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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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In Dining Blogs

One of Dom & Phil's special pies, the steak compobasa.

In Dining Blogs

Sausage, pepperoni, mushroom and onion on thin crust.

In Dining Blogs

The DeMarini name has a long-standing history in the Milwaukee pizza game.

In Dining Blogs

The large dining area features Italian decor and scenic murals.

In search of the perfect pizza: Dom & Phil's DeMarini's


The DeMarini name has a long history in the Milwaukee-area pizza scene. Mama DeMarini's started over 65 years ago. Sons Dom and Phil started helping and later working in that restaurant when they were as young as 10 years old.

Around 15 years ago, Dom and Phil DeMarini opened their own restaurant at 1211 E. Conway St., a few blocks from Mama DeMarini's, using the same recipes they used while making pizzas for much of their lives at their parents' restaurant.

On my visit I met Phil's wife, Ann, who was the hostess that evening. She gave me some of the history of Dom & Phil's emergence to the entrepreneurs they are today, as well as pointing out that two of her daughters work in the restaurant as bartender and server, so this is very much still a family business.

A couple of years ago, I had dined at a Dom & Phil's DeMarini's location in Menomonee Falls. I learned from Mrs. DeMarini that the location is a franchise owned and operated by another family, but using the same recipes, including DeMarini's house-made sauce.

When I pulled up to the Bay View location, I was surprised that the building was much larger than I expected for a business in that neighborhood. Dom & Phil's DeMarini's has a large bar area surrounded by a few tables and booths and a separate large dining room.

The dining room had a warm and cozy feel to it. The windows were adorned with holiday lights, fans and large track lighting hung from the ceiling and the walls featured murals and a design simulating the outside of homes in an Italian village.

Both the bar and dining room were full early on this Saturday evening. Luckily our wait for a table was less than 10 minutes.

While I waited, I reviewed the chalk board in the bar listing the dinner specials for the evening, which included lobster ravioli, spinach ravioli and a steak compobasa pizza. The latter had me intrigued.

My friend and I started with an order of garlic bread. Large slices of "Texas toast" cut in half arrived in a basket. The slices had generous doses of butter and garlic. The garlic bread was grilled, which gave it a deliciously crispy and chewy texture.

The garlic bread arrived quickly, but due to the full house, we waited another 30 to 40 minutes for the pizzas.

The first pizza was the steak compobasa that grabbed my attention when I arrived. A thin crust was topped with garlic and olive oil instead of the usual pizza sauce. The pizza was covered with mozzarella cheese and large chunks of tenderloin steak, red bell peppers and red onions.

I was really impressed with how moist and tender the steak was. I didn't bite into a single piece of dry meat. Other pizzerias in town have struggled with dry steak on their pizza. I was also pleased with the flavor combinations of the garlic and olive oil with the peppers and onions.

The crust also stayed crispy throughout, and slices held together well considering the weight of the generous portions of toppings. I would definitely recommend this pizza if you happened to visit and found it available.

Next up was a large sausage, pepperoni, mushroom and onion pizza. The large pizzas are served in a rectangular pan. Again, the crust was thin. It was crispy around the edge of the pan, but much softer toward the center.

As with the steak compobasa, the toppings were large in size and piled on. However, unlike the steak pizza, this pizza featured the house-made pizza sauce.

The flavors and texture of the sauce were closer to that of a tomato paste. It was neither sweet nor spicy. It wasn't bad, but also not one of the better sauces I've had.

The pepperoni was crispy, spicy and flavorful. The large chunks of Italian sausage were mild, but still had a good flavor. The large mushroom slices originated from a can, which was disappointing, but I thought they were better than other canned mushrooms I've found on pizzas.

Pizzas are all thin crust and come in three sizes: a 10-inch junior, a 13-inch small and a 12-by-16 inch rectangular large. Pizza varieties listed on the menu all included onions, but you can order your pizza without onions.

The prices for a cheese and onion pizza are $6.25, $9.10 and $12.50, respectively. Additional toppings are $1.45 to $1.95 each.

Other menu items include appetizers, salads, pastas and sandwiches, including a pork chop calabrese.

Other than 7UP, you won't find any Coca-Cola or Pepsi products. Instead you'll find local favorites like Sprecher root beer and Oak Creek's Black Bear soda. The cola is on tap, but other flavors are available in bottles, such as black cherry (my favorite) or blue raspberry.

With such a long family history in the neighborhood, it is easy to imagine repeat business from loyal followers. While I sat near the hostess station, I noticed quite a few diners greeted staff by first name, and some added warm embraces.

Loyalty even extends to some of the staff. I learned that one of the bartenders is 72 years old and started working for the DeMarini family at age 18!

I have a feeling the third generation will keep the business going into the future.


Talkbacks

powermatt99 | Jan. 8, 2013 at 7:48 a.m. (report)

I'm surprised at the positive review of this place. In my experience, the pizza is mediocre and the staff is rude. There are better places in Bay View for pizza. I don't know of a single Bay View foodie who actually likes this place.

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pizza fan | Jan. 7, 2013 at 7:29 p.m. (report)

Demarini' pizza on Conway in Bay View is not very good. Mama DeMarinis was really the better of the two DeMarinis Pizza in Bay View. Phil is the only brother who is actually living. Dom has passed away some time ago now. . Seating is always half hazzard when I visited the establishment. The pizza does not have much of a flavor. Most of the time the Pizza is cold or burned. I would not recommend DeMarinis on Conway to even my enemy. Of couse, this is only my opion.

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Aardvark | Jan. 4, 2013 at 9:22 a.m. (report)

Hands down the worst pizza I've had in the Milwaukee area. Completely flavorless crust, sauce, toppings. Mama DeMarini's was only marginally better and that's not saying much. If this guy is on the search for perfect pizza in MKE, tell him to just go to Transfer and call it a day.

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InTheView | Jan. 3, 2013 at 3:55 p.m. (report)

I've never had a good experience there. I kept going back, but I gave up after they refused to take back a burned order of garlic bread and burned pizza. There was another couple there that had the same issue, with no apologies over the poorly served pizza. I complained later to the owner on their facebook page, which they apologized and offered me a free pizza at a later time. I couldn't imagine going back to redeem it.

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