By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Aug 05, 2015 at 10:29 AM

My first introduction to Coach’s Pub & Grill, 5356 S. 13th St., was over 10 years ago, when I managed a Little League baseball team for Wilson Park Youth Baseball. The league ordered pizzas from Coach’s for some of the Christmas parties or other special events and meetings.

I remembered that I enjoyed the pizza, but it had been at least 7 or 8 years since I last tried the pizza, so I went back recently.

Coach’s Pub & Grill is currently owned by Corne’ Hanssen, who acquired the business in March 1999. Hanssen visited Coach’s Pub under the prior ownership and learned they were interested in selling. Hanssen previously owned The Newport in Bay View, so he had experience as an entrepreneur, and felt he could run Coach’s Pub & Grill successfully, starting with more effective use of the kitchen.

Initially, Hanssen’s focus was on improving the Friday Fish Fry, which was altered to begin serving homemade potato pancakes and coleslaw. He also added a large pizza oven which can bake up to four 16 inch pizzas simultaneously. The menu has evolved to include more sandwiches, wraps, appetizers, and salads.

 Coach’s Pub & Grill also features popular broasted chicken and wings which are always made with fresh chicken, never frozen. They offer the popular Big Boy Burger, like the one from the Big Boy restaurant chain. Hanssen gets the special burger bun for the sandwich from a vendor in Chicago. Milwaukee’s Canfora Bakery supplies the bread served with the remaining menu items, such as the crispy and delicious Garlic Cheese Bread appetizer, served with their sweet marinara sauce.

 Hanssen kept most of the bar and restaurant staff initially, but there have been changes over the years. One big change has been the addition of his sister, Sue Sowlles, whom he hired as the kitchen manager 10 years ago. Among her other responsibilities, Sowlles also makes soups and chili from scratch. Scratch cooking has been Hanssen’s overall goal for the food at Coach’s Pub & Grill.

 Pizza dough is made from scratch three times per week. The sauce starts from a canned sauce that Coach’s adds their own seasoning blend to, a recipe that Hanssen and his staff created via various tastes. Hanssen was a fan of Mama DeMarini’s pizza and tried to model Coach’s Pub pizzas after it.

Pizzas come in 12 or 16 inches, with cheese pizzas starting at $10.75 and $14.75; additional toppings are 75 cents each for a 12 inch pizza and $1.50 each for a 16 inch.

 The cheese and sausage or cheese and pepperoni pizza costs $12.75 for a 12 inch pie, which makes me wonder if ordering a cheese pizza for $10.75 and adding sausage for 75 cents would be an option to save $1.25. I recommend reviewing your options before ordering.

 Specialty pizzas range from $14.75 to $22.75 and include Coach’s Favorite, The Perfect, The Works, Vegan, All Meat, Cowboy and a Mexican pizza topped with taco cheese (a cheddar blend), taco meat, black olives, green peppers, tomatoes and jalapenos.

The Vegan is topped with tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and pepperoncini, with cheese optional, so it may be wise to specify the no cheese option if you’re a vegan. The Cowboy is a barbecue sauce pizza with your choice of sausage or chicken accompanied by bacon, red onions, and a jack and cheddar cheese blend.

We started with the Cowboy pizza and selected chicken. The crust was very crispy and appeared a bit overdone, but did not taste overdone. While the sauce was visible along the edge, it was lightly applied to the pizza, so we didn’t pick up much of the flavor profile of the sauce, although some of you may prefer a lighter application of sauce.

 The chicken was fairly tender and very lightly seasoned. It seemed to be made up of mostly dark meat and was diced into cubes of roughly a half-inch. The onions were finely diced and spread evenly so they did not overpower the other toppings, and the bacon appeared sporadically. While I felt the flavors were really well-balanced, such that no one ingredient really jumped out at me, I would have liked more sauce and a bit more seasoning on the chicken. Overall, I felt the pizza delivered what I expected from a BBQ pizza.

 Next up was my standard cheese, sausage and pepperoni pizza. The crust was crisp and had a lighter golden color and was lightly dusted with cornmeal underneath.  Again, the sauce was very lightly applied, so it was difficult to isolate the flavor, but from what I could isolate, it seemed to be slightly sweet, and it complemented mozzarella cheese really well. Coach’s grates the cheese from a block rather than using pre-grated cheeses.

 The sausage was a little spicier than the pepperoni, and both offered good flavors. Again, I felt the flavors were balanced, as no one topping over powered the other, but I would have preferred more sauce. I like to bite into a slice and feel a little sauce on the sides of my mouth. That’s when I know the pizza has the right amount of sauce.

I enjoyed the pizzas enough to return and order again, but I will ask for extra sauce next time. But, it's even more likely that my next few visits will be for the Monday night wing special featuring 15 wings for only $8 or the Big Boy burger, currently available for $5.00 on Sundays with fries. My mom is a huge fan of broasted chicken, and based on the customers I saw enjoying it on my most recent visit, I’ll be taking her to Coach’s Pub & Grill to try it.

 Aside from the food, Coach’s Pub & Grill offers a deck for outdoor seating, volleyball courts in back, and is a popular place to catch the game on one of their many screens. Feel free to plan your visit by checking the menu online, but note that the pricing on the website has not been updated to match the menu in the pub as of the time of this blog.

The place is often busy, so plan to visit when you’re not in a hurry. Otherwise you can call your order in for carry-out. There are menu options for all, including a "Little Sluggers" section with meals starting at $3.95.

Coach's is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Both dine-in and carry-out available.

Rick Rodriguez Special to
I was born and raised in Milwaukee, and I plan to stay in Milwaukee forever. I'm the oldest of three children and grew up in the Riverwest neighborhood. My family still lives in the same Riverwest house since 1971.

I graduated from Rufus King High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a business degree.

My true passion for Milwaukee probably started after I joined the Young Professionals of Milwaukee (now called FUEL Milwaukee) which just celebrated its one year anniversary at the time. The events that I attended, and sometimes organized, really opened my eyes to what Milwaukee had to offer, as well as its potential for the future. So for the past, present, and future FUEL Milwaukee corporate sponsors out there, that organization does produce results (editorial)!

I love all of the Milwaukee Sports teams, professional and amateur. I love the Milwaukee arts scene and all of the festivals. I love that you can find a free concert in the summer just about every day of the week. I love the various neighborhoods around the Milwaukee area and the unique characteristics that they offer. I love the people who take the time to tell us about those unique characteristics. I have to hold my breath and count to ten when someone tells me that there is nothing to do in Milwaukee. Then I prove them wrong.

Most of all, I love the Milwaukee dining scene. I love how it continues to evolve with modern dishes and new trends while the classic restaurants continue to remind us that great food doesn't have to be "fancy schmancy." However, I also love the chefs that create the "fancy schmancy" dishes and continue to challenge themselves and Milwaukee diners with dishes we've never seen before.

Our media provides attention to the new restaurants, which is great, but I don't like seeing the older great restaurants close their doors (Don Quijote, African Hut) because they've been forgotten, so I try to do my part to let Milwaukeeans know that they're still out there, too. I do that through social media, online reviews, and a dinner club I run for my friends, where we visit restaurants they haven't heard of before or try ethnic cuisine they haven't had before.

My dream is that one day I can mention a great experience in Milwaukee and not have someone respond with "have you been to Chicago?" I don't like those people very much.