For the sixth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Concordia University. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2012."
I remember house-sitting for an aunt in St. Francis around 20 years ago. I ordered pizza from a location on Howell Avenue. I enjoyed it very much and vowed to return some day. I thought it was Pepi's Pizza, 3929 S. Howell Ave., but I learned that Pepi's has only been in this location for about five to six years.
I've driven past many times over the years thinking, "Wow! That's great that they're still in business," but the reality is "Wow, I have a bad memory." I clearly don't remember who I ordered pizza from all those years ago. It's OK. I'm over it.
Anyway, I own one of those Entertainment Books that expires next week, so I thought this would be a good time to start using it. Yup, I'm that guy. Maybe you can relate.
As I paged through the pseudo pizzeria section, I noticed Pepi's Pizza had a coupon in there. It seemed like as good a time as any to try them out. I placed my order by phone and was on my way.
Pepi's Pizza was actually on South 16th Street (near Scott Street) for over 50 years before a fire forced it to close and move to the current location. It was family-owned and eventually sold to a friend of the family. Current owner Ricky Maine bought the business almost two years ago from that owner.
The lobby at Pepi's Pizza features a long windowsill that doubles as a bench for you to sit on while you wait. Menu boards are on the walls to the right of the pick-up window. As I peered through, I noticed their kitchen was huge! They must push a lot of food through here.
Besides pizza, the menu includes appetizers, lasagna and buckets of ribs, fish, shrimp and chicken. The kitchen also serves to help them produce their own pizza dough and bread.
In fact, one of the cooks told me they sell their bread to other businesses. It's a good thing I added a little garlic bread to my order.
The garlic bread was pretty good. You could tell from the texture of the bread that it was homemade. The bread was crispy with a soft center. However, I thought $3.75 was a bit high for six small slices. Most orders this size are typically $2.95 or less.
The pizzas are made with a very thin crispy crust, which I prefer (as you know if you've been following my blogs). You can order a double crust, but I think it would still be a thin crust.
Pizza sizes are 10, 14 and 16 inches. A 10-inch cheese pizza is $8.50 with $1 per topping. The 10-inch double-crust cheese pizza is $10.
My sausage and pepperoni pizza was good. I'm not really a fan of cornmeal on my pizza crusts, but the dusting seemed to help add to the crisp texture. I did like how the entire pizza was covered with cheese. Wide areas of neglected crust make me sad.
Pepi's Pizza also makes its own sauce, but there wasn't much sauce on the pizza, just enough to complement the cheese and toppings. I prefer a little more sauce on my pizzas, so I can really savor it. From what I could taste, I think this sauce is a good one.
What stood out the most for me was the flavor of the sausage. I was told that this sausage recipe is made especially for Pepi's Pizza; at least they were pretty sure the sausage was exclusive to them.
I thought the combination of seasoning in the sausage was unique. The chunks of sausage were a little spicy and had a very bold flavor that stayed on my taste buds for several seconds after finishing each slice. They just didn't want to let go, I guess.
The cook also told me that Maine would like to expand the business even more some day, such as moving to a location where Pepi's could be a restaurant complete with a dining room and a bar. Maine wants to stay very close to their current location, however.
He must appreciate the support Pepi's Pizza has received from the neighborhood and other loyal customers over the years. With recipes passed down over the course of 50-plus years in business, I'll bet the customers appreciate Pepi's Pizza, too.
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.