By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Dec 19, 2006 at 5:35 AM
The Marchese family is in the process of moving into Walker's Point and when they're all settled in, they'd like to have you over for some classic Italian pizza.

Sisters-in-law Lisa and Gina Marchese both grew up feasting on flawlessly prepared Italian classics, and thus, the knowledge and passion they've acquired for the cuisine has finally culminated in the form of a restaurant they're proud to call Marchese's Olive Pit, 1100 S. 1st St.

Stocked with recipes passed down from their mothers and a staff consisting of brothers, uncles, nieces and cousins, the Olive Pit is a family affair, to say the least, with Lisa and Gina at the helm.

The Olive Pit is shaping up to be a casual yet upscale pizza restaurant that encourages diners to sit down, take their time eating and enjoy the environment.

"We're trying to establish a friendly, fun, classic Italian pizza place," says Lisa, noting that the only other food items on the menu are soups, salads and desserts. "We're not going to stray into BBQ chicken pizza or taco pizza or anything not traditionally Italian. We're trying to focus on the family roots."

Although they say they're still tinkering with the final details, the Olive Pit's menu is mostly complete and boasts some tempting choices, notably their version of a "white pizza," the design details of which remain a family secret, but that they say forgoes the typical alfredo route in lieu of lots of cheese.

Several of their other specialty pizzas bear family names -- the Casper Classic, for example, is named for Gina's dad and has the popular local lineup of Italian sausage, mushroom and onion. Lisa's anchovies-loving dad, Vito, is then referenced in the very fish-fancy Vito's Yesterday's Bait.

Other varieties included in the 10 or so pizzas listed on the menu -- they also provide a "create your own" section -- are the olive tapenade, the verde (pesto pizza) and the fiery combination of chopped hot peppers, pepperoni and crushed red peppers known as Peter's Pepper Perfection, named for its creator, Peter, Gina's husband and Lisa's brother.

All of the pizzas come with a medium crust -- not thin, but nowhere near deep dish -- served in two rectangular sizes, "large and ginormous," says Gina. The Olive Pit also serves up 'za by the slice.

The Olive Pit's building used to house Lava Java, which went out of business. The Marcheses plan to accommodate the former coffee house's clientele by serving Alterra coffee and Italian pastries as early as 6 a.m. on weekdays.

And although pizza is arguably a delicious breakfast option, you're going to have to hold out until at least 11 a.m. to get your hands on a slice of pizza.

"We'll do breakfast during the week, and start serving pizza and beer at lunch," says Lisa, mentioning a tap beer list that includes Stella Artois, Spotted Cow, Guinness, Franziskane Hefe Weiss, Pabst and Bud. From behind the beautiful, 30-ft. copper-topped bar the Marcheses will serve up everything from Italian wine to signature garlic-stuffed olive martinis to Lisa's recipe for hot toddies -- a citrus and whiskey combo sure to warm anyone's heart in the midst of a Wisconsin winter.

The Marcheses plan to have the Olive Pit open shortly after the new year.
Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”