high-quality, fresh mozzarella that's used sparingly, almost as a garnish.

Novanta features house-made mozzarella using milk from Wisconsin dairy cows, and it also buys another mozzarella that's produced in the state. Co-owner and chef Nick Mattioli also imports two varieties of Italian buffalo mozzarella, which lend a smoky quality to Novanta's 12-inch pies.

The pizzeria was ideal for us on a busy Friday night because pizzas are cooked in just 90 seconds at 900 degrees in a wood-burning oven. (Novanta means “90” in Italian.) Each pizza can feed one person, or two people can share a pie if they each order an appetizer.

Novanta uses quality ingredients on its pizzas, as well as in its excellent salads and mozzarella bar.

The bar offers a large slab of one of the restaurant's four types of mozzarella on a bed of arugula, with a choice of toppings. It can be shared as a small appetizer or taken as a salad course.

The tender, luscious mozzarella comes with your choice of additions, including prosciutto di parma, salame or cherry tomatoes. Pesto, a quality olive oil and balsamic blend, and a hunk of sourdough bread complete the dish. Slice a thick wedge of the cheese, add a drizzle of oil and vinegar and maybe a little pesto, and top with your favorite fixings for a light course or meal.

Novanta's pies took us a bit by surprise because they are so different from American pizza. For one thing, the sauce and cheese tend to gather to the middle, resulting in a floppy center that's easiest to eat with a fork. The crust is thin and somewhat saturated in the middle of the pie, but it bubbles up to a thick, airy crust that's blistered around the outside edges from the oven's heat.

Novanta offers red (with crushed tomatoes) or white (without tomatoes) pies and a variety of toppings. The outstanding capricciosa pizza features ham, roasted red and yellow peppers, kalamata olives, mushrooms and basil with mozzarella atop crushed San Marzano tomatoes ($9.25).

Four varieties of white pie (pizze bianche) come with olive oil and sea salt, as well as various toppings. The quattro formaggi combines the house mozzarella with Pecorino Romano, Fontina and Gorgonzola cheese with basil ($8). The Toscano, another white pie, uses the same mozzarella with cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers, roasted onions, garlic and basil ($8).

Diners also can build their own Margherita (red) or Nicola (white) pizza by selecting toppings from a long list—all for less than $10.

Like everything else, Novanta's salads are served in generous portions at reasonable prices. The Gorgonzola salad combines the flavorful cheese with mixed greens, dried cranberries and walnuts, with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing ($7.25).

A garbanzo salad used the mixed greens with chickpeas, kalamata olives, sweet peppers, shaved Parmigiano cheese and olive oil ($8).

The restaurant also offers a couple of good panini sandwiches. The capri combines the house mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and basil ($7). The classic uses the mozzarella with prosciutto, cherry tomatoes and arugula ($8).

On the dessert menu are tiramisu ($5), three flavors of gelato ($3), chocolate truffle gelato ($4.50), pizza stuffed with nutella and cocoa ($7) and lemon sorbetto ($4.50).

To drink, Novanta offers a small selection of wines and beer, as well as coffee, tea, espresso and Italian “bevande,”  such as San Pellegrino aranciata and limonata.

Diners order at a front counter and then find seats or take their food to go. Along with co-owner Mattioli, the wait staff is helpful and friendly.

Novanta turned out to be a pleasant surprise—one that we'll remember the next time we find ourselves on Madison's far-west side.



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