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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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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 years at the New Berlin location, Mike Falk partnered with Lenny Vandenboom to acquire the butcher shop in Franklin in 1999 and convert it into a second Crossroads II location.

Vandenboom remains the sole owner of the New Berlin location, while he and Falk co-own the Franklin location. The same menu and recipes are used at both locations.

Other similarities between the New Berlin and Franklin locations include a cobblestone exterior, large coolers keeping beer and soda cold, and both locations offer carry-out and delivery. Only the Franklin location provides a couple of tables in its much larger lobby for dining in. Neither location accepts credit cards. Cash or check are the accepted payment options, and both locations have an ATM for customer convenience. 

Aside from hot ham and rolls, the Crossroads II menu includes 3-, 6-, and 12-inch subs, salads, appetizers, a chicken or baked cod dinner, and pizza.

Pizzas are available in 10-, 12-, 14-, and 16-inch crust sizes. Cheese pizzas range from $6.59 to $12.99 with toppings ranging from $.75 to $1.75 each. Gluten free pizzas are also available on an 11-inch crust for $7.99 plus $1.25 per topping.

Specialty pizzas are available on 12-, 14-, or 16-inch crusts ranging from $11.89 to $21.75 and include chicken ranch, buffalo chicken, BBQ chicken, veggie, Hawaiian, and a taco pizza.

While the gluten free crust is purchased from a distributor, the other pizza crusts are made in house from fresh dough.

Crossroads II offers two pizza crusts: thin and hand-tossed. My friend and I decided on a sausage, pepperoni and fresh mushroom pizza on thin crust, as well as a taco pizza on the hand-tossed house crust.

The thin crust pizza arrived first. Cut into squares, the generous amount of cheese was moved around a bit, making the pizza look a little messier to eat than it actually turned out to be. The crust was crispy around the perimeter with a cracker crunch and had the charred look that I like to see on the edge of a thin crust.

The rest of the crust was not charred. It was baked perfectly, although it may be worth experimenting with longer baking times so that the center of the crust doesn’t get too soft from the grease of the sausage and pepperoni. This is common with very thin crusts, but a few pizzerias have found a way to maintain the integrity of the crust’s center. 

I picked off the toppings individually, as I always do, to taste them and feel their texture. The pepperoni was crisp and mild with a slightly salty, savory flavor. I enjoyed it, but I prefer spicy pepperoni on my pizza. 

The chunks of Italian sausage on this pie were among the largest I’ve seen on a pizza. They were very generously applied and delicious, with a tender, juicy texture and slightly spicy flavor. The sausage recipe was provided to Prize Steak Products in Milwaukee and made for Crossroads per their specifications.

Customers can choose from canned or fresh mushrooms. Fresh mushrooms are always my preference. Sometimes mushrooms have a flavor that overpowers the meat toppings. Here the fresh mushrooms allow the sausage and pepperoni to be the stars, while complementing them nicely.

There was a very subtle kick to the sauce, which starts from a can as most do, but then receives Romano cheese and Crossroads II’s spice blend. The sauce was a bit on the thicker side, likely from the cheese and since they start with sauce as opposed to a paste.

Next up was the taco pizza. The first thing we noticed was the large mound of fresh shredded lettuce covering almost the entire pizza.

We searched for the best place to pick up the slices by lifting from the bottom and pulling the pie cut slices apart. The slices were large and heavy from the generous amounts of toppings, so I used a knife and fork to start before getting the slice to a manageable size.

The crust was crisp and slightly chewy. Each slice was strong enough to hold the toppings without flopping over.

The sauce was flavorful with a slight kick to it from the taco seasoning added to it. Layers of cheese, seasoned ground beef, corn chips, diced tomatoes, onions and black olives are added before the pie is baked. The crisp shredded lettuce is piled on just before serving.

A little salty, a little sweet, a little spicy, a little crunchy, a little chewy and a lot of flavor. I was impressed and will place this taco pizza as my second favorite behind Ricardo’s and Ricardo’s Riverfront taco pizza.

I suggested they apply the tomatoes and black olives on top of the lettuce for a better presentation. That would mean adding them last instead of baking them with the other toppings, but I think it would work well for them. 

Crossroads II lived up to the expectations I had based on what I read in online reviews, which isn’t always the case. If you live in or near the southwest suburbs and haven’t tried pizza from Crossroads II yet, I recommend that you do. 

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