I’m still not sure there is a “Pell Lake”. I’ve heard of it. I’ve seen signs for it. I’ve read rumors of it. But I’ve never actually seen it. Still, I know where it’s supposed to be, and I knew that on Saturday night I was at the delightful Geneva Lake Conservancy Party in Loramoor (thanks to all of the people who didn’t clap enthusiastically when Geneva Lakefront Realty was announced as a sponsor), and because I knew where I was and where Pell Lake is supposed to be, I decided to eat pizza there. My friend knew the way, so we ditched the party and drove south. It was time for my maiden visit to Upper Crust, in, or near, or around, Pell Lake.
We arrived a few minutes before 9 pm. The restaurant was quiet, just a few imbibers at the bar and a few patrons at a few tables. The restaurant is, without a doubt, unique. It looks like the restaurant where the Old 96er was served. In fact, given John Hughes’ preference for the Lake Geneva area, no one could prove to me that this wasn’t the restaurant that served as the inspiration for that Northwoods bar. Since Mr. Hughes has passed away, no one could, or should, argue that point with me. This is a Northwoods restaurant/bar, and it’s just south of Lake Geneva. On Saturday night, the scene was subdued, but I have no doubt this establishment hops during typical evening food service.
The waitress was polite, but when we ordered a Chicago Style pizza (mushrooms, onions, green peppers and sausage) with half sausage, on account of my vegetarian friend, it took several angles of explanation to arrive at our chosen pizza. Still, once that was settled we pregamed our second bread dinner with some bread sticks and melted cheese, and things were fine. I marveled at the various bits of flair on the walls, heavy flair really, including some Northwoods decor, some Lake Geneva decor, at at least one large stuffed shark.
The pizza was out in 20 minutes, which is my preferred wait time. Any longer and I get upset. Any shorter and I feel as though I’m fixin’ to eat an undercooked pizza. This 16″ pizza was delivered to our table still in the pan it was baked in, and set atop a pizza serving platform. At first glance it worried me that the cheese was a bit too white, a bit undercooked perhaps. Thankfully, the first bite proved my worry was unnecessary. This was an excellent pizza.
The crust was thin and light yet crunchy and crisped. The closest local facsimile is at Mama Cimino’s in Lake Geneva. But Mama’s pizza crust is softer, with that Ritz Cracker mouthfeel that I appreciated, but didn’t dwell on. This crust was soft, crispy, thin and light. It was delicious. The flop test passed, and the pizza held its crunch through the first four or five pieces. The middle pieces were softer by the time we worked to meet them, but that’s to be expected. The crust here is obviously made in house. Obviously not frozen. Obviously superior to any local pizza joint that starts their pie by reaching into the chest freezer. Don’t debate me on this.
The sauce was slightly sweet, as I like it. The cheese was proper, with no hint of any desire to church up a traditional shredded mozzarella. The vegetables were properly softened, the sausage chunks reasonably ample and only tasting a hint of fennel seed. We greedily ate the pizza, remarking how balanced it was, how light the crust was, how delicious pizza is. Most pizza in this market is notable for what it did wrong. Great crust, bad sauce. Great sauce, bad sausage. Great sausage, bad cheese. But as I ate this pie I couldn’t pinpoint anything that I felt was deficient or misplaced. In pizza and life, the absence of objection is just as important as the presence of perfection.
If we’re judging thin crust pizza, as we are, this pizza is a winner. I had previously anointed Harpoon Willie’s as offering the best tavern style pizza in this area, and the particular pizza I had at Harpoon’s on that particular evening was indeed exemplary. However, a follow up visit to Harpoon’s offered me a pizza that didn’t taste the same, with a sauce lacking salt and zing, and a crust that wasn’t as memorable as the pie I had previously judged. On this night, Upper Crust was superior. I had been told to visit this restaurant by a client of mine who travels the world. He told me Upper Crust pizza is at the top of his list for pizza anywhere, which is high praise from this well traveled CEO. Even though he told me the Sicilian style pie is his favorite there, I found the thin crust to be a delight. If you’re in the Lake Geneva area this summer, you owe it to yourself to visit Upper Crust. If you order the Old 96er, I can’t promise they’ll understand the reference, but I have a feeling they’ve heard it before.
Upper Crust Pizzeria and Pub
1070 Highway H, Pell Lake (if there is such a thing)
$17.50 for a 16″ Chicago Style with sausage, onions, mushrooms and green peppers.