One year ago, I stopped writing fish fry reviews. Over the following weeks, I was often asked why I didn’t crown a winner. Why, after so much fish and so many potato pancakes, I never declared the outright victor. When I began the series, I had every intention of doing just that. Eat, score, rank, declare. That was my intended process. But after some time of visiting different restaurants and hearing commentary from the patrons who prefer certain establishments over another, I realized something. Going to fish fry isn’t about finding the best fish or the crispiest potato pancake. It’s about the idea. The concept. The practice. If your dad took you to the Village when you were growing up, you take your kids to the Village. Never mind the odd potato pancake, you love it. Friday Fish Fry in Wisconsin isn’t about finding the best fish, it’s about going where you want to go.
This lies in stark contrast to the pizza series. People don’t just go out for pizza, they want to go eat good pizza. But this is where the problem lies. People like different sorts of pizza. I might dislike the sort of pizza you like. If you like to order a pizza well done, you will love The Next Door Pub. If you know to order extra sauce on a JoJo’s pizza, you’ll love it. If you like the slightly pungent cheese that Larducci’s uses, you’ll find this to be the best pizza in the area. We’re all different, and we all have different tastes, and that’s just fine by me.
I did take some heat for this pizza review series, just as I did for the fish fry series. I had some shop owners lambast me for my honesty. This is not an area that takes kindly to objective reviews. This area is used to puff pieces, like you’ll find in local magazines or newspapers. There’s never a grade applied to an effort. Never an opinion levied. It’s just a glowing non-review that lacks any substance. I had hoped to change those generic puff pieces, but in doing so, struck a nerve. No one likes to be told their pizza (fish, burger, burrito, etc and etc) isn’t any good. No one wants that in print, and I do not blame them. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t mind being pummeled by people after I tell the world (or at least this tiny part of it) that the pizza they make, or the pizza they prefer, is no better than Meh.
With that in mind, I’m not going to wrap this series, but I am going to slow it down. There are places I have yet to visit. A new place in East Troy (wait until the Elkhorn people learn how I feel about East Troy), some other joints here and there. But that’s in the future, and the past is the only thing we can review. Which is why I went to Oakfire last night, and pregamed my Oakfire pizza with a Mod pizza. This the new fast-casual joint by Starbucks. I wanted to try this first to see if Oakfire was better, or if our local places were getting beaten by an upstart franchise. The good news is that Oakfire was better, but Mod is a nice little place if you’re in a hurry for a quick lunch or dinner, and you also want a delightful view of the Walmart parking lot.
Oakfire first came to Lake Geneva several years ago and opened in a renovated space that used to house Scuttlebutts. After they renovated, they opened, and then a couple of years later, they tore down the building and built new. The new building is modern, large, and if you want to know if I think the architecture is right for our lakefront, I’d tell you that it is not. However, on this night, with the calm lake to our south and the sun setting to the west, there was little about this scene that some reasonable person could dislike. We settled into our streetside table (here there is a large interior space and patio on the first floor, an interior space upstairs with matching open-air patio, and the streetside patio adjacent the sidewalk), and ordered.
The waiter was nice and quickly talked me into the Di Bufala Margherita as opposed to the regular Margherita. The imported cheese is worth the $2 he told me. We ordered another pizza, this the Diavola, and swapped the salami for the spicier soppressata. This is the only restaurant in this series that features a real wood-fired pizza oven. This type of cooking requires skill and knowledge, and we’d be fools if we didn’t both understand and appreciate that nuance. The pizza’s arrive table side within 15 minutes, and they were undeniably beautiful. The edges charred, the crust raised just a bit, the cheese sparse and nicely melted. This is a wood-fired pizza, all right.
The Di Bufala was good, though the cheese slid off the pizza when we tried to pick it up. A note of advice for Oakfire: serve this true Neapolitan pizza in a true Neapolitan way, with a knife and fork and not pre-sliced. The complaint about Oakfire is that the interior tends to be sloppy and wet. This is true, and this condition of Neapolitan pizza was affirmed to me by Steve Dolinsky before I began this tour. If the pizza is going to be soggy and floppy, too much so to properly pick up, then why cut it into slices? Serve it as it would be served in France, with a large knife and fork, uncut. That’s my two cents. The pizza, either way, was quite good. The sauce is made of San Marzano tomatoes, and while I would have liked it a touch sweeter and a tweak spicier, it was good. I cook my sauce longer, so this sauce has a slight raw-tomato flavor that isn’t my favorite, but it’s undeniably good anyway.
The Diavola was equally good, the crust nicely charred and chewy. It’s a nicely executed pizza, and on this night, there was nothing about Oakfire that I didn’t like. The scene was delightful, the pizza tasty, the service capable. I ate pizza at Stella Barra in Lincoln Park a few weeks ago, and while I preferred that pizza to the Oakfire pie, the scene at Oakfire was, dare I say, better? Happy patrons ate their pizza, music played, the big old lake turning shades of pink and purple as the sun faded. This is the finest of our pizza scenes, and the only place to eat a wood-fired pizza. Because of this, Oakfire deserves our praise, and if you’d like to put your fancy shoes on and enjoy a night out in our lovely town, this is your place.
831 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva
8.2/10 (this is the highest score I’ve given, but this score is based on this type of pizza, so I’m not saying this is the best overall in our market, just the best of this style (and, coincidentally, the only of this style)
$16 Margherita Di Bufala, $16 Diavola