Overall Experience - 6
Summary : Although the pizza isn't great at Strada, it's better than the fast food chains on many college campuses. Plus, you can enjoy your pie at "The Terrace" along Lake Mendota.
Wisconsin was the final stop on a recent road trip I took to the South and Midwest. In a state which is synonymous with cheese, I was hoping to end the trip on a high note in terms of my pizza consumption. Although I had some decent pizza during the first part of my route (at Five Points Pizza in Nashville, Garage Bar in Louisville and Art of Pizza in Chicago) nothing was exceptional. Unfortunately, the pizza I had in Madison, didn’t warrant strong accolades.
Here’s the thing though — Madison, which is home to the University of Wisconsin — is essentially a college town (albeit a large one). And one of the most popular hang out spots in town is “The Terrace,” an outdoor area on the UW campus overlooking Lake Mendota. Adjacent to the outdoor area is The Memorial Union, a multi-purpose building with a variety of of food options including Strada (800 Langdon Street). The Memorial Union website describes Strada as an “Italian street food eatery, featuring hearth-fired pizzas, pasta dishes and piadinas—Italian flatbread sandwiches filled with cheese, meat and vegetables.” Sounds promising, right?
I provided a bit of context here, because a student center at a state university isn’t typically where you’d expect to find good pizza. During my undergraduate days at NYU, there was a Pizza Hut outpost in one of the dorms and that was the best option for “on campus” pizza (of course, within a few blocks of Washington Square Park are dozens of great pizza places). And although I’ve heard that dining options on college campuses have improved in recent years, the quality of the food shouldn’t be compared to what you might find at a restaurant. So I won’t compare Strada to a restaurant. But I will compare it to Pizza Hut. And it was certainly better than that.
The premise behind Strada is similar to that of 800 Degrees and the dozens of other Chipotle-like fast casual restaurants that have been popping up across the country. You can build your own pie at the counter, or choose from a couple of “signature pies” and within minutes you have a fresh, made-to-order personal pizza at your fingertips. Strada has five signature pies on the menu and I opted for a Margherita (Classic Red Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Roma Tomatoes, Basil, Parmesan) and a Strada Bianca (Garlic Olive Oil, Roasted Garlic, Spicy Giardiniera, Asiago, Mozzarella, Arugula).
I was particularly excited about the price point of all of these pies: $7.25 each. And if you decide to build your own, a cheese pie costs just $6.00 and for $7.75 you can add up to 6 toppings. That’s even cheaper than California-based 800 degrees, where a plain pie costs $6.65 and every additional topping is $1.
Neither pie was great, but they were good enough for a campus pizza joint. There are probably better food options at the Memorial Union (I’m partial to the fried cheese curds from Der Rathskeller). But what you can’t beat are the views and atmosphere outside at The Terrace. There are colored chairs and tables, pitchers of beer flowing freely, and boats passing by on the lake. While I’m sure things quiet down in the winter time, I can’t think of a better place to spend a summer afternoon. And if you decide to enjoy some pizza while you’re at it… all the better!