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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

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A tasty look at a sausage and pepperoni pizza from the Calderone Club.
A tasty look at a sausage and pepperoni pizza from the Calderone Club.
The Calderone Club, located on Old World Third Street, opened around 1979.
The Calderone Club, located on Old World Third Street, opened around 1979.
Rick's first attempt at anchovies.
Rick's first attempt at anchovies.

In search of the perfect pizza: Calderone Club

For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."

I’ve heard great things about the pizza at the Calderone Club, and I’ve read great things about the pizza at the Calderone Club. Now, I get to write about my great experience at the Calderone Club.

My visit started with a friendly greeting from the hostess standing near the full bar, and an even friendlier greeting from my server when I was seated. She was attentive and accommodating with a very pleasant demeanor.

The tables were covered with white linen and white butcher block paper, which is replaced after the table is turned. The chairs were colored in a dark wood stain, and the walls displayed a warm amber color.  

I picked up the menu and found familiar standard Italian fare in the form of appetizers, salads, soups, panini, pizzas, entrees and pastas. The pasta is made fresh each day using imported durum wheat semolina.

Via sfgate.com, I learned that durum wheat is a hard grain which is high in protein. Dough that is made with it is less elastic than bread dough which makes it easier to roll into pasta shapes. The durum wheat is milled to remove the bran and germ, leaving granules called semolina, which are then ground into flour to make pasta. These same granules are used for cereal and couscous. Thank you, Google.

The pizza dough and sauce are also made fresh using recipes that date back to 1947 at the Third Ward Caradaro Club (the first pizzeria in Milwaukee, which opened in 1945). As I understand it, Antonio Fazzari and his wife, Maria Rosa, bought the Caradaro in 1968 and inherited the pizza recipes, which were eventually passed down to their sons.

The Caradaro name was sold by the original owners to Antonio Fazzari’s brothers, so he decided on Calderone, which sounded similar. The literal translation for Calderone is cauldron, but a website describes a person with the Calderone name as being friendly and cheerful, among a long list of other characteristics. I think that works.

Gino Fazzari owns and operates the downtown Milwaukee location (842 N. Old World Third St.), originally opened by Antonio and his wife Maria Rosa around 1979, and Carmelo Fazzari owns the Fox Point location (8001 N. Port Washington Rd.), which was opened around 1993 and is managed by Carmelo and his brother, Frank.

Carmelo Fazzari also opened the Al Calderone Club in Shorewood (4475 N. Oakland Ave.) with a focus on carry-out and delivery of New York style pizza and Calabrese style pizza based on his mother’s recipes.

I found it interesting that the origin of the pizza recipe for Balistreri’s also originates with the Caradaro, but the Balistreri pizza tasted different from the Calderone Club pizza. Part of me wishes I was around in the early '60s to try the pizza at the original Caradaro. There is at least one other pizzeria with ties to the Caradaro Club, but I’ll focus on my most recent visits for now.

The Calderone Club sauce had a sweet taste of fresh tomatoes, while Balistreri’s sauce had a pronounced spicy flavor, although the texture of the sauce and amount applied was very similar.

The flavor of the Italian sausage was similar between the two, but the sausage at the Calderone Club seemed a tad more firm and also had a stronger flavor of fennel.

I’d say the pizza crusts were closely alike, but I thought the Calderone Club pizza crust was a little crispier throughout, and I do prefer a crispy crust.

You may be interested to know that I finally tried anchovies. I’ve avoided them my entire life, well, at least on pizza anyway. I’d done a little research to determine what I should be looking for and how to eat them on a pizza.

The anchovy proponents suggested I order cheese and anchovies on a red pizza sauce with no other toppings. It was also recommended that I look for anchovies out of a glass jar, as opposed to a tin can or other tin container because the quality should be better. Others argue that the salt-packed anchovies in tin are more flavorful and authentic. I chose to trust the source preferring anchovies in a jar.

I was warned that they would be salty … very salty. How salty? Well, let’s say you picked up a slice of cheese pizza, poured a heaping teaspoon on a corner of the slice and then bit off that corner with the salt. That’s how salty the flavor was. Some have suggested rinsing them first to remove some of the salty flavor. I wasn’t going to ask a chef to rinse anchovies for me.

To be honest, the experience wasn’t horrifying at all. I managed to eat a few slices with no ill effects. Luckily, I was at a restaurant that carried anchovies in a jar and also made great pizza. I doubt I would order anchovies on a pizza again, unless I wanted to impress a date (or end it early). It felt good to cross that item off of my bucket list.

If you decide to try anchovies, watch for the possibility of oil from the anchovies pouring off of the slice and maybe onto your clothing. Don’t worry, it didn’t happen to me. I caught it in time.

It amazes me the number of restaurants in this town that I’ve never been to before, especially when I consider the very large number of restaurants that I have been to in Milwaukee. I love pizza, and I’ve been missing out on this one. I can understand why Jeff Sherman calls this pizza his favorite. I’m not ready to anoint it my favorite, but Calderone Club has certainly taken a spot very high on my list.

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