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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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The pepperoni and sausage pizza was crispy and mild.
The pepperoni and sausage pizza was crispy and mild.

In search of the perfect pizza: Trattoria di Carlo

I was first introduced to Trattoria di Carlo, 8469 S. Howell Ave., three years ago for a work function. We were set up in a very nice private room for pizza and pasta.

With a little help from his family, owner Carlo Pedone opened the restaurant 10 years ago after spending 10 to 15 years helping run his parents restaurant in Burlington.

Pedone is a first-generation Italian American. Although he was born in the States, he spent most of his childhood in Sicily before his parents moved back here and opened their own restaurant.

Pedone told me he can be found at the restaurant most evenings interacting with the guests, helping out in the kitchen, or working on the books. When I asked him about his recipes and how he got started, he had a big smile on his face.

He is clearly proud of what he and his family have accomplished and is passionate about what he does.

My Monday night visit found a fairly full front dining room and bar. I was impressed, considering how many restaurants close on Mondays due to a lack of business.

The dining room was full of wooden tables and chairs with dark stain on them. The walls, booths and cloth napkins were in different shades of burgundy. The ceiling had curved, brown columns with horizontal gold-colored ridges between them and large decorative bunches of grapes hanging from them.

The menu at Trattoria di Carlo is very large. While paging through it, I found small pages inserted with additional menu items and specials for the evening.

Besides the standard appetizers, salads, and pasta dishes, you'll find a page of Carlo's Specialties including Shrimp Siciliana, large shrimp stuffed with ripe tomatoes, roasted garlic, olive oil, basil and parmesan served with spaghetti.

Steaks, seafood dishes, a kids menu with smaller pasta portions, and a family-style dining option can also be found. Family style is for a minimum of four people and at $19.00 per person, diners would choose two entrees and two pastas with sauces. Bread, salad, and desserts (cannoli and tiramisu) are also included.

It wouldn't be a Wisconsin restaurant without a Friday fish fry. Their fish fry features breaded Icelandic cod served with garlic bread, salad and a choice of fries or a baked potato for $9.50.

A series of flatbread pizzas under $10.00 has been added recently including a Portabella, Buffalo Chicken and a Siciliana with sun-dried tomato puree and topped with mozzarella cheese, asparagus, portabella mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, artichoke hearts and jumbo Sicilian olives.

The standard pizza menu includes 23 specialty pizzas, including the Sarda (red sauce, mozzarella, sausage, ricotta and extra virgin olive oil), the Frutti de Mare (topped with olive oil, shrimp, scallops, crab meat, mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes, then drizzled with a light cream sauce), and the Mattarocco Tonno (Mattarocco-based sauce, mozzarella, imported tuna and jumbo Italian olives.)

Pedone explained that the Mattarocco sauce is made with diced tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil. Sounds delish! I'll have to go back and try it.

Specialty pizzas start at $12.50 on an 11-inch crust. Most of the specialty pizzas are only available on the original hand-tossed crust in 11 and 13 inches. Others are available on the 18-inch crust.

There is also a build-your-own pizza section. Choose from "Carlo's Famous Original Crust", extra thin crust, thick crust, pan-style, or Chicago-style stuffed crust. The 11-inch original crust with cheese starts at $11.00 with toppings starting at $1.25.

All of the pizzas are sprinkled with Romano cheese and oregano.

I started with the Barbecue Chicken pizza on the original hand-tossed crust. The outer edge of the crust was crispy but softer toward the center. The texture was light and the flour flavor was a bit stronger than I typically like.

What really stood out to me was the rich and tangy house-made barbecue sauce. I would gladly put that barbecue sauce on rib tips or pulled pork.

Small bits of onion are spread over the barbecue sauce followed by a thick layer of delicious mozzarella cheese. The chicken is oven-roasted and diced, then spread out over the top of the cheese. Some of the chicken was a bit dry. I think putting the chicken on top of the sauce before adding the cheese might have helped.

Next up was my favorite combination of sausage and pepperoni, but instead of ordering thin crust, I selected the pan-style crust.

The crust was pleasantly crisp throughout. It didn't have the dense or doughy texture I was expecting. So, this pizza was also off to a good start.

Most of the pepperoni slices were crispy. They were on the mild side but with good flavor. The sausage was applied as medium-sized chunks, almost resembling small meatballs. It was also on the mild side with good flavor.

The sauce had a fresh tomato taste to it. However, the taste of tomato was subtle, which worked well for my taste buds.

Pedone explained, with pride, that all of the sauces are made from scratch. Trattoria di Carlo doesn't start with a canned tomato sauce or paste. They import San Marzano and Roma tomatoes from Italy.

The tomatoes are peeled and then pureed into a sauce. Then they add their own seasoning blend. As I alluded to earlier, even the barbecue sauce is made from scratch. Naturally, the pizza dough is also made from scratch.

Most of the pizza recipes at Trattoria di Carlo are over forty years old and come from Pedone's father. Many of the recipes for other menu items come from Pedone's father and grandmother. However, his own recipes can also be found, including his recipe for success.

Ten years in business and a full dining room on a Monday night in single digit temperatures should speak volumes. Trattoria di Carlo seems to have a loyal following. The banquets, wedding rehearsal dinners and other private parties they book are a bonus.

Speaking of which, I also learned that Pedone is a fellow UW-Whitewater Warhawk. This could be a nice location for alumni gatherings. Go Hawks!

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