During this pizza series, one place was the most consistently and aggressively recommended to me: Holi Cannoli. You know how I feel about Elkhorn. And you know how I feel about Whitewater. Imagine then, if you will, how I could feel about the space between these two towns. That’s where Holi Cannoli lives, in the space between. The only question is were these recommendations wicked lies or were these people hoping to keep me safe from the pain that is a miserable, if local, pizza.
It was Saturday night and I was tired. I had worked during the day, and then retreated to more work in the evening. The office garden needed weeding and mulching, and my wife had a party that appeared to include every woman in Walworth County. I had to go somewhere. Anywhere, and since it was Saturday and I was tired that meant I was also hungry. My son was finishing a baseball double header, and I would need some salve for my blisters and he some salve for his wounded ego. I called HC at 7 pm and was told it would be an hour wait. The place was slammed. I asked if they take reservations and they did. 8:30 was the soonest they could offer, which was fine because I had to clean up and look reasonably respectable for this, my first ever visit, to Holi Cannoli. We drove through Elkhorn, quickly, stopped at Walgreen’s for a couple of last minute Mother’s Day cards, and arrived at the restaurant at 8:30 sharp. The parking lot was jammed.
Most pizza places in Walworth County lack any type of recognizable scene. They’re just places to get pizza, and when you’re in the mood to devour pizza you care very little about the terrible decor that haunts most local pizza establishments. A good pizza erases any concern of your surroundings. But HC was happening. The interior space isn’t much to consider, it’s just a couple of dining rooms with a large bar in the middle, and the decor is typical North American Italian Restaurant Issue. Some faux paintings of wine bottles, some plastic grape vines with impressive plastic grape clusters, some paintings of Napa, or Tuscany, no one can be sure. HC might not win any design awards, but on Saturday night the crowd was lively and happy, the wine appeared to be flowing with vigor, and the various plates of food scattered about all looked equally delicious.
After the pleasant hostess sat us at our four top near the wood-fired oven, the bus-boy was quickly over to slap down a couple of waters. The sign outside says “COAL FIRED PIZZA”, which I thought interesting since “WOOD FIRED PIZZA” is the same thing, just at a different state of combustion. The oven on the back wall was clad in brick, and the busy hands of an open pizza kitchen were arranging toppings, stoking the fire, and feeding the dough through a mechanical roller. I wasn’t sure what type of pizza I’d be eating here, since a typical wood-fired pie is normally of the neapolitan variety, similar to what I had last week at Stella Barra in Lincoln Park, and similar to that which is served at Oak Fire in Lake Geneva. The mechanical roller threw me off, as any proper neapolitan dough would never be rolled like this. Never mind, the mystery would soon unravel, and we ordered a sausage pizza with mushrooms, along with an order of Calamari. Shortly after ordering, a bevy of bread and a dish of marinara was brought table side. We dipped and munched. My son summed up this part of the dinner perfectly, “it’s not very good, but it’s free bread”. Free bread indeed, son. Free bread indeed.
The calamari arrived quickly. It was lightly breaded, more pale than golden, and mostly rings. We dipped it in the cocktail sauce, which tasted a bit too tangy and not in a horseradishy sort of way. It reminded me of a Heinz cocktail sauce that you squeeze out of a bottle. Too much ketchup, maybe. We ate the plate anyway, it was fine, but not memorable. The pizza was out quickly. Frighteningly quick. Maybe eight minutes after ordering it, tops. It was impossibly flat, nicely browned, the edges charred in the tell-tale style of a wood-fired pie. It looked delicious. 16 inches of razor thin pie for $21.95 plus $1.50 for the added mushrooms. Not a terrible ransom. The first slice passed the flop test, which is rare for a neapolitan style pie.
Ah, but this isn’t a neapolitan style pie. This is a wood fired pie that is, in actuality, a tavern style pizza. The crust is mechanically rolled, which creates that super thin, remarkably uniform crust. There is no raised edge here, no soft middle. It’s a hybrid of sorts. The cheese was proper and well browned, the sausage mild but plentiful without being overwhelming. The mushrooms were mostly absent, but I would prefer that to the overload that occurred in Whitewater a week or two prior. The exterior bits of crust were crunchy and singed by the flame. It was a good pizza.
But there was a problem here, and it’s one that I can appreciate as someone who has struggled at the helm of a wood-fired oven. The top of the pizza was nicely browned, but the bottom of the crust featured no such browning. It was nearly flour white. The edges were crisped, but beyond that the crust was soft and undercooked. I know what happened here. A gas oven heats up uniformly, with the oven deck holding that heat beautifully, just as the thermostat dictates. But a wood-fired oven, after working overtime during the heated pace of a Saturday night service, tends to lose some deck heat. The chef fixes this by adding wood and stoking the fire that burns in a back corner of the oven, but while the air heats, the deck is shielded by a handful of pizza pies. The deck stays cooler than the air, which results in a pizza that shows beautifully on top but is, as a matter of undeniable fact, undercooked on the bottom. This was the fate that befell our pizza.
I liked this restaurant. It was bustling with activity, and the pizza was reasonably good. The bigger question for me is will I be back? Sadly, I believe the answer to be no. But that’s just me, and it takes some effort and time for me to leave Williams Bay and drive to that location north of Elkhorn. It’s a good pizza, don’t get me wrong, but is it as good as the best? No, on Saturday night it most certainly wasn’t.
N7605 US Highway 12, Elkhorn, WI
$21.95 for a 16″ Sausage Pizza, plus $1.50 for mushrooms.
PS. I may do one more review along with a summary next week to wrap the series.