In search of the perfect pizza: Toscana
The Entertainment Book introduced me to Toscana Italian Ristorante, located at 8405 S. 27th St. in Franklin.
Chef and owner Eddie Sopiqoti moved here from Albania after working for 10 years in the Tuscany (hence Toscana) region of Italy, learning the craft of Italian cuisine, including pizza. Sopiqoti worked in a restaurant on Milwaukee's south side while saving money to one day open his own.
He named the restaurant La Toscana when he opened in 2003, but customers kept calling in asking to order Mexican food, an honest mistake corrected after those two letters were removed from the name.
Toscana is family-owned and operated. On my visit, Sopiqoti pointed out his mother and his son assisting other customers.
On the west wall hung a large HD flat screen TV. A couple came in for dinner and asked why the Packers game wasn't on. It was a bit entertaining to hear the couple explain to the staff that the game was being televised on Telemundo. I'm certain they would have left to dine elsewhere had the staff not located the game. I'm also fairly certain that couple will never demand that a television channel be changed to Telemundo.
While waiting for my order, I enjoyed the music playing over the speakers, a mix of classic Italian songs and a little Sinatra. I later discovered that their website plays some of the same songs and has a link with a page of coupons.
Dark green carpet covered the floors. Booths lined the walls while dark, wooden tables with dark wooden chairs and green cushions filled the center of the dining room. The walls were covered with dark wood panels on the lower half and white painted drywall upper half. Faux vines adorned the booth dividers.
Toscana's menu features Italian seafood dishes, Italian chicken dishes, steaks and chops, pastas, burgers, sandwiches, soups, salads, appetizers and buckets of fried chicken and fish.
Like most Milwaukee restaurants, Toscana also offers a Friday cod fish fry or baked cod dinner for $8.99, and they serve a full breakfast menu daily, starting at 8 a.m.
Toscana offers a decent array of pizza options. Crust options are thin-n-crispy, thick-n-crispy and pan style. A gluten-free crust is also available. Crust sizes come in 12, 14, and 16 inches. They also offer a 16-by-32-inch pie crust.
Prices start at $9 to $20 for a cheese pizza. Additional toppings range from $1 up to $2.50. They also offer a Golden Pizza which allows you to select any pizza and replace their made-from-scratch red pizza sauce with house-made Alfredo sauce.
The red sauce is made from a puree of fresh Roma tomatoes, not canned, with their own blend of spices added. The sauce has a delicious spicy flavor to it. I couldn't believe it was made from scratch since the seasoning blend masked the taste of tomatoes. One key ingredient in their pizza sauce, and other Italian dishes, is basil, which Sopiqoti's mother grows in her backyard. Other toppings are provided by suppliers from the Milwaukee and Chicago area. The pizza dough is also made fresh daily.
Toscana's specialty pizzas are available in 12-, 16- and 16-by-32 inch pies and range from $11 to $22. Some of Toscana's most interesting specialty pizzas include a Mediterranean with pomodoro sauce, spinach, gorgonzola and feta, an Amore with chicken, red peppers, spinach and artichoke, and Ivey's Pizza with French fries, cheeseburger and chicken fingers.
I started with the Meat Lovers pizza, topped with sausage, pepperoni, bacon and meatballs on the thin-n-crispy crust. The crust was only slightly crisp and a little too dense and dry for me, with a texture similar to a stale cracker. However, the crust maintained its integrity as each square slice held the toppings well.
The pepperoni slices were thin and slightly spicy. The small sausage chunks had a really nice spicy flavor. I barely noticed the bacon, and I wasn't a fan of the meatball topping. The meatballs looked like pieces cut from a link of meat with a smooth, round edge. The flavor was like that of a blend of beef and lamb.
Besides the sausage, I thought the spicy pizza sauce provided most of the flavor and helped salvage the pizza.
Next up was the Amore on a pan-style crust. Again, the crust was slightly crisp and a bit too dense for my liking. I would have preferred a buttery flavor and texture. These slices were cut as pies and also held firm when lifted.
The chicken chunks were tender, but unseasoned other than salt. A marinade would certainly have provided some needed flavor. The artichokes provided salty flavor, and the red peppers and spinach provided balance to the saltiness of the artichokes.
Neither pizza included mushrooms, but I feel compelled to tell you that Toscana offers both fresh and canned mushrooms.
Sopiqoti believes the fact that Toscana Ristorante is family-owned and operated is what keeps the customers coming back. He was very friendly and genuine when we spoke. His servers are attentive and accommodating.
I feel I should return some day to experience some of the other recipes that Sopiqoti brought here from his cooking teachers in Tuscany. Perhaps I'll get back some day when my quest is over.
Are you able to describe the flavor of anything in any way other than "spicy"?
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