By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Jun 26, 2013 at 12:02 PM

There aren’t too many pizza places in Menomonee Falls other than those connected to big box pizza chains. Pepino’s Restaurant, N84W15841 Appleton Ave., is one of the few independent family-owned pizzerias in that area.

Pepino Armeli opened the restaurant in 1979 at its current location. His son, Sam, currently owns and operates it with his family.

If the last name sounds familiar to you, it may be because you’re thinking of Armeli’s Restaurant in New Berlin which I blogged about several weeks ago and is owned by Sam’s brother, Tony.

However, the recipes at Pepino’s are different than those of Armeli’s Restaurant, which I definitely noticed in the pizzas.

Pepino’s has a northern Wisconsin supper club look and feel, complete with wooden rafters, paneling on the walls and a small fireplace in the center of one of the two dining rooms.

I sat in the west dining room, which featured "vintage" green carpeting, red vinyl chairs and red vinyl table cloths.

The lobby is spacious and surrounded by the two dining rooms and large bar area. A large carry-out window is centered across from the entrance and a host station sits beside it.

Two or three menu boards hung on the lobby walls listed the specials, as well as the lunch buffet offered Monday and Wednesday through Friday. Friday’s buffet includes fish fry.

Nightly specials offer free salad or garlic bread with various pizza purchases. Sunday offers a buy-one-get-one free pasta deal from 4 to 8 p.m.

Menu items include salads, appetizers, sandwiches such as Sicilian steak and Sicilian chicken and pastas including oven baked lasagna, spaghetti, ravioli, manicotti and mostaccioli.

Pizzas come in a seven-inch "Bambi," 12-inch small and 16-inch large sizes. Cheese pizzas range from $6.25 to $14.

Additional toppings range from $1 to $2 for standard toppings and $1.50 to $4 for special toppings such as chicken, shrimp, salami, pineapple and Canadian bacon.

Pizza crusts are hand-tossed thin or thick crust. You can build your own pizza or order one of their specialty pies.

Since sausage and pepperoni are my favorite toppings, I ordered one a pizza with those toppings. The large chunks of sausage and pepperoni slices were both spicy and very flavorful. The pizza sauce was thick and almost equally spicy to the meat toppings I chose. I loved the way the sauce and spicy toppings complemented each other.

The crust was really crispy around the perimeter and very soft in the center, due to the grease from the meats and cheese, but no complaints here. This was one tasty pizza pie.

Specialty pizzas include BBQ pizza with chicken and bacon, Hawaiian pizza, Vegetarian Special, chicken and garlic, EBA (Everything But Anchovies) and a pesto pizza with pesto, cheese, basil, garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Specialty pizzas range from $9.25 for a Bambi-sized pesto to $26 for the large EBA on thick crust.

The pesto pizza appealed to me the most, and I was very happy with my decision. The crust was crispy around the perimeter with a chewy "tear away" texture for the rest of the crust, similar to a Neapolitan-style crust.

Instead of tomato sauce, a homemade pesto sauce provided the base, which was then covered with layers of delicious mozzarella cheese. The pesto flavor wasn’t overpowering but was noticeable.

Large slices of fresh mushrooms, finely diced tomatoes, garlic and basil flakes were spread out over the cheese, providing a fresh and delicious flavor combination.

Pepino’s menu offers the option of adding meat to the pesto pizza, but I actually think it was perfect as is. Adding chicken or shrimp wouldn’t hurt, but if a carnivore like me finds a veggie pizza he likes, he just rolls with it.

The restaurant was doing steady business on the Friday night that I visited. Several customers waited on benches in the lobby for their carry-out orders and the phone rang constantly for more orders while I waited 10 to 15 minutes for my table. Both dining rooms were nearly full and the bar was starting to fill up.

It seems clear that Pepino’s is popular among residents of Menomonee Falls and surrounding areas. They have 34 strong years behind them, and I suspect decades more ahead of them.

If you know of a pizza place in the falls that isn’t a chain, let me know. I may pay them a visit.

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.