By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Apr 15, 2019 at 2:01 PM Photography: Rick Rodriguez

San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana

838 N. Old World Third St. (414) 276-2876

San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana was under construction when I retired my blog "In search of the perfect pizza," but I vowed to come back and write one last blog about Milwaukee’s first and only certified Neapolitan pizzeria.

It’s a pretty big deal if you’re a true pizza lover, so how could I not? Besides, this is an exciting time for San Giorgio Pizzeria, which celebrated its second anniversary in February and continues to build momentum. Yes, they’ve been open for 2 years, and I’ll bet many of you haven’t dined there yet, and some of you haven’t even heard of them!

San Giorgio Pizzeria received their formal VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) certification three months after debuting their pizzeria to the public. As Lori Fredrich wrote in her first look at the pizzeria, the certification means that San Giorgio has at least one VPN certified pizza maker and a certified pizza oven.

Chef and owner, Gino Fazzari completed the training and received his certification several months before the restaurant opened. He chose the name of the restaurant for his patron saint San Giorgio (Saint George) and as an homage to his cousin Giorgio Pazzano, with whom he is close. Giorgio is Gino’s formal first name, as well.

The oven is a Stefano Ferrara certified VPN oven made with beautiful Appiani Blue tiles, the first of its kind. The oven bakes the pizzas at 850 to 900 degrees, using oak and cherry wood, and the pizzas cook in 70-90 seconds. Yes, that is fast, but the oven only cooks three or four pizzas at a time, so when they’re busy, set a realistic expectation for the arrival of your pizza. Get an appetizer and a beverage of your choice, and relax.

San Giorgio also acquired and committed to continue acquiring the mandated ingredients, such as "Double Zero" flour and imported San Marzano tomatoes for the sauce, and has implemented a pizza making process in accordance with the VPN rules, established in 1984 by a team of original pizza masters and current AVPN President Antonio Pace, and supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Handicrats & Industry.

There are no dough rollers or flipping dough in the air like you see at other pizzerias. The dough is fermented in a "proof room" in two stages over 20-36 hours and methodically and gently "stretched" by hand. I never get tired of sitting at the counter and watching these masters at work!

Per the VPN website, the rules were established because "Old Neapolitan pizza masters, given the spreading of fast-food chains and the large use - sometimes inappropriate- of the denomination "Original Neapolitan Pizza", decided to found an association based on a protocol in order to protect and increase the value of the pizzas produced and processed according to the old Neapolitan traditions and customs." My fellow pizza nerds can get more details here.

Growing up on great thin crust pizza and writing over one hundred blogs in search of the perfect crispy thin crust pizza, I never expected the day would come when I’d actually prefer pizza with a slightly crisp and "elastic" crust over a pizza with a crispy thin crust, but I actually find myself craving this pizza and dining here two or three times per month!

There are ten pizzas on the standard menu and another two or three pizzas on the "specials" menu that change regularly. Pizzas are about 11 inches in diameter and served cut into four pie slices. The slices are meant to be picked up and folded length-wise to eat, as you would typically eat a New York style slice.

Standard menu pizzas include the Margherita and Margherita D.O.C., of course; the Quattro Formaggi, the San Giorgio, a sauce-less pizza topped with braised fennel, crispy pancetta, fiore de latte mozzarella, pecorino romano, baby arugula, extra virgin olive oil, and sunny side egg; the Genovese, topped with a house made basil pesto sauce, fiore de latte mozzarella, grana padano, Citterio Genoa salami, cherry tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil; and my favorite, the Calabrese, with San Marzano tomato sauce, fiore de latte mozzarella, spicy soppressata, caciocavallo cheese, parmigiano reggiano, basil, and red pepper flakes.

It isn’t just the standard menu pizzas I keep going back for. A year ago, Chef Robin Brown joined the San Giorgio team, and he’s been creating delicious Neapolitan style pasta dishes, in addition to the pizza specials. A few that stand out to me are the housemade gorgonzola- stuffed gnocchi with cream sauce, paccheri pasta alla Genovese featuring braised shredded pork ribs with 16-hour braised onions, and pappardelle pasta alla Bolognese.

Pizza specials include star-shaped pizzas with ricotta-stuffed points, such as the Sorrentina topped with eggplant, San Marzano tomatoes, fiore de latte mozzarella, black pepper, basil, Parmesan, and extra virgin olive oil; and the Appennino topped with varying toppings including smoked mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, crispy pancetta, fresh mushrooms, fiore di latte mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil. 

A gluten-free crust is not available, but I’m told they are working with the VPN Association for an approved gluten-free dough recipe; but that’s not as easy as it may sound, so stay tuned.

Aside from pizzas, the menu includes delicious appetizers, salads, a rotisserie chicken dinner, and chicken minestrone soup. If you’ve managed to save room for dessert, options include sorbet, gelato, tiramisu, or the eye-popping Nutella Calzone!

On April 16, San Giorgio is hosting its first VPN dinner, a (sold out) 6-course feast that will feature honored guests such as Antonio Pace, President of AVPN Naples, Italy (yes the man that lead the process of establishing VPN rules); Peppe Miele, President of VPN Americas Inglewood, CA); and Gianlucca Liccardo, Marketing Director of AVPN, also in town from Naples, Italy. Then on April 23, San Giorgio will celebrate the Feast of San Giorgio; details have not yet been announced for the celebration.

After a challenging first year with some pizza making and kitchen staff turnover and educating customers about VPN and this style of pizza, San Giorgio Pizzeria has found its groove, has a very strong veteran cooking staff, and it has grown to be as popular as its sister restaurant, the Calderone Club next door.

They are busiest on nights when Marquette or the Bucks have a home game and when there is a performance at one of the nearby venues, but they take reservations and your chances for a table or spot at the pizza-making counter without a reservation are pretty good on a Monday or Tuesday night. They aren’t open for lunch, and parking is available on the street or you can use valet on weekends or other busy nights. Now you know what you need to know, so go find out what sets San Giorgio apart from the others.

San Giorgio is open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. 

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.