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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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The Palermo pizza on a thin crust. Rick, however, recommends a thicker crust for this pizza.
The Palermo pizza on a thin crust. Rick, however, recommends a thicker crust for this pizza.
There was a significant amount of buzz when Palermo Villa transformed into the current Divino Wine and Dine.
There was a significant amount of buzz when Palermo Villa transformed into the current Divino Wine and Dine.
The garden pizza on thick crust.
The garden pizza on thick crust.

In search of the perfect pizza: Divino Wine and Dine

Early last year, there was quite a bit of buzz over the transformation of Palermo Villa into Divino Wine and Dine, 2315 N. Murray Ave., and equal buzz about Dean Cannestra taking over the space after closing his previous venture, Libiamo.

Cannestra grew up in a family of cooks and attended Brown Deer High School, which offered a culinary program at the time. After high school, he studied restaurant management and continued his culinary education.

In December 2012, Cannestra -- who worked for years at Palermo Villa when it was owned by his sister Kathy Mirenda -- his wife Mary Howard and his niece Tina Conley opened Divino with the goal of maintaining the quality and tradition that Palermo Villa stood for, while modernizing the space and upgrading equipment where appropriate.

Minor changes were also made to the menu, including the addition of small plates and half portions of the pasta dishes.

Divino’s entrance leads you into the bar, which features cream city brick and matching floor tiles stamped with the names of various wines. The dining room offers booth or table seating, warm colors, paintings and a large mural of wine barrels. The paintings were transferred from Libiamo.

The menu is broken down into six main sections: mezza piatta (small plate), entrees, sandwiches, pasta, pasta al forno (baked pasta) and pizza. The pasta and sauces are made from scratch.

Grilled octopus, arancini (rice balls filled with cheese and meat or spinach) and cipolla – a ciabatta bread topped with ricotta cheese, charred onions and fresh rosemary – were small plate items that caught my eye. I plan to order them on a future visit.

Pasta comes in 12 preparations, and half orders are available, allowing diners to explore more of the menu or simply enjoy a lighter meal.

Divino also offers a Friday fish fry. Diners can choose from beer-battered cod, breaded walleye or baked cod. The baked cod is served with a side of pasta, while the fried fish is served with seasoned waffle…

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A salivating look at Tony Maronni's St. Anthony's pizza.
A salivating look at Tony Maronni's St. Anthony's pizza.
Tony Maronni's opened in September 2006.
Tony Maronni's opened in September 2006.
A sausage and pepperoni pizza on Tony Maronni's unconventional Sicilian deep dish crust.
A sausage and pepperoni pizza on Tony Maronni's unconventional Sicilian deep dish crust.

In search of the perfect pizza: Tony Maronni's

I started working for my current employer six years ago. A few months after I started, one of my team members invited us all over to his Sussex home for a Packers party. Among the popular party foods were pizzas delivered from a nearby pizzeria.

The host told me the pizza came from Tony Maronni’s, N63 W23951 Main St. The pizza was good enough – and the name was catchy enough – for me to remember them both all of these years later.

In September 2006, Tony Lippold and his wife Angelsita opened Tony Maronni’s in a space formerly occupied by a used book store. Lippold, a trained chef with his education coming from a technical college and the Culinary Institute of America, spent much of his career at hotels and country clubs, including the Silver Spring Country Club.

While at the Silver Spring Country Club, Lippold often made pizzas for wedding receptions as a late night snack. Since he was complimented so much for his pizzas and he felt pizzas appealed to the masses, he considered opening his own pizzeria.

Tony Maronni’s started as a take-n-bake shop, but later, Lippold added a small oven for cooking a single pizza. Then he added a second and a third as the demand grew for Lippold to bake the pizzas for customer pick-up.

Eventually, demand called for the installation of a large oven that baked 10 pizzas, then a conveyor, then multiple conveyors. Now, Tony Maronni’s has a commercial oven that bakes up to 300 pizzas in an hour.

Customer demand also led to the addition of a dining room in July 2008. The dining room is filled with wooden chairs and tables topped with red and white checkered vinyl cloths. The walls are adorned with red brick patterns and a mural of Italian fields. Menus are printed on charming wooden boards tied together with thin leather straps, like the type you find in a baseball glove.

Tony Maronni’s menu is larger than most pizzerias so there should be something for all tastes. Appetizers, salads, pasta, calzones, desserts and larg…

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A look at a sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza from Capri di Nuovo.
A look at a sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza from Capri di Nuovo.
The classic roadside sign, left over by the restaurant's old owners.
The classic roadside sign, left over by the restaurant's old owners.
A Chicago-style stuffed pizza.
A Chicago-style stuffed pizza.

In search of the perfect pizza: Capri di Nuovo

A popular West Allis Italian restaurant closed in December 2012 after being in business for 40 years. I have a friend who would drive from Oconomowoc just to buy lasagna from Capri Restaurant, 8340 W. Beloit Rd.

A year after closing, Chris Paul – along with wife, Abby – acquired the restaurant after a friend living a few blocks from Capri persistently encouraged him to do so.

Paul has worked in the restaurant industry since his teen years, when he started as a delivery driver. Over time, he learned the cooking aspect and has recently been working to perfect the most popular recipes he inherited from the previous owner, as well as developing his own recipes for the menu.

I was pleased with the initial round of remodeling. Wood laminate floors and a light beige paint job really brightened up the dining room. The lower half of the walls had light stained wooden panels supplementing the new clean appearance, and a mural just outside the kitchen contributed a warm and comforting feeling.

Along with the new changes, some of the old furniture remains. Many of Capri’s original regulars are attached to the booths, loose benches and all, so it may take some time to replace them. I think it’s a nice gesture and smart business move to keep the customers of the former restaurant happy.

Outside, the exterior of the building received a fresh coat of clay colored paint in just two days, thanks to the efforts of a couple of employees. Black awnings with Capri di Nuovo printed in white font hang over the large picture windows, but the original Capri sign at the side of the road remains, for now.

Paul told me that future plans include repaving the parking lot, adding a patio, and replacing the roadside sign. He’s also in the process of adding a few specialty pizzas and new entrees to the menu.

The staff at Capri di Nuovo makes its own bread dough and pizza dough from scratch. They also make their own pizza and pasta sauces.

The menu consists of soups, sandwiches – s…

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Mario's Italian Grill opened last June.
Mario's Italian Grill opened last June.
A chicken alfredo pizza - with a peculiarly yellow sauce - on hand-tossed crust from Mario's Italian Grill.
A chicken alfredo pizza - with a peculiarly yellow sauce - on hand-tossed crust from Mario's Italian Grill.
A sausage and pepperoni pizza on thin crust from Mario's.
A sausage and pepperoni pizza on thin crust from Mario's.

In search of the perfect pizza: Mario's Italian Grill

I stumbled upon Mario’s Italian Grill, 2012 W. Layton Ave., on a Google search last fall. Owner Ari Panariti opened the restaurant last June as his first in Milwaukee but owned another restaurant in the past.

Panariti has worked in pizzerias since he was a teenager, so this restaurant concept made sense for him. The space is a former George Webb restaurant that has been remodeled. 

Panariti created his own recipes and takes pride in making the components of his dishes from scratch.

On my visit, the phone rang often, the delivery driver returned for his next order and a few customers arrived to pick up their carry-out orders, but I was the only customer dining in. Not too bad for an early Sunday afternoon.

There were a handful of tables and booths, as well as counter seating along the front window, left over from the diner days.

The menu at Mario’s Italian Grill includes standard appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, ribs, chicken, shrimp dinners, pizza and pastas such as spaghetti, lasagna and gnocchi – which was recently added to the menu. Friday nights also feature a fish fry. Choose from a perch fry at $8.95 or Icelandic cod for $9.95. You read that right.

Pizza crust options are listed on the in-store menu but neither online nor on the carry-out menu, so be aware that thin crust, hand-tossed and thick crust options are available in 10, 12, 14, and 16 inches.

Pies range from $6.95 to $12.95 for a cheese pizza. Additional toppings range from $1.25 to $2 each, and there is a $2 upcharge for the thick crust, which is essentially a double hand-tossed crust.

Specialty pizzas start at $9.95 and include the meat lovers with cheese, sausage, pepperoni, ham and bacon; the chicken alfredo with cheese, chicken, mushrooms and tomatoes; and the barbecue pizza with cheese, chicken BBQ sauce, onions and bacon.

I decided to start with my common denominator, a sausage and pepperoni pizza on a thin crust. I compare smoked barbecue joints with brisket, and I com…

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