I rarely find myself on the southeast corner of the Milwaukee area. When I do, I try to make mental notes of businesses I may want to visit.
Saraphino’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, 3074 E. Layton Ave., is located in a strip mall in St. Francis. It was opened in 1992 by current owner, Rushan Sinani, who emigrated here from Albania around that time.
The business is operated and managed by family members including a niece who waited on our table. Most of the recipes originated from Sinani’s family. I’m told his parents come in to make the dough and sauce.
Sinani was not available to meet with me to answer some questions about how he decided on the pizza business, how his family created their recipes, or how Saraphino came to be selected for the business name. I was grateful for the information that I did acquire.
Albania is located in the Mediterranean and less than forty-five miles from Italy, across the Adriatic Sea, so I can see how the cuisine could have Italian influences, as well as influences from neighboring Greece.
Saraphino’s menu is pretty large. Char broiled steaks accompany chicken, ribs, sandwiches, Italian entrees, seafood dinners, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, and buckets of chicken, shrimp and Friday’s beer battered cod.
Saraphino’s also opens early to serve breakfast. Those items are presented on a separate menu.
The pizza section of the menu is surprisingly small and simple, considering how elaborate the rest of the menu is.
You can choose from crispy thin crust, crunchy thick crust and pan-style crust. Crust sizes come in 12, 14, and 16 inches. The thin crust and thick crust also come in a 16- by 32-inch "747 Party Size." Cheese pizzas range from $10.45 to $16.45, and the party size pizzas are $23.95 and $24.95.
Additional toppings range from $1.45 to $3.95 and include pepperoni, tomato, sausage, mushrooms, black olives, beef, chicken, bacon, Canadian bacon, ham, pineapple, onion, green pepper, pepperoncini, anchovies and corned beef, which I think I’ve only seen one other time as a pizza topping.
Saraphino’s doesn’t offer any specialty pizzas, so you are free to create your own flavor profiles.
My friend and I started with pepperoni on the pan-style crust. The pie arrived on a wax-paper lined flat metal tray, as opposed to the deep dish pan it was cooked in. The crust’s edge stood around an inch and a half tall. When I picked up a slice, I was impressed at how well the slice held. The tip of the slice, which represents the pie’s center, was still crisp.
The crust was mostly dry, not greasy or oily, which are the reasons I typically avoid this style of pizza. The edge was crispy and the dough on the rest of the slice was soft with a texture reminding me of fresh-baked bread. I will admit that I would have liked a bit of buttery flavor in the crust.
The sauce was lightly applied and had a somewhat spicy flavor. Saraphino’s starts with a canned tomato base and adds their own blend of seasoning. Our server told us she often sees the owner’s parents in the kitchen making the sauce and dough using their own family recipes.
Cheese was very generously applied and the slices of pepperoni were thin but provided more spice.
While I generally do not prefer deep-dish or pan-style pizzas, I was satisfied with this pie. The thin-crust pizza also surprised me. Like the pan pizza, it was also served on top of waxed paper on a flat metal tray. The slices were cut into pie slices, and when I picked one up, it didn’t flop over. The slice held strong.
It was topped with small chunks of Italian sausage, fresh mushroom slices, and diced onions. The edge of the crust was crunchy, while the tip of the slice was crispy, but did not have the cracker crunch. There was no sight of cornmeal underneath the crust which made me appreciate it more.
The sauce was a bit on the spicy side and was applied lightly over most of the crust, but a little heavier around the edge. The fresh mushrooms and diced onions seemed to neutralize the flavors of the sauce and sausage.
Out of curiosity, I pulled a couple of pepperoni slices off of the pan style pizza and placed them on a thin crust slice. The pepperoni slices seemed to grab hold of the sauce and sausage to provide the flavor profile I was hoping for. I wished I had ordered pepperoni for this pizza and was reminded why I always order sausage and pepperoni on the same pie. I just love that flavor combination.
A little more sauce and larger sausage chunks would have put this pie among my favorites. The crust, alone, impressed me enough to consider a future visit.
There were only two other tables occupied on our visit on a Sunday evening, but the phone rang often for carry-out and delivery orders. I always find it interesting that pizzerias can survive so long in a common area with so many competitors, and I plan to continue exploring the competition in and around this area.
Family recipes? LOL. Those are Frank DeRango's recipes. I worked at Saraphino's for the 1st six months that they were open and Frank was a regular fixture there for about the first 3 of them. Rushan had been one of Frank's old employees and when Rushan and his brother decided to open an Italian restaurant, he (Frank) was hired as a consultant to show them the ropes of the Italian restaurant business and to provide them with some of his recipes.. Nothing wrong with that, I just dont want to read about any "Old Family Recipes" when they originated here from the mind of another restaurateur. Just felt like the air needed some clearing...
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