In this series, we’re exploring various types of pizza –from crackery thin Milwaukee style pies to Chicago-style deep dish – and sussing out the secret sauce behind each one. View the full list of features in the Knead to Know series here.
Cities around the nation have developed their own pizza styles. Look around and you’ll find New York style, Chicago style, Detroit style… the list goes on. And – despite arguments to the contrary – Milwaukee also has its very own style of pizza, and it can be credited to the owners of the city’s very first pizzeria.
The pizza’s history can be traced back to the original location for Caradaro Club, a restaurant which opened in the Third Ward in 1945, and which served customers for over 30 years before the building was destroyed by a fire in 1979. It was there that owners John Caravella and Joe Todaro developed the signature crust for Milwaukee’s very first pizza, establishing the benchmark for the Milwaukee style.
Over the years, Caravella and Todaro hired a variety of folks to work at the pizzeria. Among them was Jim Balistreri (founder of Balisteri’s) and Gino Pazzano, whose uncle Antonio Fazzari eventually bought the Caradaro Club business (later founding Calderone Club, which his son, Gino Fazzari carries on today).
Milwaukee-style pizza is differentiated primarily by its crust, which is crackery-thin (as thin as 1.25 mm) and crisp. That crust is often presented in an oblong shape, rather than round. The style is also reflected in the sauce, which is no frills (often comprised of just tomatoes and salt) and applied with a deft hand, providing just enough sauce to flavor the pizza.
In addition to those qualities, Milwaukee-style pizza is nearly always cut into “tavern-style” squares, rather than triangles. And if you want to go full-on Milwaukee, you’ve got to order your pie topped with cheese, sausage, mushrooms and onions. It’s a local classic.
Among the spots which have remained true to that original recipe is Balistreri’s, which has been serving up classic Milwaukee-style pizza at both of their family-owned restaurants for over four decades. To learn more, we headed to Balistreri’s Bluemound Inn where longtime chef Tom Siever and Jim Balistreri told us more about the making of their legendary pizza. [Video: Courtney Bondar]
Five more options
Here are some additional spots where you can find Milwaukee-style thin crust pizza:
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.