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Papa Joe's super deluxe pizza.
Papa Joe's super deluxe pizza.
The family-owned restaurant has been at 5601 W. Vliet St. for 20 years.
The family-owned restaurant has been at 5601 W. Vliet St. for 20 years.

In search of the perfect pizza: Papa Joe's

I've driven past Papa Joe's, 5601 W. Vliet St., several times while taking an alternate route to work.

The building looked a bit like a dive on the outside, but that's never stopped me from patronizing businesses in the past and it wasn't going to stop me now. In fact, some of the best meals I've had have been in dives.

The lobby is large, but has only three tables for those preferring to dine in and a few chairs along a wall for customers awaiting carry-out orders.

"Classic" pictures of various menu items adorn the green and white walls that would benefit from a fresh coat of paint. I guess overhead is kept to a minimum here.

Menu boards hang behind the counter. The prices have been written on strips of paper taped over the original prices. You'll also find the owners behind the counter and in the kitchen.

Doug Dietrich, his sister Cheryl and their cousin Dennis Kahler represent the third generation of the family-owned business that started in 1966. They've run Papa Joe's for the past 27 years, with 20 years at the current location.

Doug is typically taking food orders and helping with deliveries, while Cheryl makes pizzas using recipes passed through the generations, including the pizza sauce that they make from scratch.

Pizzas come in 12, 14, 16 and 18 inches. Pizza crusts are hand-tossed and mostly thin. The 12-inch cheese pizza with one topping starts at $10.50. Additional toppings start at $2 each.

There are a few specialty pizzas such as the sausage special, pepperoni special and the super deluxe. I ordered a 12-inch super deluxe pizza which included sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, green peppers, onions, black olives, extra cheese and extra sausage.

I didn't have the highest expectations for the pizza on my first visit, but I have to say that my expectations were exceeded.

The super deluxe is a heavy pizza due to the large quantity of toppings, but the crust was crispy and sturdy enough to hold together well. Even the center slices held up, which was a nice surprise.

The chunks of sausage were large, but I thought they lacked flavor and spice. I was pleased with the flavor and spiciness of the pepperoni slices, but I was disappointed that the mushrooms were canned. However, the thick layer of cheese was a hit that made up where the toppings missed.

The pizza sauce had a slightly thick texture. The flavors were subtle with a slight lean toward the spicy side. Overall, I though it was a decent sauce and a fair amount was applied.

Other menu items include appetizers, burgers, Italian sausage and meatball sandwiches, and pastas including lasagna. Soft-serve ice cream and shakes appear on the menu during the warmer months. Soda is sold in two-liter bottles only.

During my two visits, business seemed slow. However, while I waited for my order, a couple of calls came in for delivery requests.

Papa Joe's seems to have found a niche that has contributed to their longevity. I can only think of one pizza joint a short distance east or north of them, but there are a couple of major players a little south and west. With the business starting in 1966 and surviving 20 years at this same location, they must be doing something right.


Wauwatosafood | Jan. 8, 2013 at 11:17 a.m. (report)

I find this recommendation IMPOSIBLE! I too enjoy trying almost any food place, however this place scares me. For three years i have driven by Papa Joes and the most activity seen was a new paint job. My fear is age of the ingredients and lack of ownership effort. Thousands of people drive by your location every week, get an employee to stand on the corner and show your are open. Wear a customer is that is what it takes, Papa Joe's is not the Field of Dreams (build it and they will come) work to earn the customers.

I appreciate business that have been around for a longtime however I feel this one is too old and requires Gordon Ramsay to point out this nightmare! Hey Rick, stick to Cranky Als!

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