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Ever since pizza debuted in Milwaukee at the old Third Ward Caradaro Club, Brew City has loved a good pie. And, although one might argue that a tavern-cut cracker-thin crust is the official Milwaukee pizza style, we actually tend to be pretty open-minded, embracing everything from thin crust to deep dish and everything in between.
Here are some of the best pizzas in Milwaukee (according to me!), though surely you’ll have your own favorites. That’s perfectly fine because there’s a lot of great pizza here and that’s worth celebrating.
When it comes to that super-thin crust, I’m a fan of the classics. The pizzas as both Balistreri’s (812 N. 68th St. and 6501 W. Bluemound Rd., in Wauwatosa) and Calderone Club (842 N. Old World 3rd St.) are based on the original Caradaro Club recipe. That’s because Jim Balistreri got his start at Caradaro and Calderone founder Tony Fazzari owned Caradaro for a few years.
The result is that these two pizzas, with their hefty dose of tangy sauce and slightly salty cheese atop a thin layer of crust, are the most like Milwaukee’s first pizza. And they’re delectable.
Moving into a bit thicker New York-style crust, both Lalli’s (8826 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa) and Tavolino (2315 N. Murray Ave., pictured below) – which makes the same recipe as its predecessors Divino Wine and Dine and Palermo Villa – are tops.
A chewier crust makes a sturdier foundation for the toppings and these examples are nicely cheesed and sauced. Their weightier construction means you could eat less, but you don’t really want to, do you?
The “official” Neapolitan pizza is what’s on tap at San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana, which is run by Gino Fazzari of Calderone Club next door. Using the classic ingredients and methods as taught and regulated by an Italian consortium means that one can now have real Neapolitan-style pizza almost anywhere in the world.
These are not smothered in ingredients, but rather built lean with high-quality ingredients that focus on simple, but fresh and delicious flavors.
There are a lot of places riffing on Neapolitan-style pizza that prefer not to be hemmed in by someone else's rules. Call it neo-Neapolitan or just wood-fired, but places like Anodyne (2920 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) in Bay View and Wy'East (5601 W. Vliet St., pictured below) in Washington Heights are making solid pizze that definitely should be on your list.
Roman al taglio
There is also a certification process for Roman al taglio style pizza that is square, cut with scissors and sold by the slice. The only place in the area is Harry’s Pizza Market (4024 State Hwy. 42, at I-94, in Sheboygan), and it’s quite good.
Harry’s has some interesting combos and each one I tried was better than the last. For some, it’s worth the drive to Sheboygan. Casual pizza fans (if they exist) might prefer to wait until they’re in the neighborhood.
Gennaro Lombardi’s pizzeria in New York City was the first in the United States and it cooked (and still cooks) its pizza in coal-fired ovens, making that really the earliest style of American-made pizza.
While you can still find places in some cities that use coal, in metro Milwaukee, the sole outpost of the Brooklyn-born Grimaldi’s chain (at The Corners of Brookfield) is the only option (though Holy Cannoli in Elkhorn has a coal-fired oven, too). But it’s a good option. The pizza is smoky and good, with a thin crust and the heat of the oven makes the restaurant an alluring place especially in the long Wisconsin winter.
By the slice
Brew City has had a lot of ups and downs in terms of pizza by the slice availabiliy, as places have come and gone.
But Classic Slice (2797 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) in Bay View and Brick 3 (1107 N. Old World 3rd St., pictured above) Downtown are now well-established in their neighborhoods. Classic Slice, despite the name, seems a tad more adventurous, with a nice array of available toppings, but Brick 3 has the more classic New York vibe. Either one will do you right, whether your grabbing a slice or two for lunch or a whole pie for dinner.
Because she is much more experienced in this category, I'm going to defer to Lori Fredrich, who has ranked the best deep dish pizza in the Milwaukee area.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.