Name the most unusual place to order breakfast in Milwaukee. How about a frozen pizza factory in the Menomonee Valley?
Palermo's Pizzeria & Cafe at the company's Italian villa-style plant on Canal Street opens at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Friday to serve bagels, a breakfast burrito ($3.95), a breakfast panini ($3.25) and the devilishly delicious Padella Colazione ($4.50), a breakfast pizza slice topped with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, bacon, fresh Italian sausage, peppers, onions and eggs. The restaurant is probably the best kept dining secret in the city.
Open to 5 p.m. in the winter, the cafe offers cold Italian subs and a weekly hot sandwich special that rotates among such standbys as Italian beef, Tuscan chicken and meatball bomber. There is a daily homemade soup, an Italian salad of the week and calzones. Muffins, scones, a yogurt parfait and home made cannoli are also on the menu.
But fresh pizza, not frozen, is the main event at the cafe, and the selection rivals the city's busiest pizzerias. Square slices on hand-stretched crusts range in price from $3.50 to $4.50, and the varieties include sausage, pepperoni, five cheese and a supreme with the works.
A weekly special slice often gets fun and funky. The week of Elvis' birthday – Jan. 8 – featured a sliced banana, peanut butter and bacon pizza. Brats and sauerkraut topped a pie when the Brewers were in the playoffs.
Six classic pizzas are available in 9 and 12-inch sizes ($6.50 to $16.95). Another half-dozen specialty pies ($15.95 to $17.95) are sold only at 12 inches. They include a chicken caesar, a super spicy with hot giardiniera, and a pesto pizza.
Palermo's Menomonee Valley restaurant exists to feed the public, but it also serves a research and development function for expanding the company's line of frozen pizzas, according to Laurie A. Fallucca, the vice president of marketing. "We use it to test different flavor profiles" she recently explained. "If the consumer likes it here, it may wind up on a frozen pizza."
Several of the company's frozen varieties, including Philly cheesesteak, bacon alfredo and chicken fajita, began in the pizzeria.
While most of the public doesn't know a restaurant operates within Palermo's factory, the cafe is so popular it was expanded last year. There are few dining options for persons employed in the Menomonee Valley, and that factored heavily into the company's decision to open the eatery, according to Fallucca. Brisk carry-out activity augments the in-house dining business.
Free hot pizza is always available to Palermo's 450 employes, but they also patronize the cafe for soups, salads, sandwiches and breakfast items.
Customers order at a counter. About 75 can be seated in two rooms, and an outdoor courtyard is adjacent for warm weather dining. The restaurant, which serves wine and beer, stays open to 10 p.m. on Fridays in summer.
The summer schedule includes Saturday hours from 9 to 3.
Palermo's also caters offsite and hosts private parties and business meetings in several appropriate locations at the factory. Special events that demonstrate how to pair wine and beer with pizza have been held.
All of this is traced back to 1954, when Gaspare Fallucca and his wife Zina emigrated from Sicily to the U.S. Ten years later they opened an Italian bakery on the East Side that over time morphed into the dining landmark Palermo Villa.
The Fallucca family entered the frozen pizza business in 1979, operating out of a former bakery at 8th and Maple. Outgrowing that location, the company became the first to move into the redeveloped Menomonee Valley, where they have since expanded. Palermo's is now a thriving national brand, with its strongest markets in the midwest and southeast, Fallucca said.
Along the way the family sold the Palermo Villa restaurant on the East Side. But Palermo's in the pizza plant is open and ready to be noticed beyond the Valley. You can sign up for email blasts about its weekly specials at email@example.com.
And while you are dining there, be sure to visit the restrooms. Recorded Italian lessons are piped in to the facilities.
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.