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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014

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In Dining

Cheesecake baker Lauren Feldmann arranges the bakery cases at Portabella Bakery & Cafe.

In Dining

Co-owner Sal Matera shows off two of Portabella's pizzas.

In Dining

The Matera family hopes to expand the Portabella brand beyond New Berlin.

Portabella introduces new concept to New Berlin


The closure of a favorite restaurant can evoke pangs of longing and nostalgia years later. The precise texture or flavor of a certain dish has never been experienced again. And you wonder, what happened to the people who made that taste so special?

For folks who fondly recall Benedetto's on 76th and Rawson, here's some good news. The Matera family, who owned that Italian restaurant from 1990 until it was shuttered in 2001, is back in the pasta and pizza business. They officially opened Portabella Bakery & Cafe in New Berlin a few weeks ago.

The concept and ambiance is quite different from Benedetto's, which had a dark and cozy bar that accompanied a traditional dining room, but Sal Matera promises the dedication to quality is the same.

Three generations of Materas have been feeding Milwaukeeans for decades. Sal's grandfather and father owned Matera's Pizza in Bay View, and his dad, Joe, also operated a bakery on 45th and Forest Home.

After closing Benedetto's, the family acquired an Atlanta Bread Co. franchise, which it operated at 3830 S. Moorland Rd. in New Berlin until about six months ago. Portabella is in the same space, and is something of a blend of an Atlanta Bread concept with an Italian family restaurant.

Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can buy a muffin top or loaf of sourdough bread, grab soup and a sandwich, request a plate of chicken and broccoli alfredo over linguine or a Margherita pizza, and wash it all down with a Heineken or a glass of Chianti. A kids' menu offers four choices, priced at $4.50 and $5.

The restaurant even overlaps with Starbucks, offering espresso, lattes, cappuccinos and caramel macchiatos.

Orders are placed and picked up at a counter except during the dinner hours, when the food is delivered to tables by runners. The restaurant seats about 120 at attractive blond wood tables and chairs, and several pieces of plush furniture are clustered around a fireplace.

Sal Matera, who owns Portabella with his father and brother Dominic, calls the approach "quick, casual." The family intends to expand the brand beyond New Berlin, perhaps through franchising.

"There really isn't anyone else in this niche," he said, mentioning the Italian entrees, a full bakery, four hot breakfast sandwiches ($3.29 to $3.59), seven cold sandwiches ($5.29 to $5.49) six panini ($6.49 to $6.59) as well as wine and beer.

Chopped salads range from a pear and blue cheese with walnuts ($6.79) and spinach with pancetta vinaigrette ($6.49) to a fresh mozzarella ($6.49) All are accompanied by bread.

Portabella employs its own pastry chef, and all baked goods are prepared on premises. The selection is large – bagels, croissants, danish, bear claws, cannoli and more. A wide range of breads is also on display.

Pasta and pizza are the centerpiece of the Portabella experience, and it has taken awhile for the entire package to come together. The Materas immediately rebranded their restaurant with its new name when the Atlanta Bread franchise expired, but it took months for the all-brick hearth pizza oven to arrive and be installed.

A single pizza size, 9 inches, is offered with a red or white sauce. Customers can choose among seven specials ($7.75 to $9.75) or build their own pie, starting at $6.95. The usual toppings are augmented by such less traditional items as baby spinach, feta cheese and artichoke hearts.

Half a dozen pasta entrees are always joined by a daily special. Top price is $9.50 for beef or chicken lasagna.

"This is our heritage," Sal Matera says, gesturing to the pizza and pasta prep areas. It is the heart of Portabella Bakery and Cafe.


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