By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Apr 02, 2015 at 12:02 PM

Bay View has become a popular part of town to eat and drink over the past few years. It’s also a place where one can find a pizzeria in the back of a small tavern with a completely different name and a completely different owner.

Such is the case with Vinchi’s Pizza, which has been located inside The Bubbler at 3158 S. Howell Ave. for the past three years. There are no business signs for Vinchi’s, at least none that I saw. You kind of just have to know.

What’s even more interesting to me is that Vinchi’s Pizza was previously located in another bar called the Sand Castle on 16th and Morgan for 15 years before owner Paul Meka moved the pizzeria to The Bubbler.

Meka started working in the restaurant industry at age 14, when he started to learn the craft of pizza making.

Meka uses his own recipes and seems to have found a successful combination of ingredients and business venue. The customers I spoke to raved about Vinchi’s sandwiches as much as the pizza.

I’d called the night before to confirm their hours for my visit. I read reviews and was warned that the hours vary a bit. The Bubbler was open at 11 a.m., but I was told Vinchi’s would open at 1 p.m., an hour later than the posted hours on Vinchi’s menu for a Sunday.

We arrived at 1 p.m. and learned that Meka had just called and would be in within the hour. I skipped breakfast, so I wasn’t happy to hear that lunch was going to be delayed as much as an hour. Another customer assured me my wait would be worthwhile. I had no other plans, and the NCAA tournament games were on, so my friend and I waited. A bag of chips, a glass of orange juice and a friendly bartender helped keep me calm. She brought me a menu, so I would be ready to order as soon as the man of the hour arrived.

Vinchi’s menu is modest, featuring three specialty pies, four versions of baked bread appetizers and seven sandwiches – including chicken parmesan, pork chop Calabrese and the Vinchi Burger, a half-pound Italian sausage patty topped with tomato sauce and cheese.

Sandwiches include chips and a pickle and range from $9 to $10, while the baked bread appetizers range from $2.50 for the standard garlic bread to $7.50 for the veggie bread.

Specialty pies include Vinchi’s special, which is topped with cheese, sausage, canned mushrooms and onions; Vinchi’s veggie with cheese, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and black olives; and Vinchi’s supreme with cheese, sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, onions and green peppers.

Diners can certainly build their own pizzas using the toppings mentioned above, as well as red bell peppers, jalapenos, spinach, green olives, pepperoncini, fresh garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, bacon and pineapple.

Vinchi’s pizzas are served with a thin, crispy crust available in 12, 14, or 16 inches. Cheese pizzas start at $13, with toppings ranging from $1 to $3 each. For $2.50, diners can convert their pie to a thick crust.

We decided to start with an order of Vinchi’s favorite – the garlic bread with melted cheese on top – and it was delicious! The bread was perfectly crispy and crunchy throughout, and the cheese was generously layered. Usually the cheese on cheese bread hides the flavor of the garlic, but that was not the case here. All of the flavors of cheese, butter and garlic were present.

Since the options for pizzas were pretty slim – and I’m not a fan of canned mushrooms – we decided to stick with the tried and true cheese, sausage and pepperoni pizza, which I refer to as my "control."

We ordered the 16-inch, and it took about 30 minutes for it to arrive. When it came out, I had mixed emotions. First, I was excited because I’d been hearing lots of great things about this pizza for over a year. Next, I was a little concerned because the cheese was dark, and some of the pepperoni looked dried out. This pie was overdone a bit. Finally I was excited again because the toppings were just piled on, and I was going to eat this pizza anyway!

The pizza was on the higher end of the price spectrum, but it seemed we would not be cheated.

The crust edge was crunchy as expected based on appearance. The center slices were also slightly crisp and held up well despite the weight of the heavy toppings. Perhaps baking the pie a bit longer than usual was his way to help prevent the center slices from flopping. If that was the intention, then he succeeded.

After I bit into the first slice, I was pleased to feel sauce on the side of my mouth. I love that feeling. That’s how I know if the pizza has enough sauce on it. I will admit I did not get the experience on every bite, but it happened enough that I felt guilty about the number of napkins I used (my apologies to trees everywhere).

Describing the sauce is tricky. I didn’t think it was sweet nor was it spicy. There were no specific flavors that jumped out at me, yet I liked the sauce. Let’s chalk it up to being balanced and call it a day. Meka adds his seasoning blend to a canned tomato sauce base, which is very common, but the texture was slightly thicker than most sauces, which I enjoyed.

The large chunks of Italian sausage and crispy pepperoni slices are locally procured from Prize Meats, and both were slightly spicy and flavorful.

Overall, I was a fan of the pizza. I would have preferred it was removed from the oven three or five minutes sooner, and I would just take my chances with a potentially softer crust. If I make it back again, I will make that request.

When you go, remember to call ahead on the day you plan to visit, so you’ll have the best chance at knowing when Vinchi’s is open. Also, Vinchi's only accepts cash for payment, so hit the ATM before you get there. Finally, if you prefer to see some white coloring on your cheese, ask that the pie be baked for that appropriate amount of time.

Customers can dine in, carry out their pizzas or ask for delivery. Check availability, delivery area and delivery charge when you call. I’d include it here, but it might change.

I liked the pizza enough to go back, but I only get pizza once a month – for this blog. Therefore getting back to the pizzerias I enjoyed becomes challenging. Don’t worry; I’m keeping track. One day, I will make it back to them. How’s your list coming along? 

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.