By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Oct 07, 2015 at 5:16 PM

For the ninth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2015."

I’ve been hearing good things about Sheyboygan pizzeria Il Ritrovo for the past 10 years. I never made it up there because it seemed a bit far to go for pizza that may or may not be as good as I was told it was.

But, a few months back, I helped a friend deliver issues of "Edible Milwaukee" along the north shore. We agreed to have lunch at Il Ritrovo, 515 S. 8th St. in Sheboygan, and I’d finally be able to cross Il Ritrovo’s famous pizza off of my bucket list.

When we arrived, we noticed Trattoria Stefano across the street, which I’d also heard great things about, and she filled me in on the fact that Il Ritrovo and Trattoria Stefano were both owned by Chef Stefano Viglietti and his wife, Whitney, which I learned with some help from Google.

Once inside, I noted a casual setting with a clear view of the wood burning oven, a key piece tool used for making Neapolitan pizza that meets the guidelines set by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), or the True Neapolitan Pizza Association, which governs the way certified Neapolitan pizza is made in Italy and abroad.

There is a VPN Americas organization following the same strict rules, and Il Ritrovo is currently one of only four current Wisconsin members of VPN Americas. Two are in Madison and another is located in Sheboyan. Although there are a few pizzerias in the Milwaukee area following VPN rules, they are not members.

That is one of the qualities that appealed to me about visiting Il Ritrovo. I wanted to ask Chef Viglietti why it was important to him to follow this path for the pizzeria, as well as get other questions answered, but multiple emails to one of the managers went unanswered.

On our visit, our server was another manager, and he was very friendly and helpful in telling us about what makes Il Ritrovo special, from the VPN certification to the use of ingredients imported from Italy to meet the VPN requirements. Il Ritrovo has been pleasing the taste buds of pizza lovers for 15 years.

Il Ritrovo features a lunch and dinner menu. You’ll find panini and pasta joining the pizzas, appetizers, salads, and calzones on the lunch menu, but they don’t appear on the dinner menu, likely because they’d prefer you had pasta for dinner across the street at Trattoria Stefano.

Pizzas are listed in two sections, Pizze Rosse (with tomato sauce) and Pizze Bianche (without tomato sauce). All pizzas are roughly the same size, between 10 and 12 inches in diameter, and range in price from $8.95 for the Marinara pizza with tomato sauce, oregano and garlic to $19.95 for the Il Maialino with tomato sauce, mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, roasted pork loin, Italian sausage, smoked pork jowl, onion, and Calabrian chili paste. For gluten intolerant pizza lovers, Il Ritrovo offers a house made gluten free crust for an additional $5.00.

On the Pizze Bianche list, the Boscaiola stood out, topped with fresh mushrooms, mozzarella, rosemary, truffle cheese, smoked mozzarella, and pancetta, as well as the Bufalina Bianca, which is topped with Bufala mozzarella, ricotta, smoked mozzarella, parmigiano, prosciutto di Parma (essentially cured ham), fresh tomatoes, and arugula.

We were very much feeling tomato sauce and meats, so we ordered the Capricciosa and the Giuseppe, with a slight modification.

The Capricciosa is topped with mozzarella, fresh mushrooms, ham, artichokes, olives and salami. The crust was perfectly cooked with the small charred spots that are commonly found on pizzas baked in a wood burning oven. The texture was slight crisp and slightly chewy.

The sauce was on the sweet side, made from imported San Marzano tomatoes (again following VPN rules). The toppings complemented each other fairly well, but we were surprised that the ham stood out as much as it did among the other toppings and essentially dominated the flavor, which was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for more balance from the salami. The kalamata olives were a nice addition for flavor and texture.

Our next choice was the true star of our lunch. The Giuseppe comes topped with mozzarella, chopped tomatoes, onions, sopressa salami, Calabrian chili paste, and mascarpone cheese. I asked them to add Italian sausage, which they were more than happy to do, and I’ll tell you this was one of the very best pizzas I’ve ever tasted.

The sopressa salami and the chili paste brought some heat, but the sweetness of the mascarpone cut the heat and helped bring balance to the various flavors from the onion and tomatoes. The spicy Italian sausage didn’t overwhelm and instead took this pie over the top! Even the grease from the sopressa salami added an explosion of flavor when combined with the mascarpone. I would definitely get that again!

The service we received was great, and our pizza lived up to the hype, for the most part. We even visited the adjoining deli to take a peak. In my humble opinion, Il Ritrovo is absolutely worth the drive to Sheboygan. I plan to visit again and make a day of it, so I can dine at Trattoria Stefano in the evening. By the way, there is also a chocolate shop next door to Il Ritrovo, so all of your food groups are covered on that block.

On a side note, Saturday night I met one of the four of you that follow my pizza blog. She recognized me and asked me about including more exotic pizzas, which is a very valid request, and I’m sure she is not alone in thinking that.

I’d thought I’d share that I really do try to find an interesting pizza to write about, in addition to my standard sausage and pepperoni pie that I use to compare the pizzerias as fairly as possible.

There are two factors that often prevent me from doing so. One factor is the level of adventure that my pizza dining buddies are up for, but the other main factor is that the pizzerias in the greater Milwaukee area simply don’t have exotic or interesting pizza offerings.

I think a big part of that is there aren’t enough adventurous diners to order those pies. I alluded to that in the "8 Questions" article that Lori Fredrich, OnMilwaukee's dining writer, wrote about me a few weeks back. In fact the most popular pizza toppings ordered in Milwaukee are sausage, mushroom, and onion, which is not a very exotic pizza.

I have found a handful of pizzerias willing to express their chef’s creativity, and most of them serve Neapolitan style pizzas, such as Il Ritrovo. I know of one reader, Rob, who is out there right now shaking his head about another Neapolitan pizza article. Hang in there, Rob. Thin crust will be back next month. I hope the Capricciosa and Giuseppe will provide temporary satisfaction to Kristin’s request to read about exotic pizzas.

Thank you Rob and Kristin – and all of you who continue to read my blog, and I hope we’re picking up a new reader or two every month. Keep supporting our independently owned pizzerias!

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.