Since opening late last fall, Pizza M has become a solid option for eating out in downtown Urbana. Beyond offering dinnertime dine-in, take-out, and delivery options, Pizza M also offers slices at lunch. Slice options change daily, and the Pizza M crew are pretty good about posting the day’s options on Facebook. After drooling over those Facebook photos of lunch slices for a few weeks, I finally got it together last Friday and picked up some slices to go. I’d been jonesing for one slice in particular — the Sugar Bear — and was excited that it was one of Friday’s options.
If you haven’t yet been to Cafeteria and Company, you order at the counter. Seating is open and ample, and they call your name when your stuff is ready, or they’ll bring it to you. I guess it just depends on some factors of which I’m not aware. When I went in on Friday around noon, the place had a nice buzz. There were people of all sorts sitting, eating, talking, working. The energy was lively, but it didn’t feel crowded or too loud.
The pizza-by-the-slice menu was written out on a ticket and placed on the counter, near the regular menu. I ordered four slices: two Sugar Bear, one sausage, and one cheese. I was quite surprised by the prices; the Sugar Bear was $5.50, and the sausage and cheese were each $4.50. As I waited for my slices, I hoped that the $20 I just spent would be well worth it.
After about 7 minutes, my slices were ready to go, and I took the pile of individually wrapped and bagged slices to my car. They were pretty hot and I was thankful I had found very close parking. They were still hot when I made it home to Champaign, and I was like a kid on Christmas ripping into my Sugar Bear package.
Pizza M’s slices differ from the whole pies in that they have a thick, Sicilian style crust. Large rectangular pans of each topping combo are made and slices are then cut. Good Sicilian style pizza is hard to come by around these parts; it’s generally something that’s found more frequently on the East coast. (You can find some places in town that serve Sicilian style, but Pizza M’s slices are the best.)
The Sugar Bear contained smoked sausage, empire apple beef bacon, mushroom, and gorgonzola on a olive oil base, with mozzarella and pure maple syrup. I know, it’s intense. It even sounds just a little gross. But it was not. In fact, it was amazing. I was worried that the maple syrup or gorgonzola would overwhelm the pizza, but they did not. The slice was incredibly well balanced in flavor with the perfect pairing of sweet and savory, and in texture with the right balance of crispy edges and chewy doughy insides. The crust was just a teeny little bit oily on around the edges and bottom, which made it nice and crispy and crunchy. The dough was chewy and airy and altogether delicious. It was sturdy enough to hold the generous toppings, but not so hard that you couldn’t bite though it or cut through it (if you’re into using utensils).
The sausage was a little smoky, and just a little salty. The bacon added an additional slight smoky, distinctly bacon flavor. The sausage was just a little chewy, the bacon just a little crunchy. The apples were thinly sliced into pieces, matching the size of the earthy mushrooms. All of the toppings were similarly sized, which meant that there wasn’t a giant piece of meat or apple dangling out of my mouth. Each bite of the pizza contained some of each topping, which really maximized the flavor and indicated a careful hand in divvying up the toppings. As I mentioned, I was worried the gorgonzola and the maple syrup would overpower everything. The gorgonzola was hardly noticeable; moldy cheese enthusiasts might find this troubling, but I’m not such a fan, so I actually preferred that it wasn’t the dominate flavor. The maple syrup provided a subtle sweetness to the slice and enhanced the earthiness of the mushrooms, apples, and smoked meats. The Sugar Bear was one the best things I’ve eaten in C-U in some time. It was delicious, and if you’re a meat eater, you must try it.
(Hubby had the other Sugar Bear slice, and thoroughly enjoyed it. “It’s so yummy!” was exclaimed between bites.)
After completely demolishing the Sugar Bear slice, I was pretty full. It was definitely the equivalent of two slices, and with those toppings, it was more than enough for me to be satisfied for lunch. Despite this, I still felt obliged to give the cheese slice a try, you know, for research and all.
When I unwrapped the slice from the tin foil, a fresh garlicky tomato scent wafted off of it. It was still hot, and the cheese stuck just a bit to the foil as I pulled it away. This slice had a tomato base with chopped garlic mixed in. Atop the mozzarella was a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and oregano. The tomato sauce was straightforward: tomato, salt, garlic. There was some chunkiness to the tomato, and a few pieces of chopped garlic. The cheese was a little crispy and caramelized around the edges, where the oil on the crust and the oil from the cheese melded together to create this incredible crispy, crunchy, slightly burnt cheese deliciousness.
The sausage and remaining two thirds of the cheese were saved for dinner. At dinnertime, I put the two slices in the oven to warm them up, a little worried that all this reheating would leave them overcooked and dried out. Thankfully, they were not! The sausage slice had a tomato base—no chopped garlic, though—and mozzarella and crumbled Italian sausage on top. The sausage wasn’t greasy, and was well embedded and distributed across the wonderful crust. The slight sausagey sweetness and taste of fennel played well with the slightly sweet and acidic tomato sauce, and all flavors were brought together by the mild and creamy mozzarella. My husband and I shared the last of the pizza, and we were more than satisfied. I was excited that $20 managed to feed two people for two meals.
The pizza was damn good and generously portioned. Despite my initial hesitation on the price, it was more than enough and more than appropriately priced for the food received. In addition to those things, I was particularly moved by the cheese slice. It was incredibly powerful because it reminded me of home, my youth, and my family. The smell of tomato and garlic sent me into my mom’s and my grandmother’s kitchens. The thick, chewy crust and crispiness of the reheated pizza reminded me so much of the pizza from the pizza joint I’d visit during my lunch period while in high school. It’s not really about that pizza or that pizza joint, but about the memories of my time spent there with friends. It’s total nostalgia and sappy, admittedly romanticized memories of a time long gone. For one slice of pizza to send me down memory lane is not just some pretty powerful stuff, but it’s exactly what good food is all about. I can’t promise you that you’ll have the same experience, but I can promise you that a slice of pizza at Pizza M will please your mouth and your belly.
Pizza M is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It’s closed on Tuesday. Find it at 208 West Main Street, Urbana. For additional photos, follow Jess on Twitter and Instagram @epicureanjess.