By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published May 15, 2013 at 12:04 PM

I’ve driven past Pietro’s dozens of times and never really noticed it. One of my friends suggested that I pay a visit, and I’m glad she did.

The story of Pietro’s, 2912 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., starts with Filippo Tarantino who worked as a baker in Sicily and moved to the United States in 1959. He found his way to Milwaukee and worked for Grebe’s Bakery until 1973 when he accumulated enough savings to open Pietro’s Pizza, named after one of his sons.

Pietro Tarantino owns the business now, which is still very much a family operation. I was told Pietro’s son is involved in the business and Pietro’s nephew, Fabio Tarantino, took my order and made all of the pizzas on my visit. He also filled me in on the history of the pizzeria.

After I placed my order, I sat at a small table in the large lobby. The table held a cookbook and a basket of Dum Dum lollipops. I grabbed a watermelon sucker for dessert.

A whiteboard next to the take-out window listed the specials for the night. A 16-inch, one-topping pizza for $9.99, two lasagna dinners with salad and garlic bread for $14.95, and choice of two sandwiches from meatball, Italian sausage, and a hot submarine with fries for $11.95. The last two specials are available every night.

Other specials feature an 18-inch, two-topping pizza, onion rings and garlic bread with cheese for $22.99 on Wednesdays, two chicken dinners with fries, side salad and garlic bread for $13.99 on Thursdays, and one 16-inch, one-topping pizza with an order of jumbo wings for $17.99 on Sundays.

Also in the lobby were a soda machine, a large freezer, a flat-screen TV and several large, framed photos leaning against a wall, including an autographed photo of a young Cindy Crawford. I would put that one up on a wall.

I reviewed the rest of the menu, which listed a lengthy list of appetizers and shorter lists of dinners, pasta, and sandwiches.

Dinners include chicken, shrimp, cod, and Chicken Cacciatora, all for less than $9. Pasta dishes included lasagna or your choice of spaghetti or mostaccioli with meatballs, Italian sausage, mushroom sauce or butter also less than $9. 

The pizzas are made to 12-, 14-, 16- and 18-inch crusts. Cheese pizzas range from $7.50 to $14.55 with additional toppings ranging from $1.35 to $2.45. Pietro’s pizza crusts are a traditional hand-tossed crust, but the menu lists options for an "extra thick" crust for an upcharge of $1.45 to $3.25 and a Double Decker pizza from $4.25 to $7.25.

The Double Decker was described to me as one pizza on top of another. I had to see this, so I ordered one with sausage, pepperoni, and mushrooms. I was expecting to see layers, a crust topped with sauce, cheese and toppings, then another crust, cheese and toppings. What I received was a very thick hand-tossed crust, likely two full crusts stacked on one another, but then one layer of sauce, sausage, cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms.

I liked it, but the cheese, sauce and toppings to crust ratio was too low around the edge of the pizza. When a round pizza is cut into square slices, the "corner" slices are triangular.

These slices were pretty much just pizza crust. I think one of the four corner slices had a pepperoni slice.

The other perimeter slices were topped a little more and the center slices were perfectly topped, as expected.

I would recommend cutting the Double Decker into large triangular slices rather than squares, so that each slice has more toppings.

The pizza sauce stood out more than anything for me. I loved it! It was on the spicy side and provided a bold and delicious flavor. Pietro’s adds their special spice recipe to a canned base and creates one of the better sauces I’ve tasted.

The sausage chunks and pepperoni were somewhat spicy and flavorful, and the mushrooms on Pietro’s pizzas are fresh, not canned.

The other pizza was a thin crust topped with ham and pineapple. The sauce and cheese reached the edges better on this crust, so the square slices worked out well. The pineapple was sweet and the ham was tender and delicious.

The crust was really crisp along the perimeter and then a little softer toward the center. The spicy sauce provided a flavorful contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple. My friend and I enjoyed this pizza a little more than the other due primarily to the topping to crust ratio.

Pietro’s lists a few specialty pizzas on the menu. Pietro’s Special is topped with cheese, sausage, mushroom and onion. The Super Special adds pepperoni, black olives and green peppers.

There is also a veggie pizza with cheese, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and sliced tomatoes.

A customer was picking up a Super Special on the traditional hand-tossed crust minus the pepperoni, so I was able to get a couple of photos for your viewing pleasure. You’re welcome.

I try to visit the pizzerias on traditionally slow nights, hoping I may get a chance to chat with the owner. Some have no slow nights.

Fabio Tarantino was hustling when I visited, taking phone orders, making pizzas and working the register until help arrived. All the while, he maintained a friendly demeanor and a smile on his face. He seemed to love what he did and took pride in it. Pietro’s will be added to my future visit list.

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.