Being from Chicago, I have distinct memories of trips to the Wisconsin Dells and Milwaukee that flicker into my brain when I try to conjure up early childhood trips with my parents and little sister. That definitely means frozen custard. Specifically, Kopp’s with its unintentional and naturally retro vibe, carried over from the “old days.” But as an adult traveling for work, due to the necessity of figuring out an actual meal on the road, I discovered what is termed Milwaukee-style pizza. Who knew there was a specific type of pizza born in Milwaukee?
Cut “tavern style” in little squares, with a thin, crispy but just-doughy-enough crust, this pizza is topped with what Wisconsin does best: cheese from the homeland. OMG it is so delicious!
I discovered this mind-blowing new-to-me style of pizza at Balistreri’s Italian American Ristorante on Blue Mound Road. There is also a location, not too far away, in Wauwatosa.
James Balistreri, who started this family business, nailed it. He began his career in the mid-1950’s at Bella Food Service in the Milwaukee’s Merrill Park Neighborhood. By 1968 the first Balistreri’s Italian Ristorante in Wauwatosa opened with his Blue Mound location opening in the mid-1990’s.
The focus for this family’s legacy is high-quality ingredients. Honestly, this is what I always preach about pizza: I love every style I’ve ever tried, but only respect and eat a second time, those that have ingredients with flavor. Often you end up with bland cheese and cardboard crust. Not here my friends. Toppings are clearly subjective, but I will say this: if you are a fan of sausage on pizza, do it here, a short drive to Chicago. I honestly don’t know if it is a coincidence or not, but they put the best sausage I’ve had outside Chicago on their pizza. And that is a high compliment from this pizza (and sausage) snob!
I realize there may, for some crazy reason or another, be someone out there not in the mood for pizza but wanting the ambience, scent and flavors that go with amazing pizza. This place should still be on your list if that’s your situation. I can tell you that the side of sautéed octopus is on my short-list for a trial. I mean really, octopus with onions, garlic, tomato and Calabrian hot peppers- how can I not have this on my short-list to go with an Italian entrée like a beef and pork lasagna or a braised short rib ravioli? Not limited to pasta and risotto, the menu also includes veal and chicken dishes like scallopini, piccata and marsala, a whole section for seafood listing “Frutti de Mare” and “Cioppino alla San Francisco” of course but, importantly, steak. There are so many options I only wish I were closer. I truly wish I could review more than the pizza, but I will be honest, I will be hard-pressed to wander from their pizza if and when I make it to Milwaukee again.
Balistreri’s is casual and old-school Italian-American with an interior that matches. This place has the ambience you want and expect walking in under the green, white and red sign with retro script which hangs over the door beckoning you to check the place out.
And yes, they have a full bar. You can get a rich wed wine to compliment your marinara or a martini to preface your meal of course. But you can also get, wait for it, ice cream drinks!
Don’t forget to hit one of the Kopp’s locations for their “flavor of the day” treat which might be anything from creamy and citrusy “Orange Dream” to a decadent mix of espresso and chocolate “Tiramisu.” You can’t really go wrong.
|6501 West Blue Mound Road Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53213 USA|
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