By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Sep 02, 2015 at 2:36 PM

Zarletti, located in Downtown Milwaukee, is one of my favorite restaurants and has been since owner Brian Zarletti opened it in 2004.

When I heard that Salotto Zarletti, 1515 W. Mequon Rd., was opening in June 2014 at 1515 W. Mequon Rd. and would feature Neapolitan style pizza, I put it on my list to visit.

Zarletti told me he wanted to do something different in Mequon, but the customers kept asking for dishes that they were more familiar with. That’s a common occurrence in the Milwaukee area, so Zarletti implemented a plan.

This summer, Chef Miguel Mayoral moved from the Downtown location to the Mequon location, taking over for Chef Andrew Miller who opened the Mequon kitchen and implemented the pizza making process in 2014. The name changed from Salotto Zarletti to Zarletti Mequon and the menu changed a bit to be more in line with that of the popular Downtown location for the past 11 years, with the exception of popular appetizers and the pizzas.

Zarletti Mequon follows the VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) rules when using ingredients and making pizzas. The wood burning oven gets to 900 degrees, and many of the ingredients are imported from Italy, including the San Marzano tomatoes used to make the pizza sauce.

The dough is fermented for a couple of days and hand stretched before it’s topped with housemade mozzarella cheese, housemade sauce and both Italian and locally sourced ingredients like the soppressata (Italy) and the sausage, which is made by a butcher in Oak Creek.

Zarletti Mequon offers a lunch menu with appetizers, salads, burgers, panini, pastas, and pizzas, while the dinner menu offers entrees in place of the burgers and panini. There is also a Sunday Brunch menu served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and features items such as omelets, French toast, eggs benedict and pancakes.

On a past visit, a friend and I shared the housemade burrata with prosciutto di Parma, and it was delicious! We also enjoyed the veal and beef meatballs with the house della nonna sauce, as well as the La Bomba pizza topped with tomato sauce, meatballs, giardiniera and smoked mozzarella. Both were quite pleasing to the palate.

We rounded out that visit with a grilled baby octopus and a seafood stew featuring scallops, calamari, fish, and shrimp. Dining on the patio between the fountain and the fire place really enhanced the experience. There is still time for you to do that.

The pizzas at Zarletti Mequon average 11 inches in diameter and range in price from $9 for the Margherita to $18 for the Del Re, which features a black truffle crema, fresh mozzarella, fresh mushrooms, prosciutto and rosemary. Gluten free pizzas are also available.

The menu offers 16 different pizzas, including six variations of the Margherita, such as the Margherita D.O.P., which replaces the standard housemade mozzarella with an imported mozzarella di bufala, made with Italian water buffalo milk. The Montanara is especially intriguing to me, since it is made with lightly fried dough, tomato sauce and smoked mozzarella.

On my most recent visit with another friend, we started with the Diavola ($14), which is topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, spicy sausage, sopressata and basil. The crust was slightly crisp and light in texture with a thin center. The sauce covered most of the crust, and the fresh mozzarella was sufficiently applied. I also picked up a subtle taste of olive oil.

While I normally enjoy seeing large chunks of Italian sausage on pizza, I really liked the texture of the spicy crumbled sausage on this pizza. Soppressata is a very picante salami, and this one did not disappoint. The heat really developed half way through the first slice, and enhanced the flavor profile of the pie when combined with the sausage and sweet tomato sauce. This pizza was delicious and one I would order again!

Next up, the apple gorgonzola ($12) pizza provided a refreshing relief to the heat from the Diavola. A little olive oil coated the crust instead of the tomato sauce. The gorgonzola provided an expected pungent flavor, but the fresh mozzarella and subtle sweetness of the apple slices helped to balance the flavor. The apple slices maintained a slightly crisp texture, but chopped walnuts provided most of the contrasting texture to the soft cheeses.

Fresh basil added a little bitter to the sweet, salty and savory flavors. I think this pizza would work as a dessert course for those of you that aren’t big on sweets. The classic Margherita ($9) was the last pizza we tried. Topped with the housemade tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil, it is simplicity at its best and was the perfect way to end our brief exploration of the ample pizza menu selections. I rarely order Margherita pizzas because I don’t see them on many menus, but also because I don’t think a true Margherita should be prepared with any other method than Neapolitan style in a wood burning oven. I’ll call it respect.

I’ve been very pleased with the food and service on my two visits to Zarletti Mequon, and I’m already planning a future visit for the Montanara and Del Re pizzas, as well as the risotto with seafood from the entrée section. 

If you’re looking for an idea for a family night, Zarletti Mequon offers a special on Tuesday nights featuring half-off the pizzas, but there are many delicious menu items for you to explore, so open your mind and arrive hungry!

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.