The semester is in full swing. Group projects have started and your first exams are right around the corner. Even though you might be busy going over the last month of lectures in one night or finishing that group paper in the hours before class, you can’t forget to eat. That’s why I’m using this article to focus on pizza.

Why pizza? Because pizza is productivity’s best friend.  No major project was ever completed over tuna sandwiches. Nothing important was ever created while eating a spinach salad.  And nobody ever lured in help for a project with the promise of falafel.  Pizza’s shape is made for collaboration, because people have to gather ’round. It’s also a portable, fully-balanced meal, with all the food groups showing up: grains in the crust, dairy in the cheese, fruit in the tomatoes, veggies in the potential veggies and meat in the pepperoni or sausage. Opinions about pizza are extremely wide and varied; I usually judge a pizza on the freshness of its toppings and if the crust wasn’t ignored.

There are plenty of places in Madison where you can get a pretty typical pepperoni or sausage pizza for less than $10, but I wanted to highlight a few places that might broaden your pizza horizons.  These three all know how to serve a quality pie, and they also value fresh ingredients.

Pizza Brutta (1805 Monroe St.)

I lived a few blocks away from Pizza Brutta for two years, yet it took me almost a year and a half to visit. Pizza Brutta makes traditional thin-crust pizzas in a wood-fire oven and tops them with fresh-made mozzarella. The crust is so thin and their oven so hot that each pizza cooks in minutes. Their menu is split into two sides: the Rosso side, for pizzas with a traditional red sauce as the base, and the Bianca side, for pizzas with a base of olive oil and sea salt. My favorite is the Siciliana (off the Rosso side of the menu), which is topped with tomato sauce, basil, prosciutto, roasted eggplant, gaeta olives and fresh mozzarella. The crust on the pizzas at Pizza Brutta is hand-formed and paper-thin.

Ian’s Pizza (319 N Frances St. and 100 State St.)

Ian’s Pizza was founded by Ian Gurfield on Halloween in 2001 and has been a Madison institution ever since. Their first store, on Frances Street next to Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, satisfies the late night cravings of University of Wisconsin students with their assortment of pizzas sold by the slice. Gurfield has since expanded to four stores, with one on State Street, one in Chicago and the most recent opening in Milwaukee on New Year’s Eve in 2009. Ian’s offers traditional one-topping pizzas, but they specialize in unusual variations, of which they have hundreds. Two of my favorites are Smokey and The Bandit, which has a barbecue sauce base topped with bacon, ranch, chicken and cheese, and the Buffalo Chicken, which features pieces of chicken, buffalo sauce and blue cheese. They are also famous for their mac and cheese pizza. Each slice is big enough to fold in half and eat, making it a perfect meal on the go.

Greenbush Bar (914 Regent St.)

Greenbush Bar is one of Madison’s hidden gems. It’s located in a basement, so it’s easy to walk by. Everything inside adds to the great atmosphere, from the bar with its wide selection, to the Christmas lights that provide the place’s main source of illumination. Greenbush houses only a handful of tables, but getting one is worth the wait. In addition to their selection of salad and pasta dishes, their pizza is touted as some of the best in Madison. Greenbush makes pizza with a thin crust in a variety of sizes and offers more than the usual assortment of toppings, including artichoke hearts, feta cheese, kalamata olives, Italian sausage and many more. While eating at Greenbush Bar may not be ideal for someone cramming for an exam, not many places do pizzas as well as they do.