Across from the south end of Southridge Mall is a strip mall. As I quickly scanned the names of the businesses in that strip mall, I noticed "PIZZA" in large red letters. I went in for a closer look and found the name "Klasiana" next to those letters.
From the outside, I could tell this would be a small storefront. I wasn't expecting much more than a counter and a kitchen behind it.
However, what I found when I entered Klasiana, 5487 S. 76th St., was a well thought-out and executed design to maximize the use of the limited space. The colors and lighting make the space look larger than it was.
Four dining tables stand upon light beige floor tiles, and the walls feature a combination of sky blue paint and dark woodwork. A small build-out resembling an older Italian home complete with a window and roofing section with Villa Tiles adorned the north and west walls.
The service counter is covered with a canopy of artificial grape vines. Saloon doors behind the counter provide the entrance to the kitchen.
I've never been to Italy but the dĂ©cor made me feel like I was on a patio outside of an Italian cafĂ©, minus the snow and 10-degree wind chill.
Ylli Proko started Klasiana over six years ago. The name "Klasiana" comes from a combination of his children's names. Ylli started working for Patrick Cudahy when he first came to Milwaukee over 20 years ago.
He also worked nights and weekends, and later full time, at three area pizzerias where he learned the pizza business. He reached a point where he felt he was ready to venture out on his own and Klasiana was born.
Ylli's two brothers and his wife help with the cooking and Ylli's neighbors chip in to help with pizza deliveries.
The menu offers pizza, appetizers, sandwiches, chicken, fish, shrimp and Italian specialty dinners such as the Tortellini Casa Mia featuring homemade tortellini stuffed with porcini mushrooms and topped with two sauces, tomato and forestiere (a mushroom sauce).
The pizzas come in six sizes starting with a 10-inch small and ending with an 18x27-inch Party pizza. You also get to choose from five different pizza crusts: original hand-tossed, thin crust, pan style, cheese-stuffed crust, or "Chicago" style, which is the pan pizza topped with another layer of crust and sauce.
The small cheese pizza with original or thin crust starts at $5.99 and $.85 for each additional topping. A cheese Party pizza starts at $19.99 and $2.40 for each additional topping. The pan style and Chicago style are not available in the 18-inch Family or Party pizza size, in case you were wondering.
There are also nine specialty pizzas to choose from including the Mount Olympus featuring fresh tomatoes, seasoned olive oil, black olives, mozzarella cheese, feta cheese and spinach.
I decided to start with an original crust and selected one of the other specialty pizzas, the Alfredo, featuring cheese, fresh tomatoes, chicken, spinach and Alfredo sauce.
I actually ordered the Alfredo pizza because asparagus was listed as one of the toppings and I've never had asparagus on pizza before. When the pizza came out, there was spinach in place of asparagus.
One of the cooks told me they stopped using asparagus several months ago, perhaps because asparagus is out of season or maybe they chose thought spinach was a better option. If you see asparagus as a topping for your pizza, you should confirm availability.
My Alfredo pizza had potential. I liked the toppings. The chicken was cut into large cubes, about .5-.75 of an inch in size. It was a bit dry but I think that is common with chicken on pizza unless it is smothered in BBQ sauce.
The crust was sturdy with a somewhat crisp texture, but I felt it was a little too dense. I probably should have gone with the thin crust for this one. All I could really taste in the crust was the flour.
I think a layer of olive oil under the Alfredo sauce, or just more Alfredo sauce could have helped. Otherwise this pizza was a good option for the health-conscious. I placed most of it in a to-go box and moved on to the next pizza.
I ordered the pan-style pizza with sausage and mushroom, and then I felt inspired, so I added mild giardiniera to the pizza. Why not? Life is short. Am I right, people?
This pizza was more to my liking. The crust edges were close to 1.5 inches tall and crispy like a thick cracker, yet did not have a dry, cracker-like flavor similar to the original crust on my Alfredo pizza.
The sausage chunks were small, but spicy and delicious. The mushroom slices were canned but also had a nice flavor to them. I felt the giardiniera added a little crunch for a nice contrast to the otherwise soft texture of the pizza.
The sauce had a thicker base than most pizza sauces I've had and was on the mild side in terms of flavor. However, I thought the giardiniera really brought the flavors of the sauce to enhance my tasting pleasure.
The thick, delicious layers of cheese were an added bonus. I tried to imagine another layer of crust and sauce on this pizza to guess at how the Chicago style might have tasted.
Proko proudly told me that all of the recipes are his own, created from the knowledge and experience he gained over the years working at the various pizzerias. He adds his own seasoning blend to the pizza sauce base and the dough is made from scratch.
Klasiana's location can be easy to miss, so it relies heavily on repeat business and word of mouth. They will occasionally hand out flyers and frequently receive calls asking for a clarification on their location, since the callers struggle to picture it.
Some of the repeat business comes in the form of large orders from Greendale High School and area businesses. Klasiana has four large ovens, so it can handle these large orders, including as many as 85 pizzas, easier than most other pizzerias can.
When speaking with Proko, I could hear the passion and enthusiasm in his voice. I think there are enough crust and pizza topping varieties available on his menu for most of you to find something that suits your pizza pie preference.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Rick Rodriguez
Published May 4, 2016
The folks at Carini's La Conca D'Oro have a long and storied history, with roots in Italy. They serve up authentic Neapolitan pizza, along with other Italian dishes including a variety of seafood entrees.
Published April 6, 2016
It's not often Rick Rodriguez writes about reader-selected spots. But the words "thin crust," "good pizza" and "small bar" were repeated by enough people that he felt a visit to Scotty's was warranted.
Published March 2, 2016
In addition to pizza, Albanese's offers a slew of specials, including wings, Sicilian style pork chops and Italian style fish fry on Fridays. They also happen to have gluten free pizza that's worth seeking out.
Published Feb. 3, 2016
Rick Rodriguez says the 25 minute drive to Doc's Dry Dock in Pewaukee is worth the trip, especially for their BBQ chicken pizza, which sported a crisp crust with spicy sauce and a special secret seasoning.
Published Jan. 6, 2016
Rick Rodriguez tries out Nori's Pizza, a New York-style pizza spot that opened on South 13th Street in July. The verdict? Even after just a short period, Nori's seems to be establishing a reputation for good 'za.
Published Dec. 2, 2015
Pizza lover Rick Rodriguez grew up in Riverwest and enjoyed pizza from two neighborhood restaurants. Since then, a void in neighborhood pizzerias developed. Fortunately, in December 2014, Riverwest Pizza opened.
Published Nov. 4, 2015
Rick Rodriguez discovered Matteo's Italian Ristorante after seeing it in his entertainment book, so he drove to Waukesha to check out this classic spot, which serves up pizza along with numerous other specials.
Published Oct. 25, 2015
Rick Rodriguez spills the beans on his top picks for Milwaukee pizza.
Published Oct. 7, 2015
Rick Rodriguez has been waiting to go to this Sheboygan Neopolitan pizza spot for 10 years.
Published Sept. 2, 2015
Zarletti Downtown is one of Rick Rodriguez's favorite restaurants, so when a new location opened in Mequon - and featured Neapolitan style pizza - he put it on his list to visit.