August 29, 2022 at 5:45 p.m.
Steve Lawless hosts pizza nights on his farm on Fridays. Guests eat wood-fired pizza and listen to a local band. The goal of each pizza night is to raise $500 for a local charity.
“The pizza farm is a community outreach as part of our mission to help the local charities and nonprofits,” Lawless said. “I’ve just kind of created a space that has the sense of hospitality that I grew up with.”
Lawless is a former school teacher of 30 years and owner of Sittin’ Pretty Pizza Farm. The farm has been hosting pizza nights for the last year and focuses on local ingredients to support other local farmers. The main cheese source for the pizzas is Pasture Pride Cheese from Cashton, a company that only takes milk from local farms.
On a typical Friday night, around 70 pizzas will roll through the wood-fired grill. The process begins with a refrigerated sourdough crust. A homemade sauce is added along with the rest of the ingredients.
Once a pizza is ready for the oven, the chef needs to move fast. The oven gets up to 700 degrees, and the pizzas need to be rotated every minute to avoid burning. When it is done cooking, the pizza is boxed and either taken to-go or eaten in the party barn.
“The pizzas are more of a traditional Italian pizza so not a lot of ingredients,” Lawless said. “It’s almost like less is more.”
The sourdough for the crust is provided by Rhythm Bakery in Viroqua. As a way to further support the efforts of Sittin’ Pretty Farm, the bakery provides the dough to Lawless at cost.
“It’s a big help to not have to make the dough every week,” Lawless said. “And like so much of the community, they are really supportive of what we are doing.”
Sauce is made in house by the pizza baker, Zachary Matthes. The recipe is simply peeled Roma tomatoes blended with salt. Canned tomatoes were used to get started but now there is a tomato patch at the farm that is used whenever possible.
There are three main varieties of pizza available on most Fridays which include a basic Margherita, sausage and a white sauce pizza. The white sauce pizza uses a cream sauce and is topped with mushrooms, mozzarella, parmesan and chives.
Lawless said sausage seems to be the most popular variety because it is the only pizza with a meat topping. The sausage comes exclusively from hogs that Lawless has raised at a nearby farm and processed at Solar Meats LLC in Soldiers Grove.
“It’s great to find a local butcher,” Lawless said. “It’s not an easy thing to find these days.”
Lawless also provides a pizza with seasonal toppings as well. Right now, there is a sweet corn and cherry tomato pizza with olive oil, parmesan and chives.
On a typical night, the farm will use one 40-pound block of mozzarella cheese and 2-3 pounds of parmesan.
There is always a live band on the outdoor stage. Guests can gather around the band while they eat or sit inside on the long banquet-style lunch tables. It is all geared toward connecting the community.
“People are sitting at the same table, eating the same food and enjoying the same experience next to somebody who they maybe didn’t know before,” Lawless said. “And to have the sense that they’re giving back to the community in some way I think is just a feel good all around.”
Lawless is considering plans to grow the business by allowing other local chefs or farmers to utilize the commercial kitchen. His idea is there may be people with a good product who are not able to open up a kitchen full time but who may love to cook and serve people.
“The options as far as making a living are pretty limited if you farm on a small scale,” Lawless said. “So people trying to do small-scale vegetable production and adding value by processing their work into a retail product has always been attractive to me.”
Lawless said growing up on a farm in Iowa gave him a sense of work ethic and neighborliness.
He is trying to create the same culture at the pizza farm as a way to mark his parents’ passing.
“My folks were part of that Depression/World War II generation, and so much of what they lived was how to give back and serve,” Lawless said. “That always resonated with me. And now to be a restaurant that supports our local farmers, and source cheese from a local cheesemaker, that all fits into our community outreach mission and how we connect into our community and give back to it.”
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