The DeMarini name has a long history in the Milwaukee-area pizza scene. Mama DeMarini's started over 65 years ago. Sons Dom and Phil started helping and later working in that restaurant when they were as young as 10 years old.
Around 15 years ago, Dom and Phil DeMarini opened their own restaurant at 1211 E. Conway St., a few blocks from Mama DeMarini's, using the same recipes they used while making pizzas for much of their lives at their parents' restaurant.
On my visit I met Phil's wife, Ann, who was the hostess that evening. She gave me some of the history of Dom & Phil's emergence to the entrepreneurs they are today, as well as pointing out that two of her daughters work in the restaurant as bartender and server, so this is very much still a family business.
A couple of years ago, I had dined at a Dom & Phil's DeMarini's location in Menomonee Falls. I learned from Mrs. DeMarini that the location is a franchise owned and operated by another family, but using the same recipes, including DeMarini's house-made sauce.
When I pulled up to the Bay View location, I was surprised that the building was much larger than I expected for a business in that neighborhood. Dom & Phil's DeMarini's has a large bar area surrounded by a few tables and booths and a separate large dining room.
The dining room had a warm and cozy feel to it. The windows were adorned with holiday lights, fans and large track lighting hung from the ceiling and the walls featured murals and a design simulating the outside of homes in an Italian village.
Both the bar and dining room were full early on this Saturday evening. Luckily our wait for a table was less than 10 minutes.
While I waited, I reviewed the chalk board in the bar listing the dinner specials for the evening, which included lobster ravioli, spinach ravioli and a steak compobasa pizza. The latter had me intrigued.
My friend and I started with an order of garlic bread. Large slices of "Texas toast" cut in half arrived in a basket. The slices had generous doses of butter and garlic. The garlic bread was grilled, which gave it a deliciously crispy and chewy texture.
The garlic bread arrived quickly, but due to the full house, we waited another 30 to 40 minutes for the pizzas.
The first pizza was the steak compobasa that grabbed my attention when I arrived. A thin crust was topped with garlic and olive oil instead of the usual pizza sauce. The pizza was covered with mozzarella cheese and large chunks of tenderloin steak, red bell peppers and red onions.
I was really impressed with how moist and tender the steak was. I didn't bite into a single piece of dry meat. Other pizzerias in town have struggled with dry steak on their pizza. I was also pleased with the flavor combinations of the garlic and olive oil with the peppers and onions.
The crust also stayed crispy throughout, and slices held together well considering the weight of the generous portions of toppings. I would definitely recommend this pizza if you happened to visit and found it available.
Next up was a large sausage, pepperoni, mushroom and onion pizza. The large pizzas are served in a rectangular pan. Again, the crust was thin. It was crispy around the edge of the pan, but much softer toward the center.
As with the steak compobasa, the toppings were large in size and piled on. However, unlike the steak pizza, this pizza featured the house-made pizza sauce.
The flavors and texture of the sauce were closer to that of a tomato paste. It was neither sweet nor spicy. It wasn't bad, but also not one of the better sauces I've had.
The pepperoni was crispy, spicy and flavorful. The large chunks of Italian sausage were mild, but still had a good flavor. The large mushroom slices originated from a can, which was disappointing, but I thought they were better than other canned mushrooms I've found on pizzas.
Pizzas are all thin crust and come in three sizes: a 10-inch junior, a 13-inch small and a 12-by-16 inch rectangular large. Pizza varieties listed on the menu all included onions, but you can order your pizza without onions.
The prices for a cheese and onion pizza are $6.25, $9.10 and $12.50, respectively. Additional toppings are $1.45 to $1.95 each.
Other menu items include appetizers, salads, pastas and sandwiches, including a pork chop calabrese.
Other than 7UP, you won't find any Coca-Cola or Pepsi products. Instead you'll find local favorites like Sprecher root beer and Oak Creek's Black Bear soda. The cola is on tap, but other flavors are available in bottles, such as black cherry (my favorite) or blue raspberry.
With such a long family history in the neighborhood, it is easy to imagine repeat business from loyal followers. While I sat near the hostess station, I noticed quite a few diners greeted staff by first name, and some added warm embraces.
Loyalty even extends to some of the staff. I learned that one of the bartenders is 72 years old and started working for the DeMarini family at age 18!
I have a feeling the third generation will keep the business going into the future.
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.