By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Nov 06, 2013 at 11:59 AM

I’ve heard about Ann’s Italian Restaurant, 5969 S. 108th Pl., and driven past a couple of times, but I’ve never dined there. A friend recommended the pizza to me recently, so I went to check it out.

Jeff Dietz worked for the original owners and bought the restaurant in 1969. He and business partner Tom Kysely have owned it ever since and have built relationships with his customers and staff over the years. Our server is one of three servers that has worked there for over 12 years.

Dietz also credits his general manager Justin Giersch, who has worked with Dietz and Kysely for over 25 years, for his contributions to the success of the restaurant. 

Ann’s Italian Restaurant is named after the daughter of the previous owners whom Dietz preferred not to name.

My friend and I arrived at 5 p.m. on a Saturday, and the place was already buzzing. The dining rooms were half full, and the lobby had a line of customers waiting to check in for a table or pick up their carry-out order. Many of the customers were regulars. The owner knew them by name and greeted them with warm handshakes and hugs.

Ann’s Italian Restaurant has three dining rooms. The original is split in two, one room has dark green walls and the other has a deep burgundy colored walls. The dining room we sat in had tones of brown on the walls and in the carpeting. Framed prints of an antique grape crusher for wine making adorn one of the walls to provide a little light.

Holiday decorations are a major part of the décor. The wall above the coat closet currently has framed Halloween prints and the porch outside the window where I sat was filled with various carved pumpkins. From what I was told, there will soon be a massive display of lights soon.

The menu includes appetizers, salads, signature entrees such as Sicilian style steak, veal parmigiana, stuffed shrimp, and linguine pescatore with baby clams and calamari. Other menu items include lasagna, pork chops, fish, sandwiches, pasta, pizza and seven kinds of homemade ravioli including lobster, braised beef and portabella mushroom.

Pizzas are all served on thin crust in 12, 14 and 16 inches. Cheese pizzas range $15 to $19.50 with additional toppings ranging from $1.25 to $1.75 each. Chicken may be added for an additional $4 and shrimp for an additional $5.

Specialty pizzas range from $17.75 to $28.25 and include the shrimp margarite, super deluxe, veggie, Tuscan chicken and the special which is topped with mozzarella, sausage, mushrooms and onions.

So yes, these are some of the priciest pizzas in town. The good news is that I think these are some of the best pizzas in town, particularly if you’re a fan of thin crust, which I am.

My friend and I started with a couple of large meatballs as an appetizer. They were moist, and had great flavor and texture, not over-seasoned or dense.

The first pizza we ordered was topped with sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms. The pizza arrived with slices cut into triangular pie slices. When we picked up the first slice, we were impressed that the crust was strong enough to hold the toppings. It didn’t bend at all. The edge of the crust had a cracker crunch when I bit into it.

I was further impressed that the slice didn’t bend because when I looked closer, I could see that the layers of crust were separated in some places which tells me the crust should be light and flaky as opposed to heavy and dense.

I picked off a chunk of sausage and was pleased with its delicious, spicy flavor. I did the same with a pepperoni slice and found it to be delicious with a tiny kick as well. Ann’s has procured its sausage and pepperoni from the same local butcher for over 30 years.

The mushrooms at Ann’s are fresh, so they added a flavor that helped neutralize the spicy toppings and the zesty sauce, and provide balance.

The pizza sauce was on the thick side and tangy. Ann’s uses a combination of fresh tomatoes and tomato puree to make the base before adding their secret blend of spices. The layer of cheese was a bit on the thin side, but overall, I was a fan of this pizza and would definitely order it again.

The other pizza we ordered was the shrimp margarite. The thin, crispy crust is topped with a garlic butter sauce, mozzarella cheese, fresh slices of tomato, chopped basil, thin slivers of red onion and plump medium sized shrimp. Again, the slices were cut as triangular pie slices and did not bend.

Since the tomatoes were sliced instead of diced, they seemed to dominate the other flavors. However, Ann’s is generous with the shrimp so we didn’t feel like we were eating a cheese and tomato pizza. The bites without tomato or shrimp allowed us to savor the flavor of the garlic butter sauce.

The onions were cut finely so they didn’t overpower any of the other toppings, which I was very happy about. Most pizzas are made with thick diced onions, and that tends to ruin the pizza for me so I try to avoid them. I prefer the method used by Ann’s cooks. 

If you plan to visit Ann’s Italian Restaurant – which you should – keep an eye out for a car dealership as you approach the 5900 block from the north. Ann’s is kind of hidden behind it and much easier to see when approaching from the south.

Also, there is a small parking lot in front and a larger lot behind the restaurant. Get there early or call ahead to get on the list for a table. On our way out, the wait had already reached an hour and 15 minutes. It’s a very popular restaurant. One more thing, check the website for special offers or coupons.

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.