By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Sep 25, 2013 at 12:01 PM

I happened to be in Grafton on business, and as luck would have it, my meeting ended around lunch time. A few friends recommended Atlas BBQ and Downtown Pizza. I visited Atlas on a previous Grafton visit, so this time I decided on Downtown Pizza, located at 1228 12th Ave.

Daryl Kranich opened Downtown Pizza three years ago after working for almost 20 years in the restaurant industry. Kranich attended a pizza dough seminar in Las Vegas to enhance his craft. His focus is on using fresh ingredients and providing his customers with a great experience. Many of his ingredients are organic and/or come from farmers markets.

Kranich did most of the remodeling and construction of his location with his own hands and acquired equipment and restaurant furniture from various sources, including eBay and estate or restaurant sales. He also received a little help from the building owner with rent payment flexibility to allow time to get the business operational.

Kranich’s parents own the Flipside Cafe, also located in Grafton, so the restaurant industry seems to be in his blood.

The menu at Downtown Pizza consists of bread-based appetizers such as pizza sticks, bruschetta and garlic bread, salads, pastas, pizza and wings with seven house-made sauces to choose from including Sweet Thai Chili, Marley’s Jamaican Jerk and Zesty Garlic Alfredo. If you like hot wings, try the Flames of Insanity sauce.

Kranich offers 40 craft bottled beers, wine, Sprecher Root Beer, a Pepsi soda fountain and juice boxes for kids of all ages. Visitors will also find eight to 10 flavors of Sassy Cow Ice Cream to choose from for dessert.

Pizzas come in 14 and 16 inches starting at $12.99 and $14.99 for cheese pizzas. Additional toppings range from 99 cents to $1.89 each. Specialty pies cost $19.99 and $21.99.

Crust types include their original crust, thin "Skinny" crust, gluten-free crust and Wheat "N" Crust. Diners can also select a deep dish pan pizza, but it’s only available for 16-inch pies.

The list of specialty pies is fairly large and includes a Hawaiian Jerk, Pot Pie Pizza, alfredo, baked potato, Lotsa Meatsa Pizza, Tatanka Chicken, Reuben, gyro, Taco Supreme, Chicken Bacon Ranch and the BBQ Pork Pizza.

The Hawaiian Jerk starts with Marley’s Jamaican Jerk sauce as the base, then it’s topped with cheese, slices of chicken, green peppers, roasted red peppers and chunks of pineapple.

The BBQ Pork features slow-smoked dry-rubbed pork, which is smoked on-site. It is served with red onions and roasted red peppers over cheese and house-made barbecue sauce.

Downtown Pizza also offers a separate list of vegetarian specialty pies including mac 'n' cheese, pesto, caprese, Rustler and "Olive Oyl Hearts Popeye," which is topped with a creamy alfredo sauce on a bed of fresh spinach with Roma tomatoes, garlic-infused olive oil and feta cheese.

The Caprese starts with their fresh dough baked in olive oil and fresh herbs, and is then topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, fresh whole basil leaves and creamy balsamic.

I was fortunate enough to try this pizza, and I was a big fan. For starters, it looked really cool with the checkerboard design made with the creamy balsamic. The flavors of sweet, salty and savory, combined with the fresh tastes of the basil and tomatoes made me forget that I preferred meat on my pizza. I would order this one again.

I thought the Rustler sounded interesting in that it’s made with marinated mock duck, cheese, onions and pineapple over the house barbecue sauce. I just didn’t have any room left to try it.

Friday afternoons feature a lunch buffet with pizza and salad for only $6.99. Lucky for me, I was there on a Friday, so I was able to try a few different pizzas, but all happened to be on the Original crust.

The Original crust is like a hybrid of a thin crust and a New York-style crust. The edge of the crust had a really crispy crunch while the rest of the crust was softer and chewy, while still slightly crisp. I could see layers of light flaky crust when you bit into each slice.

Kranich makes the dough a day in advance to allow the flavors time to blend. He also makes the sauce daily, adding his own recipe of fresh herbs and roasted garlic to a canned base.

The sauce had a subtle spiciness to it and complemented the thick layers of freshly grated cheese that absorbed the flavors of the herbs while baking.

Kranich gets his Italian sausage from a local butcher that makes it especially for Downtown Pizza using a specific recipe provided by Kranich. Since Kranich is a big fan of the large chunks of Italian sausage used at Rocky Rococo, he modeled his Italian sausage in the same fashion.

The sausage is somewhat spicy and very tender, juicy and delicious. The pepperoni was spicier than the sausage and just as tasty.

I would have liked to try the thin Skinny crust, considering the original crust was already fairly thin. I was also hoping another table would have ordered a pan-style pizza since there was no way I could take on a 16-inch pan style pie by myself, and I didn’t want my car to smell like pizza leftovers after the drive home.

Maybe you’ve had those crusts and can tell me what you think, or maybe you can try them in the future. In fact, I’ll do you a solid. Downtown Pizza has a special promo for online orders. Between now and Dec. 15, first time orders of $10 or more that are placed online at will receive $5 off when promo code wk00492 is entered at check out. You’re welcome! Let me know what you think.

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.