By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Nov 08, 2012 at 12:12 PM

When I need to get Downtown from Brown Deer after work without risking congestion on I-43, I like taking Highway 57 and following it onto Green Bay Avenue. Traffic moves well, and I get to find different places to eat like Mini's, 6343 N. Green Bay Ave.

The "homemade pizza" sign got my attention. It always does.

Driving by, I couldn't tell if it was bar that served pizza or a restaurant with a bar. It turns out to be both. There is a distinct bar with games, TVs and a mural of Vince Lombardi and the Packers of the Super Bowls I & II era.

There is also a separate dining room complete with booths and covers covered with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. The back wall featured a large mural of the Super Bowl XXXI-winning Packers team. It would have looked great in my living room.

I was greeted by owner, Mike Maniaci. "Mini" was a nickname he had growing up. It started with his last name being frequently mispronounced as "Miniaci" and further developed due to his stature among teammates on sports teams.

When I entered the bar area, I felt like an outsider in a room full of regulars, even though I wasn't feeling any "stares." Maniaci was very cordial and welcoming, nonetheless.

Mini's has been in business for 17 years. Maniaci learned the business while working in his uncle's restaurant. The recipes he uses for the pizzas came from his grandmother.

He gave me a menu, but I really didn't need it. I knew what I was ordering. Heck, you knew what I was ordering – cheese, sausage and pepperoni, please. Much to my delight, I learned that Maniaci made the pizzas himself. I believe there is always a little extra love in the food when the owner makes it.

I perused the one-page menu while I waited for my pizza. It featured sandwiches, subs, salads and sides, such as garlic bread, cheese bread and pizza bread.

The pizzas come in 12-inch and 16-inch pies. The 12-inch cheese pizza is $9.50, with $1.25 for additional toppings. The 16-inch cheese pizza is $12.95 with $1.75 for additional toppings.

When my pizza arrived I was happy to see a thin crust. I didn't ask before I ordered, so I wasn't sure what style crust they made. I bit into the first slice and was surprised at how crispy the crust was. The crust was less crispy toward the center and even a bit chewy.

However, it wasn't the crust that left an impression with me. The homemade sauce was a combination of spicy and sweet. Both were subtle, but still noticeable.

In fact, I think Mini's puts just the right amount of sauce on their pizzas. When I bite into a slice and have to wipe sauce off both sides of my mouth, that's the right amount.

The large chunks of Italian sausage had a great, bold flavor as good as any Italian sausage I've tasted on a pizza. Mini's used to get their Italian sausage from Dentice Bros Italian Sausage, but when they closed up shop, Maniaci had to find another supplier. He said it wasn't easy, but I think he found a good one.

Mini's is the type of business that can go unnoticed if you're not looking for it. I'm glad I took that route Downtown often enough so that I did notice. We should all keep our eyes on the road while driving of course, but feel free to take a little peek every now and then. You never know what you'll find.

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.