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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Pietro's Pizza in Bay View.
Pietro's Pizza in Bay View.
Ham and pineapple on thin crust.
Ham and pineapple on thin crust.
Pietro's Super Special on traditional hand-tossed minus the pepperoni.
Pietro's Super Special on traditional hand-tossed minus the pepperoni.
Pietro's double decker with sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms.
Pietro's double decker with sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms.

In search of the perfect pizza: Pietro's Pizza

I’ve driven past Pietro’s dozens of times and never really noticed it. One of my friends suggested that I pay a visit, and I’m glad she did.

The story of Pietro’s, 2912 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., starts with Filippo Tarantino who worked as a baker in Sicily and moved to the United States in 1959. He found his way to Milwaukee and worked for Grebe’s Bakery until 1973 when he accumulated enough savings to open Pietro’s Pizza, named after one of his sons.

Pietro Tarantino owns the business now, which is still very much a family operation. I was told Pietro’s son is involved in the business and Pietro’s nephew, Fabio Tarantino, took my order and made all of the pizzas on my visit. He also filled me in on the history of the pizzeria.

After I placed my order, I sat at a small table in the large lobby. The table held a cookbook and a basket of Dum Dum lollipops. I grabbed a watermelon sucker for dessert.

A whiteboard next to the take-out window listed the specials for the night. A 16-inch, one-topping pizza for $9.99, two lasagna dinners with salad and garlic bread for $14.95, and choice of two sandwiches from meatball, Italian sausage, and a hot submarine with fries for $11.95. The last two specials are available every night.

Other specials feature an 18-inch, two-topping pizza, onion rings and garlic bread with cheese for $22.99 on Wednesdays, two chicken dinners with fries, side salad and garlic bread for $13.99 on Thursdays, and one 16-inch, one-topping pizza with an order of jumbo wings for $17.99 on Sundays.

Also in the lobby were a soda machine, a large freezer, a flat-screen TV and several large, framed photos leaning against a wall, including an autographed photo of a young Cindy Crawford. I would put that one up on a wall.

I reviewed the rest of the menu, which listed a lengthy list of appetizers and shorter lists of dinners, pasta, and sandwiches.

Dinners include chicken, shrimp, cod, and Chicken Cacciatora, all for less than $9. Pasta dishes included lasagna or your choice of spaghetti or mostaccioli with meatballs, Italian sausage, mushroom sauce or butter also less than $9. 

The pizzas are made to 12-, 14-, 16- and 18-inch crusts. Cheese pizzas range from $7.50 to $14.55 with additional toppings ranging from $1.35 to $2.45. Pietro’s pizza crusts are a traditional hand-tossed crust, but the menu lists options for an "extra thick" crust for an upcharge of $1.45 to $3.25 and a Double Decker pizza from $4.25 to $7.25.

The Double Decker was described to me as one pizza on top of another. I had to see this, so I ordered one with sausage, pepperoni, and mushrooms. I was expecting to see layers, a crust topped with sauce, cheese and toppings, then another crust, cheese and toppings. What I received was a very thick hand-tossed crust, likely two full crusts stacked on one another, but then one layer of sauce, sausage, cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms.

I liked it, but the cheese, sauce and toppings to crust ratio was too low around the edge of the pizza. When a round pizza is cut into square slices, the "corner" slices are triangular.

These slices were pretty much just pizza crust. I think one of the four corner slices had a pepperoni slice.

The other perimeter slices were topped a little more and the center slices were perfectly topped, as expected.

I would recommend cutting the Double Decker into large triangular slices rather than squares, so that each slice has more toppings.

The pizza sauce stood out more than anything for me. I loved it! It was on the spicy side and provided a bold and delicious flavor. Pietro’s adds their special spice recipe to a canned base and creates one of the better sauces I’ve tasted.

The sausage chunks and pepperoni were somewhat spicy and flavorful, and the mushrooms on Pietro’s pizzas are fresh, not canned.

The other pizza was a thin crust topped with ham and pineapple. The sauce and cheese reached the edges better on this crust, so the square slices worked out well. The pineapple was sweet and the ham was tender and delicious.

The crust was really crisp along the perimeter and then a little softer toward the center. The spicy sauce provided a flavorful contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple. My friend and I enjoyed this pizza a little more than the other due primarily to the topping to crust ratio.

Pietro’s lists a few specialty pizzas on the menu. Pietro’s Special is topped with cheese, sausage, mushroom and onion. The Super Special adds pepperoni, black olives and green peppers.

There is also a veggie pizza with cheese, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and sliced tomatoes.

A customer was picking up a Super Special on the traditional hand-tossed crust minus the pepperoni, so I was able to get a couple of photos for your viewing pleasure. You’re welcome.

I try to visit the pizzerias on traditionally slow nights, hoping I may get a chance to chat with the owner. Some have no slow nights.

Fabio Tarantino was hustling when I visited, taking phone orders, making pizzas and working the register until help arrived. All the while, he maintained a friendly demeanor and a smile on his face. He seemed to love what he did and took pride in it. Pietro’s will be added to my future visit list.

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