At the east end of the Lincoln Avenue Pizza Strip (I just made that up. You like?), sits Happy Tap, 6801 W. Beloit Rd. I’ve driven past it dozens of times, curious about the signs on the building advertising "original thin crust pizza."
A few times, I’d even heard that it served pretty good pizza. A visit was inevitable.
The Happy Tap was purchased last November by Kim Caze from Alan Bunzel, whose family owned and operated the business since 1959. Since Caze works full-time as a manager for the post office, she relies on the help she receives from her fiancé and the other staff members, one of whom has worked there for over 30 years.
It’s nice to have that type of continuity with the staff to continue building relationships with the existing customer base.
When I visited, I noticed a group of customers conversing and joking around like you’d see on an episode of "Cheers." Yet I didn’t feel uncomfortable walking in alone. I was greeted immediately by a very friendly bartender and not once did I catch anyone whispering or eying me up. Then again, I look friendly and harmless enough, so why would they?
I also noticed how clean and well-kept the place was. I’m used to older neighborhood watering holes having a bit of an unpleasant scent to them with a dingy appearance. That was not the case at Happy Tap.
The walls were adorned with Miller, NASCAR and Packers signage and memorabilia. Electronic games, such as darts and video poker, were stationed on opposite ends of the floor, and plenty of high-definition TVs circled the venue to allow for easy viewing of the big game.
In fact, I could see myself going back to watch a game and enjoy one of the drink specials they offer.
Caze told me that the pizza was one of the reasons she agreed to buy the business when Bunzel was looking for a buyer. Bunzel started serving pizza 12 years ago, and the same recipes were given to Caze as part of the package.
The menu is small, keeping overhead low, but Caze has been exploring ways to expand the small kitchen and enhance the menu. Appetizers include garlic bread, cheese bread and pizza bread, ranging from $4 to $7.
Pizzas come in 12- and 16-inch crust sizes, with cheese pizzas costing $8 and $11, respectively. Additional toppings are $1.50 and $2 and include sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green olives, black olives, green peppers, jalapenos and kalamata olives which is a rare find for pizza toppings.
I kept it simple on this visit and stuck with my "go-to" sausage and pepperoni pie. The crust was perfectly crisp throughout, and I was actually pretty impressed. Caze told me that the crust wasn’t hand-made there and was instead provided by a distributor, which is only the second time I’ve encountered a venue using a pre-made crust. However, she also told me that the Italian sausage is made by a local butcher and delivered one to two times per week, which I appreciated.
The sausage chunks were very large and provided a nice flavor with subtle spicy undertones. The same can be said of the pepperoni slices which were generously applied to the pizza, as was the sausage. I did not get cheated on toppings here.
I thought the sauce also had a mild flavor to it. However, I noticed that while no one component of the pie jumped out with distinct flavors, all components worked together to create a nice flavor profile which was enhanced by the light sprinkle of Italian seasoning applied over the delicious cheese.
Caze suggested I come back to try the garlic bread, as well. I think I will. In fact, I think Happy Tap may be a good place for me to watch a football game this season, since it’s located close to my house. Maybe I’ll bring a friend next time or maybe I’ll just try to buddy up with the regulars.
Besides, we’re all friends as long as we’re cheering for the Packers or Badgers – and as long as we’re imbibing.
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