The new Pizza Man is everything the old one wasnâ€™t. Except, in the case of the most important thing: the pizza itself.
Before it burned in January 2009, the old Pizza Man was dark, and it was cavelike -- or "intimate" depending on which side of the glass half-full/half-empty divide you fell. The pizza was great and the wine list very impressive.
I know the old place on the corner of Oakland and North was a landmark and I certainly viewed it as such. But I rarely felt the urge to go in anymore. It felt dated and, again, too dark and, until it was gone, I wasnâ€™t especially nostalgic about the dining room (insert "gasp!" here).
But last July, Pizza Man remade the old Lixx space on the corner of Belleview and Downer and while upon entering you get a blast of old Pizza Man vibe, inside the space feels bright and open and modern.
Then you go up the stairs -- past the funky wine bottle chandelier -- and itâ€™s magic. Most of the dining room up there is topped with a retractable skylight that on a cold or rainy day guarantees the kind of illumination patrons could only dream of old location could only dream of. On a warm and sunny day, those panels slide open and, voila, Pizza Man has a rooftop dining room.
Thereâ€™s also an actual 100 percent outdoor patio, running along the Belleview side, too, offering fun views of the intersection.
Itâ€™s really awesome and unlike most anything else in Milwaukee. In this way, Pizza Man has more than simply reopened in a new space. It has reinvented itself.
Except, Iâ€™m happy to say, when it comes to the food.
On a recent visit, we had the eggplant strips ($8), which -- sorry Venice Club -- are now the best Iâ€™ve ever had in Milwaukee.
Chef Zak Baker plates up delicious eggplant strips that are battered and deep fried crunchy. Not too oily, not at all mushy (because we all know they get kinda gross when they're mushy). Simply delectable.
The Pizza Man Special ($20 for a 14-inch medium) was, as always, top-loaded with fresh ingredients -- sliced black olives, sausage, pepperoni, sliced green peppers, onions and fresh (not canned) sliced mushrooms.
Itâ€™s amazing that the slender Pizza Man crust can handle it all, but it did.
The kids devoured their grilled cheese ($5) and buttered noodles ($6) and then even tucked into the pizza, which, in itself, says something, because typically they wouldnâ€™t even consider a pizza with all that business up top.
But even they could sense that up top is where itâ€™s all happening these days at Pizza Man.
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