While dining at Maria’s Pizza several months ago, the women at the table behind me were talking about some of their favorite pizzerias. Of course my ears perked up.
One of them mentioned Wells Brothers in Racine located at 2148 Mead St., stating they served a thin crispy crust similar to Maria’s. I made a mental note and added it to my list with an asterisk for a priority visit.
Last week, one of my friends posted on Facebook that he was finally back at Wells Brothers for his favorite pizza. I thought that was an interesting coincidence.
As luck would have it, I was due to be in Racine for the Great Lakes Brew Fest. My friends and I always go out for pizza after the fest, so I asked our designated driver if she would mind driving us to Wells Brothers. She graciously agreed and told me she used to go with her co-workers when she worked closer to the restaurant. I was pretty amped. It would be a nice change of pace from our normal visit to the well-known and easily found DeRango’s pizzerias, which also make pretty good pies.
The restaurant and bar were pretty busy when we arrived. There was an hour and a half wait for a table, so we placed our order to go.
The friendly people who took our orders happened to be the owners, Bill Rivers and Paula Wells Huck, who were cousins representing the third generation of the Wells family.
Naturally I went into blogger mode and started asking questions about the history of Wells Brothers.
They win the family business history award because their story starts in 1921, when James and Dominic Wells came to the United States from Italy with their family recipes and opened Wells Brothers Restaurant at the current location!
What’s that? "Wells" doesn’t sound like an Italian name? Wells Huck explained that the folks at Ellis Island changed their family name of Guido to Wells.
James Wells operated the restaurant until he passed away in 1944. His sons Tony and Guy took over and ran the business until 1999, when Rivers and Wells Huck took their place running the family business. The restaurant survived two fires in 1967 and continues to run strong after being rebuilt to its current design.
Not only is the family and staff happy to tell the story of Wells Brothers, they’ll also share the honors received over the years, including a listing among the "Top 10 Best Pizzerias in America" according to a book published in 2005 entitled "Everybody Loves Pizza." Ask to see the book at the host station.
Twenty to 25 minutes later, our pizzas came out of the kitchen and we could not get back to my friends’ house fast enough.
We ordered one large pizza with sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms and one large sausage, mushroom and onion. We started to debate about other toppings, but we also wanted to minimize our wait so we settled for those combinations.
When we arrived back at the house, it took all of my friends’ self-restraint to keep from tearing into the pizzas while I took a few photos to share with all of you, because I’m a giver. Anyway, you owe them one.
At first glance, I was happy to see an almost paper-thin crust that also had a slightly charred edge. Cornmeal was applied somewhat liberally, but not so much that it took away from the texture that I enjoy in a pizza crust.
I also noticed that the cheese blend covered most of the meat toppings, so you could taste the toppings, but not see them all. Wells Brothers uses only Grande cheese made in Wisconsin.
When I bit into the first slice, I noticed the crispy texture and wondered how much crispier it would be had I tried the slice back at the restaurant, seconds from the oven instead of minutes.
It really didn’t matter because I thought the crust was pretty solid. Center slices also maintained a slightly crisp texture and since the pie was cut into squares, the slices held the toppings well and didn’t bend or get floppy.
The pizza sauce was applied generously and had a thick texture and subtle spiciness to it. Like most pizzerias, Wells Brothers starts with a canned base and then adds its secret family spice blend recipe to it.
The sausage chunks were tender had a delicious flavor that was slightly mild. Besides the pizza dough being made fresh daily, Wells Brothers also grinds its own Italian sausage in-house, so extra kudos to them.
Pepperoni slices were slightly spicy but also had a savory flavor, and the canned mushroom slices would have been better if replaced with fresh mushrooms. That’s probably the only change I would make.
Finally, the onions were diced finely so they complemented the other toppings rather than dominated them.
Wells Brothers pizzas are served on 10-, 14- and 16-inch thin pizza crusts, with cheese pizzas ranging from $7 to $11.50. Toppings range from $1.25 to $2.
There is no shortage of toppings to choose from. Standard toppings share the menu with less common toppings such as giardiniera, sauerkraut, pepperoncini and banana peppers.
The seafood pizza, topped with shrimp and imitation crab meat, is the only specialty pizza on the menu and costs $10 to $15.
Other menu items include appetizers, salads, soup, sandwiches, pasta, broiled or fried fish and Italian specialties such as Sicilian Steak and Eggplant Parmigiana. There is also a kids menu featuring chicken fingers, a hamburger and fries and spaghetti and meatballs. Kids’ meals are only $6 and include a beverage and "a treat."
Their Friday fish fry offers your choice of cod, perch, bluegill and walleye. The fish fries range from $9.75 to $14.75 and include soup or salad, potato or pasta and coleslaw.
It amazes me that, with all of my personal and professional visits to Racine over the years and with the friends I have who have lived in Racine their entire lives, it took a conversation at a neighboring table at a Milwaukee pizza staple for me to hear about Wells Brothers pizza.
Reservations are recommended, so I’ll definitely make one when I make the trek back. Yes, I will go back to Racine for a Wells Brothers pizza, and I know at least one person that already offered to join me.
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