Taylor Scott, Managing Editor and Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief
We recently had the chance to stop by and try out the newest pizza place in the Valley. With veteran pizzaman and restaurateur Rich Peterson at the helm, Rocket Man Pizza (1150 Main Street, Plain) is a gem in downtown Plain that will delight. (Disclosure: They even sent us home with some more options to try!) We took the opportunity to review the options and ask Peterson some questions:
I tried the rocket stix which are essentially cheesy, garlicky butter pizza sticks served with different dipping sauces. They were reminiscent of ‘Topperstix’, but they were much fresher and tastier. With the stix you get a choice of dipping sauces, which brings your usual offerings of marinara, ranch etc. but they also offer nacho cheese. When our waitress mentioned that it piqued my interest because it sounds just weird enough to be good, and it definitely was. I don’t have words to describe why or how the odd concoction of essentially cheese pizza dipped in nacho cheese works, but it does, really well. It makes the stix even cheesier and with a hint of jalapeño flavor.
It was a fun start to the meal and set the tone for trying out some eclectic pizza flavors.
For the main pizza I tried out the supreme pizza, which was packed with ham, pepperoni, ground beef, Italian sausage, mushrooms, red onion, bell pepper and black olives all piled onto a house made, fresh double dough style pizza.
The veggie toppings were super fresh and cooked well — without the sometimes soggy veggie issue pizzas have — but, instead, they maintained a pleasant little crunch, and the meat toppings were fresh and had good flavor. There was plenty of sauce, toppings and cheese to go around, all of which was spread high enough on the crusts edge to make the crust tasty and not dry. I really think crust eaters and leavers both will enjoy it. There’s enough plain crust there for the lovers, but heavy enough on the toppings so it doesn’t feel too crusty.
I’ve also tried the BBQ chicken pizza and pesto veggie pizza as well. The BBQ chicken was your classic fare with incredibly fresh ingredients and while I’m not the biggest fan of pesto, it worked well with the variety of veggies loaded on top. Extra points for offering a vegetarian friendly option, without someone having to make adjustments to something already on the menu!
Going back to the crust, it was honestly the perfect double dough crust. It had good flavor, which is really only half the battle when it comes to a thicker crust like this one. In my Chicago-deep dish-pizza-raised opinion, you want the edges of the crust to be crunchy and just right, but also not soggy. This crust achieved just that. It was crispy where it needed to, but fluffy with good flavor as well.
The storefront itself is small and quaint, but has the casual vibe you’d expect for a takeout pizza place. They have a fun window into the kitchen where you can watch the pizza making process, complete with a dough toss and all.
There’s a fun pinball machine to play while you wait, which I would love to see them lean into a bit more. It’d be such a fun thing to have an arcade crossed with a pizza place where you can play retro video games while waiting (No Roaring 20s spoilers, see our review in a couple weeks).
Overall, I was impressed and it will definitely be a go-to when the craving for eclectic, yet classic, pizza strikes. It’s the perfect to-go pizza place our area needed and I’d love to see them start up delivery. It’d be great to have more options for delivery in the area.
I’m also in love with the fact that they have an ice cream case! Where you can get a cake or waffle cone filled with Cedar Crest ice cream. I regret not grabbing a scoop while we were there, it would have been a great ending to such a fresh and delicious meal. Plus, I’m happy to see a place in a downtown in the area to grab a good quality ice cream cone!
— Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief
I think it’s going to be a long, long time until you find another pizza place like this. Endearingly, Rocket Man is the type of pizza place you expect to find in a large college town after a night out.
Greeted by the most amazing spaceship lamp, a pinball machine and outdoor/indoor windows that allow for peak hand tossed pizza-making watching, you’ll hardly remember you’re in warmly bucolic Plain — which is certainly starting to punch above its weight.
Rocket Man is understated and it knows it, with a confident smile from the manager and master chef Rich Peterson when he hands you a pizza, you know you’re going to like it.
I am always a fan of BBQ chicken pizza, but when I saw the tequila lime chicken pizza I knew I had to try it out. Boasting tequila lime sauce, grilled chicken, red onion, green pepper, yellow pepper, red pepper and a satisfying little kick that I couldn’t get Peterson to reveal the source of — it’s a sum of all its ingredients in a way that is as subtle and understated as the restaurant, not too much of any one thing. The flavors work well together and even if lime isn’t your favorite flavor, you’ll be pleased with this pizza. I’ll definitely be checking out the BBQ chicken pizza next.
I should also say that my pizza was made with a gluten free crust. I appreciate all of the options the Valley has for people that are gluten free and what I appreciate just as much is a good gluten free crust. They’re not incredibly common yet and this one was a great choice.
It won’t be long until a pizza craving brings me ‘round again, and Rocket Man is a solid choice.
— Taylor Scott, Managing Editor
After indulging in copious amounts of pizza, we got the chance to ask Peterson some questions:
Valley Sentinel: Rocket Man Pizza is an interesting name, can you tell us the origin of the name and what it represents?
Rich Peterson: Rocket Man Pizza was the idea of the property owner Mike Haight. I think his idea was to make it a fun and kitschy place. Being a long time fan of cheesy and classic horror and Sci-Fi films I immediately embraced the idea.
VS: Boasting a pinball machine, a viewing window where patrons can watch their pizza being made and a “rocket” taking off from the register, is there a certain atmosphere — or vibe, as the kids say — that you’re trying to evoke? What should people expect when they walk in?
RP: A busy, yet inviting atmosphere. Definitely a unique space, but it’s still a work in progress. Mike’s plan is to make the pizza side look like the inside of a space ship. We have had some old Sci-Fi comics donated by a new friend and loyal patron, Kendra Schluter; that will be on display as well as possibly some classic movie posters or Sci-Fi art.
VS: With Lone Rock Bistro & Taproom and Roaring 20s (review coming in a couple weeks!), Rocket Man Pizza is the third recent endeavor by Mike Haight’s consortium, so why pizza and why Plain?
RP: Well the pizza place was already a part of the building and as me a part of the Bistro team with 37 years of experience it just seemed fitting to put me in this position and offer up a new and different product for the community and surrounding area.
VS: You’re far from the only pizza place in the Valley — with The Shed, Last Leaf Public House, Homecoming and more: what experience do you bring to the table that makes you different?
RP: I have a bit of an eclectic and eccentric approach to everything that I do in my life and am trying to bring that to life with the product and flavors I am putting out.
VS: Right now, all those places listed occupy their own niche, what makes your pizza different and what is your niche?
RP: Throughout the years I have brought together different ideas and recipes to have finally established my own personal dough, sauce, and seasoning recipes in hopes of pleasing all tastes.
VS: Looking at the menu, we can’t help but wonder if there’s some Chicago inspiration?
RP: I have worked in several Italian style restaurants but the main inspiration was in my younger years visiting my brother in laws parents who had come over from Italy. Nana Accardo would serve up the best pasta and Italian dishes family style and the flavors just stuck with me.
We offer our classic pizza shop sandwiches with the Meatball sub, Straka Meats Italian Sausage Sub both topped with our house marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. We also offer an Italian Beef Sub with your option of banana peppers or Giardiniera.
VS: What sort of menu items are in research and development right now?
RP: Within the next few weeks I will be rolling out the full menu including more specialty pizzas, rocket rolls, and calzones. We have monthly pizzas of the month that can be seen at www.rocketmanpizza.com.
We are open Wednesday – Sunday 11 AM – 9 PM. Call 608-546-1010 for carry out. Dine in available on the Roaring 20s side. All 12” pizzas available on gluten free crust. We also offer Cedar Crest Ice Cream.
In his own words: Origins of a pizza man, with manager Rich Peterson
Rich Peterson, born and raised in Baraboo, WI.
My first job, in the summer of 1984 after graduating high school, was at a small “family” pizza place called Tom and Jerry’s Pizza, washing dishes and delivering pizza for $5 a night plus tips. Soon after starting, the manager of the store began taking frequent breaks at the bar next door, leaving me to make the food and work the stone deck ovens. This was a ‘thrown to the wolves’ experience that would change my life forever. After a few weeks, a large Italian gentleman by the name of ‘Lenny’ was visiting the store and called me into the office to commend me on the great job I was doing, and he raised my pay to $10 a night! About a month later, upon reporting to work, I entered to find the whole building empty.
After several months, unable to find a similar job that pleased me, I moved to Fort Myers Beach, FL, where my brother and sister in law lived. Within a week I had procured a job at a mom and pop shop run by a former Lansing, MI police officer and his wife called Pizzas and Cream. This would be my first experience with not only a life with pizza and ice cream combined but also my first brush with musical greatness. It was a hot and hazy Saturday afternoon and the small ice cream parlor dining room was almost full. As a then 18 year old metal head, I was in awe as the door opened and five long haired, leather-clad hulking images darkened the doorway — as in entered Twisted Sister!
After many years of working in the industry, from fine dining to mom and pop shops, doing everything from grill and sauté’ to dishwashing, my life of food and music came together again when I began working at Luther’s Blues in Madison. It was here that I was again able to cook, serve, and meet some of the musical greats from the past and present. This is also where I met our current property manager Mike Haight, who was working in booking and marketing for the club. As we became friends, he allowed me to help find my niche in the music market as a booking agent.
In 2020, Mike had contacted me about a restaurant concept he had in mind and invited me to Lone Rock where I joined a team of extremely talented and creative individuals at the Lone Rock Bistro and Taproom. And then Mike’s eyes were set on Plain, with the new restaurant opportunity and a pizza shop pretty much ready to go attached, it was a no brainer with 37 years of experience that I would take over as manager at Rocket Man Pizza – where I am now building my own small dynamo team of pizza slingers.