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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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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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A sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza from Crossroads II.
A sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza from Crossroads II.
Crossroads II has two locations, this one in Franklin and another in New Berlin.
Crossroads II has two locations, this one in Franklin and another in New Berlin.
Crossroads II's taco pizza lands high on Rick's list of favorite taco pizzas in Milwaukee.
Crossroads II's taco pizza lands high on Rick's list of favorite taco pizzas in Milwaukee.

In search of the perfect pizza: Crossroads II

Shortly after I started writing these blogs, I decided to use Google to find pizzerias in various suburbs or areas of Milwaukee that I didn’t visit often. One of the names that popped up was Crossroads II Pizza and Subs. Several locations appeared. One of the links had a high Yelp rating, so I decided to add this pizzeria to my list of places to visit.

A friend and I recently paid a visit to the Franklin location, 11357 W. St. Martins Rd., because the Yelp reviews indicated there was seating available. That didn’t seem to be the case in New Berlin, 13976 W. Beloit Rd., and I didn’t want my pizza to lose its "fresh from the oven" taste and texture by taking it home.

Upon entering, we saw two high-top tables with four stools each. A few other customers were picking up carry-out orders. Two large coolers filled with beer and soda stood along two walls, and a large menu board hung above the tables. Behind the counter were two young ladies hustling to answer the phone, make new pies, get finished pizzas out of the oven and pack them up along with ... hot ham and rolls? At a pizzeria?

Jenna Rozek, the Franklin restaurant manager, later explained that the building previously housed a butcher shop that sold hot ham and rolls on Sundays. It was a very popular item so Crossroads II kept the Sunday tradition going, and it sells out of it early every Sunday.

Rozek has worked for Crossroads II for nine years and has managed the Franklin location for the past three and a half. I asked about the store's name, and she shared some history.

Just over 30 years ago, brothers Lenny and Gary Vandenboom opened Crossroads Pizza and Subs in Big Bend as a hobby. As I understand it, the New Berlin store was opened a few years later, and the Vandenboom brothers chose to split the businesses into separate entities.

Lenny Vandenboom kept the New Berlin location and named it Crossroads II Pizza and Subs to help distinguish it from Crossroads in Big Bend. An employee of more than 10 y…

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Tenuta's offers thin crust, deep dish, stuffed crust and - pictured here - a virgin crust, merely stretched, topped and baked.
Tenuta's offers thin crust, deep dish, stuffed crust and - pictured here - a virgin crust, merely stretched, topped and baked.
Tenuta's Italian Restaurant opened back in Bay View in December 2003.
Tenuta's Italian Restaurant opened back in Bay View in December 2003.
The thin crust - here supporting a sausage, mushroom and pepperoni pizza - is one of the 10 best Rick has tried on his quest.
The thin crust - here supporting a sausage, mushroom and pepperoni pizza - is one of the 10 best Rick has tried on his quest.
The meatball appetizer at Tenuta's.
The meatball appetizer at Tenuta's.

In search of the perfect pizza: Tenuta's

I’ve been hearing about Tenuta’s, 2995 S. Clement Ave., in Bay View from a few friends over the past few years, so I thought I’d finally pay a visit.

My friend and I stopped in around 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon. There were a couple of guests at the bar and a few tables already occupied, a good sign considering they opened merely 30 minutes before. 

Warm colors on the walls, stained glass above the entrance, and plenty of natural light from the large picture windows provided a comfortable setting.

Owner Frank Tenuta was on site, but General Manager Brenden Fuerstenau kindly took some time and filled me in on the history of the restaurant. 

Frank Tenuta’s parents moved here from Italy in 1966. His father worked for DeRango’s in Racine and later took ownership of the restaurant. There are currently several DeRango’s pizzerias in the Racine area, and they’re owned by at least three different families, including the Tenuta family, represented by Frank’s brother Dan.

Frank Tenuta, meanwhile, worked in his parent’s restaurant along with his brothers. Tenuta moved to the Bay View area when he married his wife, Jodi. He opened the Tenuta’s restaurant in Bay View on Dec. 19, 2003.

Most of the staff has worked at Tenuta’s for over five years. Fuerstenau has been there more than nine years and has been general manager for the past two years. Since he started out making pizzas, he was a great resource without giving away their secrets.

I peeked at the menu on the website before visiting and was surprised to see so many variations and options for pizza. Even with the preview, I still hadn’t come up with a strategy. Luckily, I had some help.

Pizza crust options include thin, virgin, deep dish, and stuffed crust, all available in 12- and 16-inch sizes.

The virgin crust is barely touched, just stretched a bit, topped and baked. The deep dish is baked in a round pan and removed before serving. The stuffed crust is the deep dish pizza topped with an…

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