By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Jun 01, 2016 at 3:30 PM

One of the grade schools I attended is near Brady Street. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time patronizing businesses in the area and observing the development that's taken place over the years.

Sciortino’s Bakery is still there. Glorioso’s has moved across the street and expanded. Bosley now occupies the space where Cataldo’s once stood, home of one of my favorite thin crust pizzas. I didn’t even know that Zaffiro’s, which anchors the east end of Brady Street at Farwell Ave., existed back then; but I wish I had.

A couple of other Brady Street area pizzerias have come and gone, but one pizzeria that has held its ground on the west end of Brady Street is Zayna’s, 714 E. Brady St.

Located in a small, unassuming, white building next to Casablanca, Zayna’s offers a large menu and features hand-tossed pizzas on 10-, 12-, 14-, and 16-inch housemade crusts. Cheese pizzas range from $8.99 to $14.99 with additional toppings for $1.49 to $2.49 each.

The rest of the menu includes chicken, ribs, fish and shrimp, all available in buckets for family meals, as well as pasta, lasagna, gyros, sub sandwiches, hot sandwiches, salads, desserts, and a sizable list of appetizers and sides. Zayna’s also offers combo meals pairing pizzas with fried chicken, ribs, or fish. There are always special offers or coupons available; just ask.

Zayna’s Pizza opened on North Avenue in 1990 and moved to the current location around 15 years ago under owner Younis Abdel-Hamid. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak with Abdel-Hamid during my visit, and the staff on-site didn’t have much information for me to share with you on the history of the business.

I had driven past Zayna’s dozens of times and thought to give them a try but never had the opportunity. A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were hanging out at Brenner Brewing and got hungry. I remember a group having pizza delivered to Brenner’s when I was there watching the NCAA basketball tournament. They told me it was from Zayna’s and they liked it, so I suggested it to my friends and we ordered an extra-large (16-inch) sausage and pepperoni pie for delivery.

It arrived around 45 minutes later, and we lifted the lid to admire our prize. The pie looked good, generously topped with sausage and pepperoni and cut into squares. I grabbed a slice from the perimeter, picked off a chunk of Italian sausage and a slice of pepperoni to taste them individually as I always do. Both were spicy and carried a nice flavor.

Next I bit into the inside edge of the slice and was pleased to have sauce along the sides of my mouth, telling me the amount of sauce applied was just as I like it. It had a slightly tangy taste to it and complemented the flavor of the cheese and sausage.

When I bit into the crust edge of the slice, I was disappointed to feel a dense texture in my mouth. I prefer a hand-tossed crust to be light and airy with a soft chew to it. The center slices were rather "wet" and soft, which could be from the amount of time it sat during delivery. The flavors of the sauce, cheese, sausage and pepperoni helped make up for the crust, which my friends and I essentially ate around (like when kids take the crust off of the bread when eating a sandwich).

I decided to give Zayna’s a second try, but this time at their location. The lobby had four high top tables and chairs and a small booth. A flat screen TV provides a distraction while waiting for orders, which are placed at an open window.

This time I reviewed the list of specialty pizzas and ordered a 10-inch American Favorite Mexican Pizza. Other options included Zayna’s Supreme, the Meat Eater, Zayna’s Veggie, Zayna’s Works, the Gyro Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza, Philly Steak Pizza, and the BBQ Chicken Pizza.

The pizza came topped with seasoned ground beef, diced red onions, black olives, diced tomatoes, chopped lettuce, mozzarella cheese and Zayna’s special sauce, which looked and tasted like salsa.

This pizza was ready after 15-20 minutes and was cut into pie slices. I was pleased to find the outer crust and center of the crust to be crispy, although the dense texture remained. I liked the crisp and cold lettuce with cold tomatoes topping the pizza, as opposed to baking the pizza with the lettuce and tomato already on.

The cold veggies provide a nice contrast in temperature and texture. I was hoping for more taco meat to provide a more prominent flavor and some type of cheddar cheese blend instead of the mozzarella. The flavors that dominated this pie were the lettuce, tomato and salsa, so there wasn’t the balance of taco flavors I expected with a "Mexican pizza." It wasn’t a bad pie, but it could use a little tweaking.

I’m glad I tried Zayna’s Pizza, considering I’ve been curious about it for so long. If I visit again, I think I’d like to try the fried chicken dinner. Pizzerias that make chicken usually do a decent job with it, so I’d be willing to give it a shot.

Considering Zayna’s Pizza is in its 27th year, there is clearly a satisfied and loyal customer base that appreciates what Zayna’s has to offer, and I hope that continues for them.

Zayna's is open Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. Dine-in, carry-out and delivery are available; call ahead for delivery charges.

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.