After a series of soft openings, BB’s on North opened quietly last week at 7237 W. North Ave., greeting customers with a small seasonal menu of – not only pizza – but globally inspired modern American appetizers and entrees.
Inside the restaurant you’ll find a friendly staff, including front of house manager Kyle Lepkowski, presiding over a small dining room painted in neutral tones with seating for about 40 at both low- and high-top tables. There’s also a congenial bar stocked with beer, wine and a signature cocktail list.
BB’s on North is owned and operated by Pietro and Mario Balistreri, two brothers who were raised in the pizza industry. Their father Domenico Balistreri operated Balistreri Brothers on 13th and Oklahoma for 38 years. When their father retired, the brothers assumed the weight of the family business, opening Balistreri Brothers Pizza at 3815 S. 108th St.
Pietro, who grew up working in the family business, says that he found his passion in food thanks to the abundance of cooking shows he enjoyed on television. Knowing he wanted to move beyond pizza, he enrolled as a student in the culinary program at MATC after which he mentored with chefs including Brian Frakes at the Hilton and Thomas Schultz at the newly minted Iron Horse Hotel.
Even after launching a successful pizza restaurant, Mario says they continued to keep their eyes open for a location where they could open a restaurant that more fully showcased his brother’s talents as a chef. So when they found the former Irie Zulu location in East Tosa and purchased it last March, Mario says it was a dream come to fruition.
"He has so much passion for this," says Mario. "And so we were really looking for a place where he could really expand the menu to include dishes that went beyond pizza."
Pizza & more
Thanks to Pietro’s experience in the kitchen, guests can expect a menu filled with unexpected details, from housemade sauces and breads to a selection of small plates, salads, sandwiches and entrees that reflect a global, modern American feel.
Small plate options include flash-fried calamari steak bites with kalamata peppadew relish and lemon aioli ($13) and crispy fried arancini filled with chorizo and Manchego cheese ($13).
There are housemade wings in flavors including hot, garlic, parmesan and teriyaki (10 for $10); and wonton-wrapped mozzarella sticks come alongside house marinara for dipping ($6).
There are salads, including classic Caesar, a grain-based quinoa salad with mixed bitter greens, tomatoes, orange supremes and a shallot fennel vinaigrette; and asparagus salad with parmesan, balsamic onions and lemon mustard vinaigrette (priced $12-14). There’s also grilled garlic herbed cauliflower tossed in balsamic vinaigrette ($10).
Housemade sandwiches include a Cuban with shredded pork belly, prosciutto, pesto, pickled peppers and provolone on pressed ciabatta bread ($14) and roasted Italian pork with aged provolone, Berkshire tenderloin, shredded pork belly and broccoli rabe ($14).
There are also flatbreads featuring toppings like white bean puree, prosciutto, balsamic onions and provolone; Italian sausage, oregano olive oil, cherry tomatoes, ricotta cheese, arugula and pine nuts; or fresh mozzarella, blistered cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil ($11-13).
Meanwhile, globally inspired entrees include grilled Berkshire pork tenderloin with roasted pumpkin risotto, roasted pepitas and balsamic glaze ($18); pan seared red snapper with quinoa and red pepper cream sauce ($25); and el pastor style skirt steak with roasted fingerlings and chorizo aioli ($24).
"It’s really about taking ingredients and letting them shine," says Pietro. "So we’re starting with good, high-quality items and really trying to make the most of those flavors."
And yes, there is pizza.
Currently guests have a choice of classic Milwaukee-style thin crust or hand-tossed New York style pizza. Toppings range from housemade sauce (littered with fresh herbs) and hand-pinched housemade Italian sausage to pepperoni, spinach, mushrooms, black olives, ground beef, chorizo, bacon and more.
Signature pies include options like the Classic with cheese, sausage, mushrooms and onions; the Stuffed Pepper with hamburger, onions and roasted green peppers; The Texan with cheddar, mozzarella, grilled chicken, honey barbecue, onions and mushrooms; and the Blackened Luau with grilled pineapple, blackened ham and mozzarella.
Pizza will be a year-round fixture, says Pietro. But the remainder of the menu will change with the seasons. "Well play with fresh, seasonal ingredients," he says. "We’ll roll out specials. We want to keep it new and interesting for our neighbors and regular customers."
At the bar
BB’s bar program, which is overseen by bar manager Lucas Fugina, features a list of accessible domestic taps (think Miller Lite, Spotted Cow and Riverwest Stein) with a larger selection of bottled imports and craft brews.
Wine is also among the offerings (sparkling, white, red and reserve) with pours by the glass or bottle. Meanwhile, signature cocktails include options like the Al Capone, a riff on the boulevardier with rye, vermouth and Campari; a high ball martini; and a hand-muddled black cherry old fashioned.
There’s also a housemade bloody mary and bloody maria (pictured) featuring muddled jalapeno and a Flaming Hot Cheetos rim.
Guests can stop by for a drink and appetizers any night of the week. Happy hour takes place daily from 2 to 5 p.m. with $1 off tap beer and bottles and $2 off glasses of wine. A special late-night happy hour takes place Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight and showcases $5 double Stoli cocktails, $1 off taps and $2 off wine pours along with an abbreviated menu of 12-inch pizzas and appetizers.
Mario says carry-out for items like pizza is currently available, with house-run delivery on the way. Come summer, guests can also look forward to extended operating hours and a sidewalk patio where guests can enjoy their meals al fresco.
BB’s on North is open Monday through Wednesday from 3 to 10 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.