Slice: Wisconsin’s Pizza Harvest
Fall food made with just-harvested vegetables on a farm is a delicacy. Though there are now a number of “pizza farms” near the Twin Cities that serve pizza made in outdoor ovens throughout the summer and into fall, I always choose to wait until fall to go to what I consider to be the original, AtoZ Produce and Bakery, just across the border in Wisconsin. I could just give curt instructions for getting your grub: Check the menu, place your order, watch for your number to be flipped to, and wait a matter of five minutes for your piping-hot pizza to be sliced and handed to you as you pay your bill. Find a place to eat and take your garbage with you. I’m a bit too wordy for that, though. Through the years, I’ve gathered a few more tips to share for making your own trip to the place where pizza grows in country idyll.
Leave Early and Know How to Get There. AtoZ Produce and Bakery (aka, the “Pizza Farm”) is closest to Stockholm, Wisconsin. Every Tuesday they make pizzas from 4:30 to 8:00 at night which means that people can leave their 9-to-5 job, travel through rush hour traffic, and make it to the farm in time for pizza, but I’ve done it and I wouldn’t recommend it. If possible, leave a couple hours early and give yourself time to get through the East Metro with as little frazzle as possible. Depending upon your start point, the trip could take an hour or two. I usually take I-94 East through St. Paul to US-61 South, and the cross over to Wisconsin on US-10 East. Then, once across the river in Prescott, Wisconsin, I immediately turn right onto WI-35 South, the Great River Road. Follow that famous road all the way to Stockholm and take in the scenery. Once you’re in Stockholm, it’s a good idea to either use a GPS or printed directions to the address of AtoZ Produce and Bakery. Those methods have never let me down and always bring me directly to the country road with the Liberal Catholic Church on it, which signifies that I’ll be seeing the Pizza Farm next.
Pre-Order Your Pie and Plan for Ambling. Stockholm, the town closest to the Pizza Farm, is located on the Great River Road of Wisconsin. Low in population but high in charm, Stockholm has a variety shops and welcomes the GLBT community with open arms. I always visit the art and home gallery, Abode Stockholm, and get some coffee (while my friends pick and choose their beer) at Stockholm General, owned and operated by Alan Nugent and Steve Grams. Ingebretsen’s has a charming store in a historic building and I also swoon over kitchen wares at The Palate. We called ahead to the Stockholm Pie Company and ordered two pies to pick up on our way to the Pizza Farm, a chocolate cream and a apple-berry cardamom crumble pie. You won’t regret incorporating that step into your trip. Then, since the stores close around 5:00 but we didn’t want to get to the farm until later, we went up the hill to Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery for apples, wine, and cheese. Find more information at www.stockholmwisconsin.com.
Pack as Much Ambience as You Want and Pick Where You Want It. You’re going to have dinner on a farm. Some people choose to do it picnic-style and bring blankets to sit on with paper plates and plastic utensils, which is a fine way to enjoy your pizza supper. I’ve seen people bring a dîner en blanc with them, wearing all-white clothing and dressing their table and chairs in white linen, all of which paint a romantic picture against the country setting in the twilight hours. We had a little drizzle this last time I was there, so we went directly to the one building with chairs and tables, The Coop, and found two tables that could be pushed together to accommodate our nine-person party and, though we weren’t out under the stars, we very much enjoyed our dining experience in the warmly lit coop. These fall nights when the sun goes down early call for lighting, so bring your own flashlight or candles. Do not do as I did and carefully prepare and bring a centerpiece of mason jars with lovely green candles in them that were scented–nobody wants spiced pear competing with their pizza fragrances.
Appreciate the Process and the Product. This is a working farm with real animals and crops. Care is taken to provide an attractive and environmentally friendly gathering place with well-kept buildings and a composting restroom. The beauty and draw of the Pizza Farm is the fact that we’re eating pizza on a farm with food that was grown there and baked in an oven right before our eyes. Something I just learned this last time I was there is that to get the oven hot enough for baking our pizzas with speed and efficiency on Tuesday nights, it’s lit on Sunday. And on these chilly fall nights, it’s nice to hover by that fire watching the pizzas emerge, bubbly and hot, aromatic and crisp.
Order a Variety of Pizza and Watch the Magic Happen. When you approach the buildings on the Pizza Farm, the one with the oven is where you should aim. Just this year, to comply with Wisconsin laws, the Pizza Farm no longer allows people to carry in their own alcoholic beverages, but you can buy beer and wine in the same building as the pizza oven; enjoy the local favorites at reasonable prices. There’s a large chalkboard with that night’s menu on it and, though the pizzas run a little high in price, they are of great quality and flavor. The pizzas are the destination, so plan to savor them. Instead of a tomato sauce, sliced tomatoes are incorporated with the toppings and then roasted atop the pizzas as they bake in the hot ovens. These are not your cheese-monster gooey slices of pie as found in traditional pizzerias, but are artisan-style in their carefully chosen combinations of flavors. My favorite version of all time incorporated slab bacon, but all of the varieties have proven to be popular with the pizza eaters in my parties through the years. Squash, beets, lamb, pesto, olives–all sorts of flavors can be found at the Pizza Farm. Order a number of pies and share liberally. Our party of nine had three pizzas this year…but a party of four scarfed four a few years ago. It all depends on what else you bring for side dishes and how ravenous rush hour or shopping have made you.
Follow the Rules. No pets. Bring cash or check, no plastic. Don’t touch the electric fences, consider all fences to be electric. Park where the signs indicate. It’s an operating farm, not a petting zoo. Don’t go tromping through crops, stay on mowed paths. Mind your children and your unruly friends. And, most importantly…
Pack It In, Pack It Out. Bring a bag for garbage or recycling because everything you bring that has packaging has to leave with you, as well as your new pizza boxes that your meal comes in and the bottles of beer or wine that you buy. We split up the garbage and recycling between the people in our party and each took some of the waste home to continue our Pizza Farm experience by being environmentally responsible.
Mostly, Eat Slowly and Breathe Deeply. You’re away from the city and rush hour and obligations. Put the smartphone down (or Instagram everything like I do), just make sure you relax as you’re doing it. It’s a sensory experience, so use your senses and actually experience the farm as a last hurrah before the snow flies.
AtoZ Produce and Bakery (the “Pizza Farm”)
Tuesdays, early Spring – Thanksgiving
N2956 Anker Ln.
Stockholm, WI 54769