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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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A pepperoni, cheese and sausage pizza - also called The Cranky - from Cranky Al's.
A pepperoni, cheese and sausage pizza - also called The Cranky - from Cranky Al's.
Rick called Cranky Al's garlic bread "among the best" he's had on his pizza questing.
Rick called Cranky Al's garlic bread "among the best" he's had on his pizza questing.
The Susie's Special, featuring baby organic spinach, ricotta and fresh garlic over mozzarella and romano cheese.
The Susie's Special, featuring baby organic spinach, ricotta and fresh garlic over mozzarella and romano cheese.

In search of the perfect pizza: Cranky Al's

My first experience with Cranky Al’s, 6901 W. North Ave., was during the Chili’n on the Ave event in Wauwatosa a few years back. Since then, I’ve been hearing about their pizza and their doughnuts – the crullers in particular.

I finally got to try the famous cruller when a friend brought a box of Cranky Al’s doughnuts to another friend’s house for brunch. I liked it, but since I don’t drink coffee, I didn’t get to enjoy it properly, at least that’s what my friends told me.

A few months ago, I was with friends at Camp Bar in Wauwatosa, and we ordered a couple of pizzas. Camp Bar in Wauwatosa serves Cranky Al’s pizza, but my friends told me they preferred the pizza at Cranky Al’s. I thought the pizza at Camp Bar was pretty good with a nice thin and crispy crust. If my friends like the pizza at Cranky Al’s better, then I really needed to try it.

We agreed that night to schedule a visit to Cranky Al’s soon and made that happen a few weeks ago. My friends were regulars, so the general manager came over to greet them, and I was introduced.

The general manager is Joey Carioti, the nephew of owners Alex ("Al") and Susie Brkich. After graduating college four years ago and returning from a back-packing trip through Europe, Carioti was asked to help his aunt and uncle for a couple of weeks. He grew to love the business so much, he is still there after almost four years and has no plans to leave any time soon.

A summary of the story that Carioti shared with me explains that Al Brkich worked at a bakery in Wauwatosa after a stint as a crab cake specialist with Crabby Al’s. Susie Brkich wanted to open a coffee shop and told Al she wanted him to make doughnuts for the coffee shop since he knew the bakery business.

He was reluctant and said he would consider it if they got "a sign." Shortly after that, they assisted a motorist and were offered a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts as a form or gratitude. That was "the sign" they needed, and Cranky Al’s d…

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National Pizza's Meat Madness pizza on its original hand-tossed thin crust.
National Pizza's Meat Madness pizza on its original hand-tossed thin crust.

In search of the perfect pizza: National Pizza Pub and Grille

The lower level of the Best Western Woods View Inn is home to National Pizza Pub and Grille, located at 5501 W. National Ave. I drive past it almost daily.

The space most recently held a restaurant called Crazy Chef, but changes in management and philosophy resulted in the hotel’s chief engineer Josh Fritz and director of operations Eric Unmouth partnering to turn the restaurant into a successful venture.

What’s different now versus the last restaurant? The hotel has retained ownership of the space as opposed to leasing the space out; therefore, the restaurant has a vested interest in the success of the restaurant.

Fritz started his position just over a year ago, while Unmouth started two months prior. They took over the restaurant space in June, received a capital contribution from the hotel for renovations and opened the doors in October.

Fritz is from Milwaukee, while Unmouth is originally from Marquette, Mich. Unmouth helped open several Italian restaurants and pizzerias. He and Fritz collaborated on the menu and recipes. Many of the recipes have been created through trial and error.

The menu consists of starters, wings, burgers, salads, sandwiches, calzones, pizza and a fish fry served on Fridays and Saturdays featuring cod, walleye, shrimp and combo dinner options.

Pizzas come in 10-, 12-, or 14-inch thin or hand tossed crusts, which are made from scratch and priced at $5, $6.50 and $8, respectively, for a cheese pizza. Additional toppings range from $1 to $2.50.

Aside from the more traditional toppings, National Pizza Pub and Grille also offers feta cheese crumbles, green olives, jalapenos, sun dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, sauerkraut, turkey, corned beef and roast beef.

They also differentiate themselves from most other pizzerias by offering different crust and sauce options. Crust options feature garlic, ranch, butter or a Cajun crust for a $1 upcharge.

Different sauces are also available at no extra charge and include ranch, barbecue, 1,000…

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