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.
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.
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
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.’"
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.
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.
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.
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
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.