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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…

The control pizza: A cheese, sausage and pepperoni.
The control pizza: A cheese, sausage and pepperoni. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)
The Carbonara pizza from SALA, one of the finest the author has tasted on his search.
The Carbonara pizza from SALA, one of the finest the author has tasted on his search. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)

In search of the perfect pizza: SALA

A friend introduced me to SALA, located at 2611 E. Hampshire St., three or four years ago. At that time, it was still known as Sala da Pranzo. I was looking for a place to host a group dinner, and my friend was related to the owners, siblings Teresa, Tony and Peter Balistreri.

Our group dinner was a great success. All of the food was excellent, and we were able to try their pizza, which was a new menu item at the time.

Teresa and Tony Balistreri worked together in restaurants for several years and decided they wanted to open their own. Sala da Pranzo opened in 2001, and their brother Peter joined them after completing culinary school around three years ago. In 2012, they changed the name to SALA as part of their plan to remodel and revitalize the restaurant and menu.

SALA’s dinner menu includes starters featuring grilled zucchini and a risotto of the day, as well as salads and entrees such as seafood pasta, chicken marsala, saltimbocca, salmon and tenderloin.

The lunch menu features paninis, Italian beef, and a meatball sub, as well as an abbreviated offering of salads and entrees from the dinner menu. Pizzas are available for lunch and dinner.

The pizza menu offers two crust sizes: 10-inch and 14-inch, although the actual crust sizes may vary a bit. On my visit, the 10-inch was closer to 11 inches and the 14 was closer to 13 inches. All crusts are hand-tossed, and a double crust can be ordered for an additional $1.50 for the 10-inch pie and $2.75 for the 14-inch pie.

SALA also offers a 10-inch gluten free crust, made locally by Schroeter’s Gluten Free Bakeshop, for an additional $5.

Cheese pizzas start at $10 for the 10-inch and $14 for the 14-inch. Additional toppings are $1 to $2.25 for traditional toppings – such as sausage, pepperoni, artichoke and anchovies – and $1.50 to $2.75 for gourmet toppings like prosciutto, pancetta, goat cheese, Boursin cheese and Kalamata olives.

Specialty pizzas range from $12.50 for a 10-inch Papa Tony’s, topped wit…

The meat lovers pizza from Brian's.
The meat lovers pizza from Brian's.
The gourmet pizza, which tasted good from what Rick could sample.
The gourmet pizza, which tasted good from what Rick could sample.

In search of the perfect pizza: Brian's

I can’t recall how I heard about Brian’s, located at 924 E. Rawson Ave. in Oak Creek, but I think it came up in a Google search and was highly rated by its customers.

I was told the restaurant has had several names over the years, but it became Brian’s around four years ago when current owner Arian Abazi took over.

Brian’s has a family restaurant feel to it with diner-style counter seating and a dining room filled with booths and tables featuring green vinyl chairs and benches, contrasted by a patterned, burgundy carpet.  

The menu provides something for everyone, including chicken, seafood, pasta, sandwiches, burgers, comfort food, pizza and breakfast – which I found interesting considering they don’t open until 11 a.m. every day.

A white board next to the host stand listed the specials for the day – such as shrimp risotto, barbecue pulled pork, Ole burger, penne porcini, and chicken parmigiana – ranging from $7.50 to $8.95, plus soup and fries or garlic bread.

Brian’s pizzas are available on a "thin and crispy" crust or a "thick and crispy" crust. Crust sizes include 10, 12, 14 and 16 inches, as well as a 16x32 party pizza. Cheese pizzas range from $6.50 to $20.95 for the party pizza, while additional toppings range from $1 to $3 each.

Regular toppings include broccoli, jalapenos and anchovies, in addition to the more common offerings. Specialty toppings include chicken, shrimp, bleu cheese, fresh basil, double crust and double cheese.

Specialty pizzas include the supreme, meat lovers, garden pizza, gourmet pizza, chicken alfredo and the chef’s special, topped with sausage, mushrooms and onions.

We started with a side order of homemade meatballs, and I’m glad we did because we waited almost 40 minutes for our first pizza. The side of meatballs was only $1.49 and included four meatballs around an inch and a half in diameter, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and sitting in a bowl of delicious house-made marinara sauce.

Our server made i…

Rick found a crust with everything he wants at Michaelangelo's.
Rick found a crust with everything he wants at Michaelangelo's.

In search of the perfect pizza: Michaelangelo's

I am one of the many that participates in fantasy football leagues. One year, a league commissioner ordered pizza from Michaelangelo’s, at 8330 W. Puetz Rd in Franklin, for our draft party, and I enjoyed it enough to add it to my list. 

Michaelangelo’s offers carry-out, delivery and dining service, so I decided to dine-in. Coming from the north toward Franklin, the GPS-recommended Hales Corners exit ramp was closed, so I exited at 84th Street from 894. I thought 84th Street would get me through Greendale and into Franklin. It doesn’t. Get to Highway 100 or 92nd Street. You’ve been warned.

When I arrived, I sat in the bar area, which was pretty quiet but had college football playing on a large LED TV. That would do nicely.

The bar looked new, a thought confirmed when I later learned that it was just opened in July. I’ll tell you more on that later.

Owner Dennis Rau started in the pizza business when he was in high school. Morning announcements during homeroom included a job announcement with Steverino’s Pizza on 27th and College. A classmate dared him to apply, so he did and ended up accepting a position as a delivery driver.

Steverino’s also had a Franklin location, and in 1981, Rau and a friend, whom were both invested in the business by this time, decided to trade in their investment for the recipes and equipment. Michaelangelo’s was born.

Rau purchased the former grocery store building housing the current location in 1991 and leased the other half of the building out to a business office and later a barbershop. Last December, he began the process of expanding by converting the barbershop space into a bar area with additional seating. That project was completed in July.

The dining room and bar were both very clean and well kept on my visit. Patrons were starting to arrive for the dinner rush, while others entered for carry-out orders. I don’t think the phone was silent more than 30 seconds at a time, so prime time had definitely arrived.…