Sugar River Pizza Company: Distinguished by Fresh Original Pizza and Italian Comfort Food

Sugar River Pizza
Photo by Eric Tadsen

Food meets family at Sugar River Pizza Company to make a night out feel as comfortable as a night in. Nothing is more enjoyable than eating comfort food that is just like homemade.

When you start with quality, locally sourced ingredients, the flavor is fresh. At Sugar River Pizza, a lot of time is spent working with local producers and farmers to ensure everything meets their standards. Even the beef for the restaurant primarily comes from the owner’s family farm to guarantee no hormones or antibiotics have been used. The Canadian bacon, pepperoni, pastrami, and salami are sliced in house each day, and they chop and slice their own vegetables. The sauces and dressings stand out because they’ve been made from family recipes.

The imaginative list of specialty pizza is just one reason folks return again and again to the casual American and Italian eatery. The rest of the menu, which includes appetizers, calzones, grilled sandwiches, flatbreads, pasta dishes, soups, and salads, also stands apart from many other establishments. Kelly Blotz is the head chef. His signature recipes for house-made soups, that change daily, and weekend specials are customer favorites. The unsurpassed caliber of the menu can be attributed to family and original recipes that are made from scratch.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Mac N’ Cheese is not just for kids, it’s a favorite for all ages. It is among most-often-ordered pasta dishes served at the restaurant. Cooked to perfection, the sauce, ingredients, and preparation make the difference. “Making the best Mac N’ Cheese is an art form,” says owner Sarah Thomas. “We use my mom’s recipe and perfected technique to prepare it. You need just the right consistency and amount of heat so the sauce doesn’t break. It’s more complicated than it appears.” The gooey cheese and pasta dish is so popular, they often run out of it. Her 11-year-old daughter is a Mac N’ Cheese connoisseur who thinks grandma’s recipe is beyond compare.

The lasagna, another family recipe, uses Sarah’s special pasta sauce, which is on the sweeter side. The sauce is mixed with their home-grown beef, custom seasoned sausage, and, of course, fresh ingredients. It’s one of Sarah’s favorites, who claims she’d eat it every day.

For owners Ross and Sarah Thomas, operating the restaurant really isn’t work—it’s a lifestyle. As they work in the restaurant, family is always there. Many of the couple’s five children work at the restaurant, and Sarah’s parents, Daryl and Deb Watterson, own the New Glarus location. The family lives and breathes restaurants and talk about it whenever they’re together. Family friendly comes natural to the Thomas family, so it’s no wonder that young families in their early to mid-30s feel comfortable to regularly bring their children to the popular pizzeria.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Sarah seems to have the hospitality-industry DNA in her blood. At age 14, she started working in hotels owned by her grandfather and uncle, where she was introduced to ideas of gracious hospitality and working together as family. Sarah laughs as she points to a photo sitting at the bar of her great-grandmother who started as a bootlegger during the prohibition prior to operating Harmony Café in Mauston. In 2009, when her parents started the first Sugar River Pizza carryout and delivery business in Belleville, her destiny to follow in the family tradition emerged.

Sarah helped her mom to operate the small Belleville location at night and on weekends while she continued to work full-time at Epic. The pair had fun working together, and the small enterprise became the testing ground for their future endeavors. When her dad retired in 2013, her parents decided to expand and opened the New Glarus venue with beer and wine. They owned both locations until selling the Belleville business in 2016.

After years of helping at both of establishments, it became inevitable for the Thomases to start plans in 2015 to open the Verona location. Sarah left Epic, and she and Ross opened the pizzeria with beer and wine in March 2016.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Located on the southeast side of Verona, Sugar River Pizza Company became the first tenants in a new building in the Liberty Business Park. Spanning about 4,000 square feet, the pizzeria has two dining areas, a bar, and patio, each with a distinct dining personality. The bank of windows in the front illuminates the area, making the open floor plan seem more spacious. For a little more-intimate ambiance, check out the back dining room, complete with booth seating. Together, the two areas seat 180 people. The large covered patio wraps around the front and one side of the restaurant to add another 70 seats. The area includes fire tables, which is great way to enjoy a glass of wine on a crisp fall night.

The bar is a draw for sports fans with its four TVs. It’s distinguished by 24 tap lines, 80 bottled beers, and a Scotch selection. Happy hour specials are extended during Packer games, and raffles and other activities make it fun. Guests waiting for their table also make hanging at the bar a fun part of their dining experience. The high-gloss, L-shaped bar, with a live edge, is made from a black walnut tree that Ross cut down and was built by his good friend Andrew of Judd Construction.

Sugar River holds rehearsal dinners and parties in the front dining area for 40 to 60 people. A customized menu is created for catering events, and the regular menu is just the starting point. Check them out for your next event.

Sugar River Pizza Company offers dine-in, take-out, and delivery, and the price range is under $30. Reservations are recommended on weekends.

Lauri Lee is a culinary herb guru and food writer living in Madison, Wisconsin.