October is the fourth-annual Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2010."
Italian cuisine may be one of America's best-loved cuisines. Heaping plates of pasta, garlic bread -- with or without cheese -- and of course pizza seem to make just about everyone's lists for comfort food.
And every Italian restaurant seems to have their own method for creating both the food and atmosphere, ranging from red and white plastic tablecloths serving up rectangular pizzas on cookie sheets with Peroni to fancy, white-tablecloth restaurants with menus featuring risotto, veal piccata and prosecco.
Somewhere in the middle lands Calderone Club, 842 N. Old World 3rd St., a family-owned Italian restaurant and Downtown hangout that won OnMilwaukee.com's Milwaukee Challenge for pizza earlier this year.
I've been going to Calderone for years, and it's not the pizza that keeps me coming back, even though with a moderately thin-thick crust, zesty sauce and fresh toppings, it likely is one of the best in the city.
For me, the real appeal of Calderone Club is the consistent, spot-on food and attentive service. The Downtown location entertains a lot of large local office groups, and with good reason, as you don't have to worry about mixed up orders or subpar food coming to the tables. Mix in a nice bar crowd and speedy, pre-event service and Calderone is a winner every time, whether you're look for a quick pizza or a romantic, but not too upscale date location.
My most recent visit to Calderone Club with my husband, a first-time visitor, was even better than I had remembered, and leaves me still able to say that after over a half dozen visits here, I've never had a bad experience.
The dinner menu at Calderone offers simple Italian antipasti like mozzarella marinara ($8.95), eggplant strips ($9.95) and calamari ($10.95), all served with Calderone's excellent marinara sauce. Salads and a daily minestrone soup round out the starters and lead well into a substantial selection of pasta dishes and familiar Italian entrées, and unsurprisingly an entire page devoted to pizzas.
Selections from the Secondi Piatti (entrées) section of the menu come with a house salad, warm Italian bread, and choice of potato or pasta. The house salad is better than average and the servers take the time to ask if you'd like fresh ground pepper.
An entrée of eggplant parmesan ($17.95) appeared light and yet meaty at the same time. The eggplant was browned just enough to provide a lovely robust flavor beneath the layers of cheese and sauce that complemented the vegetable to perfection, and the portion was generous without being overwhelming. We ordered a side of meatballs (two for $4.50) to accompany the penne that came with the eggplant, and were presented with a bowl of two tender meatballs in a heady and delicious tomato basil sauce.
Penne con salcissia piccante ($15.95) layered generous pieces of spicy Italian sausage over homemade penne in a creamy tomato sauce with the soft contrast of pecorino romano shining through. The heat of the sausage was just enough to give the plate kick without making me hot under the color. Penne con salcissia piccante is one of my all-time favorite pasta dishes and Calderone did the plate more than justice, but the most notable part of the experience of eating this dish was my water glass.
When the server delivered our plates, she brought me more water immediately and asked about the heat quotient, which was to my liking. For the duration of our meal, she and the other three servers on the floor made it a point to keep my water glass full for the entire hour we spent dining -- they all were aware that I had a spicier dish, and they all worked together to make sure my water glass was always full. It was an impressive and appreciated team approach to making certain that every diner was taken care of, and for me, it was confirmation that Calderone Club truly has Italian cuisine and hospitality down to a science. I look forward to my next visit.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.