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Unique pizza

By JEANETTE HURT
Photos by Dan Bishop

July 2013

Transfer Pizzeria Cafe

Pizza. Warm, goey, chewy … oozing with cheese, overflowing with toppings, backed by a zippy red sauce and supported by a perfect crust.

But deciding on what makes a crust perfect, which pizza maker does it better and who delivers it faster can be the subject of many passionate arguments, er, discussions. Just about everyone I’ve encountered has a favorite pizzeria. You know what I’m talking about because you have a favorite, and your cell phone has its number on speed dial.

Though Milwaukee’s not known for pizza like Chicago or New York, there are dozens of great pizzerias scattered throughout the city and across the ’burbs. Some of these places are sit-down trattorias, others do mostly carryout, and still others are family restaurants that just happen to serve great pizza. With so many great options, it was hard for me to narrow down the pies. To accomplish this gargantuan job, I decided that each place featured had to offer something more than just good pizza — it had to be pizza with a niche, and it had to be pizza that I actually nibbled (or rather, gobbled!).

So here are four places to get a great — and unique — slice:

Pizza ManIt was a sad, sad day when Pizza Man (www.pizzamanmke.com) burned down in July 2011. Fortunately, for pizza and wine lovers everywhere but especially on the East Side, owner Mike Amidzich reopened his beloved restaurant this summer at 2597 N. Downer Ave., just a stone’s throw from its original location. The new digs are swankier, with a balcony and an open-air patio on the second floor, but the old favorites — including artichoke a la mode pizza and wild boar ravioli – remain on the menu. Chef Zachary Baker is new to Pizza Man, but he knows how to make a mean cream-cheese pizza. Since he worked for several years at Lake Park Bistro, he knows his way around the kitchen, too. He’s even planning a gluten-free crust.

While people may have flocked to Pizza Man for the pizza, they stayed for the wine. While the new menu doesn’t have the 200 by-the-glass offerings, it’s "still the biggest by-the-glass offerings in Milwaukee" at a pizzeria, says Steve Schumacher, Pizza Man publicist. At press time, he was still trying to winnow down his list.

Classic Slice

Classic SliceAcross town, Classic Slice (www.theclassicslice.com) built its reputation not on the beers or wines it offers by the glass, but on the plethora of offerings for vegans, gluten intolerant and meat-loving, wheat-loving, caseophiles (cheese lovers). And, when it opened in 2007, it was the first New York-styled joint in town. "I had traveled a lot when I got out of college, and when I returned home, one of the things I noticed we were missing was a place where you could go by yourself and get just a slice," says owner Marissa Lange.

The pizzas at Classic Slice are big — the extra large boxes are hard to fit in your car’s back seat (especially if you drive a Prius). Toppings range from vegan sausage and tofu to ham and homemade meatballs and practically every type of veggie you’d ever want on a pie. My personal favorite is the Popeye — a spinach, bacon and ricotta concoction that’s craveable. "That pizza was inspired by one of my favorite brunch items at Meritage — an eggs Benedict but with creamed spinach, bacon and biscuits," Lange says. "I thought ‘There has to be a way to make that on a pizza.’"

Il RitrovoWhile Classic Slice pays homage to New York, il Ritrovo (www.ilritrovopizza.com) goes straight to Italy. In fact, this Sheboygan pizzeria was the fifth pizzeria in the United States certified to be an authentic Neopolitan pizzeria by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association in Italy. What that certification means is that Stefano Viglietti and his wife, Whitney, and their staff use only wood in their Italian pizza oven, use only Italian and high-quality local ingredients and make pizzas just the way they’ve been made on the Amalfi coast for years. "To be certified, your oven can’t even have gas assistance," Whitney Viglietti says.

The pizzeria opened in 2000, and five years later, they added a bakery and café to the attached gourmet shop. While the cupcakes are to-die-for and the olive oils come from specially purchased harvests in Sicily, the pizza is the reason to drive to Sheboygan.

The Margherita Maxi e Bufala boasts real buffalo mozzarella, air-shipped to the restaurant from Italy. That creamy mozzarella is also featured on the Bufalina Bianca, which also boasts prosciutto, arugula and just a touch of truffle oil. Roasted eggplant, sautéed mushrooms and locally made sausages also top the pies, which are perfectly charred around the edges and just a little bit smoky. For those with allergies, il Ritrovo does make gluten-free versions. The pizza is so good, il Ritrovo has some regulars — from Chicago — and they’ve been most recently featured on The Cooking Channel.

Transfer Pizzeria Café While The Cooking Channel hasn’t come calling to Transfer Pizzeria Café (www.transfermke.com) in Walker’s Point, they could. Like il Ritrovo’s staff, chef Vasyl Lemberskyy learned how to make pizza from an authentic pizzaiolo, or artisan pizza maker, from Italy. In fact, if you’ve ever seen the movie "Eat Pray Love," you’ll actually see the pizzeria whose owners taught him his craft.

But the pizzas made by this Ukrainian-born chef aren’t limited to what you’ll find in Italy. On his menu, you’ll find salmon, Thai peanut sauce and jalapenos. You’ll also find the only pizza in town that is topped with roasted chicken and roasted potatoes with garlic sauce. "It’s very popular," says general manager Missy Tucker. "I have people come back every Sunday for this specific pizza."Like the other three pizzerias, Transfer does gluten-free, but it’s also the only one that features "Defeat the Wheat" Mondays when there’s no extra charge for gluten-free pies and two-for-one bottles of New Grist beer. "There are a lot of people who are gluten sensitive, and there has been a larger demand for this," Tucker says.





 

This story ran in the July 2013 issue of: