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The thin and crispy pizza at Paisano's is worth the drive to South Milwaukee.
The thin and crispy pizza at Paisano's is worth the drive to South Milwaukee.

In search of the perfect pizza: Paisano's Italian Restaurant

I first learned about Paisano’s, 113 N. Chicago Ave. in South Milwaukee, from a Google search for south side pizzerias, but recently a co-worker recommended them, so I decided to pay them a visit.

The restaurant was very clean. The light beige walls were coated with stucco for a textured design. Paintings hung on the walls, and a mural of a village and bay adorned the back wall of the dining room which included wooden tables and chairs, as well as booths.

As luck would have it, owner Fred Sunani stopped in while I was dining. He greeted a family of regulars before checking in with the hostess and kitchen staff; later, I had a chance meet and chat with him. 

I asked Sunani about his journey to becoming a business owner, and he shared his story beginning with his father bringing his family to the United States in 1973. The Albanian family moved here from Macedonia via Austria.

They arrived in Chicago and lived briefly in Aurora, when friends in Wisconsin recommended a move north for a more comfortable life for the family, and they settled in South Milwaukee. 

Sunani and his brother started working at age 12 as paper boys. A few years later, Sunani got a job as a busser at Sally’s Steak House. Some of you will remember the popular dining establishment. The rest of you should ask your parents about it. 

After Sally’s, Sunani worked at DeRango’s for 3 years where he learned to cook. He married Fidane in 1985 and left the restaurant industry to work in a machine shop until his father suggested that he open a business. In 1991, Sunani and his family pooled their resources to open Saraphino’s. The business remained family owned until a recent change in ownership. 

However, in January 2010, Sunani decided it was time to open a place with his wife Fidane and sons, Besnik and Bashkim. Together, they continue to manage all of the operations of Paisano’s and cook with recipes that Sunani created via trial and error based on lessons he learned from his expe…

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A pepperoni, sausage and Canadian bacon pizza - also known as The Dino - from Bari Pizzeria.
A pepperoni, sausage and Canadian bacon pizza - also known as The Dino - from Bari Pizzeria.
Bari Pizzeria is located at 5919 W. Burnham St. in West Allis.
Bari Pizzeria is located at 5919 W. Burnham St. in West Allis.
The garlic bread from Bari Pizzeria was a winner.
The garlic bread from Bari Pizzeria was a winner.

In search of the perfect pizza: Bari Pizzeria

Last summer, a new pizzeria opened near one of my favorite restaurants. I made a note and gave them some time to get the operation running. An interesting fact I learned was that the owner wanted out soon after opening and left.

Bruce Hicklin was working there at the time and essentially running the business on his own anyway, utilizing his knowledge from almost 20 years of industry experience. When the building owner Mario Morgese asked Hicklin if he could continue running the business, Hicklin accepted the role of general manager and took over the operation.

Hicklin had also been working for Morgese for several years, so Morgese was comfortable with the decision. Paper work was drawn up and signed to transfer ownership of the business to Hicklin, and Bari Pizzeria, 5919 W. Burnham St., was born. The name was chosen for the Italian port city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea that Morgese is fond of.

Bari Pizzeria’s menu is concise, consisting of Italian sausage patty sandwiches, pizza, garlic bread, cheese bread and pizza bread. The bread is baked at Scardina Bakery & Deli, just a couple of blocks away on Beloit Road.

Pizza crusts are made locally, par-baked and delivered to Bari in 10, 12, and 16 inches. Cheese pizzas range from $8 to $12.50, and additional toppings – including sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, onions, black olives, green olives, green peppers, crushed tomatoes, jalapenos, pineapple and anchovies – range from $1 to $1.75.

Specialty pizzas are available on 12- and 16-inch crusts and range from $12.75 to $21.50. They are named for members of the Rat Pack and include the Chairman – with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, black olives and green olives – the Sammy, the Dino, the Peter and the Joey, with sausage, pepperoni, green peppers and onions.

Bari Pizzeria doesn’t have a website, but they do have a Facebook page where they list their specials. Wednesdays and Thursdays have recently featured a 16-inc…

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The bacon and ramps pizza from Mangia Wine Bar.
The bacon and ramps pizza from Mangia Wine Bar. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)
The Sue's Favorite, featuring asparagus, ricotta, fior di latte mozzarella and an egg.
The Sue's Favorite, featuring asparagus, ricotta, fior di latte mozzarella and an egg. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)
An appetizer of spring pea bruschetta.
An appetizer of spring pea bruschetta. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)

In search of the perfect pizza: Mangia Wine Bar

Over the past few years, I’ve read and heard only a few reasons to drive down to Kenosha for food. Earlier this year, I visited Frank’s Diner for breakfast, had a burger at Captain Mike’s for lunch and explored Tenuta’s Deli (think Glorioso’s but with more inventory) and Kenosha’s downtown in between breakfast and lunch.

One place on my list – Mangia Wine Bar, located at 5717 Sheridan Rd. – was closed the day I was in Kenosha. Luckily I had plans last month to catch up with a friend who lived in Racine, so we decided to visit Mangia.

I’ve been a fan of Chef Jason Gorman from his days at Dream Dance in Potawatomi and Smyth in the Iron Horse Hotel. Gorman also worked with Chef Peter Sandroni at La Merenda for a short time before taking a position as executive chef at the Art Institute of Chicago to work for well-known chef and restaurateur Tony Mantuano.

A year ago, Gorman became the executive chef at Mangia Wine Bar in Kenosha, which is owned by Chef Mantuano, his wife Cathy and his sister Sue Mantuano-Tishuk. Per their website, Chef Mantuano, his brother Gino and their father Gene "Gig" Mantuano opened Mangia in 1988.

Mangia Wine Bar received a major remodel a little over a year ago and features a wood burning pizza oven behind the bar, where patrons can enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail while pasta and pizza dough are being made just a few feet away. The combination of Executive Chef Jason Gorman and a wood burning pizza oven warranted a drive south for pizza. Co-ownership in a restaurant from Chef Tony Mantuano was an added bonus. 

On my visit, I had the opportunity to meet Chef Mantuano, who happened to be there while his wife Cathy, who is a wine expert, was facilitating a tasting in the bar. My visit was already off to a great start.

My friend and I sat and reviewed the menu. We couldn’t try everything, but we certainly wanted to try an appetizer or two before the pizzas. Nonna’s meatballs are made from scratch using pork shoulder from …

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A sausage, cheese and pepperoni pizza from Vinchi's in Bay View.
A sausage, cheese and pepperoni pizza from Vinchi's in Bay View.
Vinchi's is located inside of The Bubbler at 3158 S. Howell Ave.
Vinchi's is located inside of The Bubbler at 3158 S. Howell Ave.
The author greatly enjoyed Vinchi's favorite: cheesy garlic bread.
The author greatly enjoyed Vinchi's favorite: cheesy garlic bread.

In search of the perfect pizza: Vinchi's

Bay View has become a popular part of town to eat and drink over the past few years. It’s also a place where one can find a pizzeria in the back of a small tavern with a completely different name and a completely different owner.

Such is the case with Vinchi’s Pizza, which has been located inside The Bubbler at 3158 S. Howell Ave. for the past three years. There are no business signs for Vinchi’s, at least none that I saw. You kind of just have to know.

What’s even more interesting to me is that Vinchi’s Pizza was previously located in another bar called the Sand Castle on 16th and Morgan for 15 years before owner Paul Meka moved the pizzeria to The Bubbler.

Meka started working in the restaurant industry at age 14, when he started to learn the craft of pizza making.

Meka uses his own recipes and seems to have found a successful combination of ingredients and business venue. The customers I spoke to raved about Vinchi’s sandwiches as much as the pizza.

I’d called the night before to confirm their hours for my visit. I read reviews and was warned that the hours vary a bit. The Bubbler was open at 11 a.m., but I was told Vinchi’s would open at 1 p.m., an hour later than the posted hours on Vinchi’s menu for a Sunday.

We arrived at 1 p.m. and learned that Meka had just called and would be in within the hour. I skipped breakfast, so I wasn’t happy to hear that lunch was going to be delayed as much as an hour. Another customer assured me my wait would be worthwhile. I had no other plans, and the NCAA tournament games were on, so my friend and I waited. A bag of chips, a glass of orange juice and a friendly bartender helped keep me calm. She brought me a menu, so I would be ready to order as soon as the man of the hour arrived.

Vinchi’s menu is modest, featuring three specialty pies, four versions of baked bread appetizers and seven sandwiches – including chicken parmesan, pork chop Calabrese and the Vinchi Burger, a half-pound Italian sausage…

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