Talk about blind spots.
I realized recently that in more than 12 years at OnMilwaukee.com and nearly a decade living within aroma's distance of Balistreri's, 812 N. 68th St., in Wauwatosa, I'd never put pen to paper about what is most certainly the best pizza west of the stadium interchange.
Balistreri's has two locations within walking distance of one-another and while I enjoy them both, there is really nothing in Tosa that matches the ambience of the 68th Street location – called the Italian American Ristorante – which resides in a pair of adjoining storefronts, and has been in business for more than 40 years.
You don't even have to step inside to feel the vibes emanating from Balistreri's on 68th. The green awnings, the bright neon signs hawking pasta, ravioli, pizza, seafood and, my favorite, "American food," are a clue.
But, inside, it gets better. The atmosphere is casual and friendly. The tables are close together. When it gets crowded, Balistreri's feels like a party to which the whole neighborhood is invited.
While folks come for the atmosphere, they stay for the pizza. (I should add that quite a few stay for the garlic bread nearly as much as for the pizza.)
Yes, all those dishes promised by the neon signs are on the menu – lasagna, veal parmesan, chicken cacciatore, plus sandiwches and an impressive list of appetizers – but in all the times I've been to Balistreri's, I admit I've never considered ordering any of them.
Sure, I might be missing out and I know I've got to try the fish fry someday soon, but if I were to go to Balistreri's, sit myself on one of those wooden chairs and NOT order a pizza, I'd feel like I'd cheated myself.
Much like Zaffiro's and Calderone Club, Balistreri's makes an improbably thin crust.
A crust so thin that you imagine it can't possibly be worked by hand.
A crust so thin you'd think it would collapse under the weight of the cheese.
A crust so think you'd expect the tomato sauce to render it a soggy mess.
But, nope. The pizza at Balistreri's – as at those other places – nearly paper-thin, slathered with a nicely seasoned sauce and topped with mildly salty mozzarella (and whatever else you choose to toss up top).
Order a large pizza and, if you've never dined at Balistreri's before, it'll arrive at the table and you may immediately regret having upgraded from the medium. But don't fret; remember that thin crust. It's not as much pizza as it looks.
On a recent visit, I decided to venture off my typical Balistreri's course a little and order the deep fried clam strips. They were so delicately flavored that even my usually finicky little ones ate their fair share.
Balistreri's serves lunch daily except Sundays, 11 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Dinner is served Mondays-Thursdays, 3:30-11 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays, 3:30 p.m.-midnight; and Sundays, 2-10 p.m.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.