By Mary Bergin
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
Foodies know the perfect pie holds far more than standard toppings and mozzarella on a thick or thin crust. So head this way when seeking the truly supreme: you’re in for such a slice, although pizza won’t be the only culinary draw.
Build your own Bay View neighborhood pizza by the pie or slice on a crust blanketed with house-made red sauce, pesto sauce or olive oil. Bring vegan friends for ’za combos that use soy cheese (or not – the Anne Curry begins with curry sauce and is topped with only tofu and fresh veggies). Like that hand-tossed dough? Buy it raw, for home baking later. Another option: Go gluten-free.
The Greenbush neighborhood’s Sicilian roots run deep, and Italian language/culture classes still happen at the 1922 Italian Workman’s Club, but the most popular reason to visit is for pizza served in the basement. Ingredients are a fine mix of imported Italian products and close-to-home organic fare. Think Molinari salami to Pecatonica hot dogs as toppings. Save room for cannoli before walking to the Kohl Center, sports fans.
Pizza purists know a restaurant with Verace Pizza Napoletana certification makes authentic Neapolitan pies, just like masters of the art in Naples. Only a smidgen of pizza makers qualify. Il Ritrovo and its wood-fired oven were the first in Wisconsin to achieve this elite status. Attached is an Italian specialty store. The same chef-owner operates upscale Trattatori Stefano, just across the street, whose Italian cuisine earns raves nationwide.
Expect eclectic décor and unique twists to familiar recipes from a perennial winner of “best of” awards for both pizza and fine dining (Italian fare, at Shady Kate’s). Build-your-own toppings, for adventurous diners, include clams to spinach pudding. Or rely on the chef’s own unconventional combos, like the Pear and Gorgonzola, which begins with a creamy balsamic sauce. Add chicken, walnuts and caramelized onions.
Watch dough-tossing while seated in a converted, century-old chapel and sipping an Old Fashioned Manzana, a novel adaptation of the classic cocktail using apples, cinnamon and maple syrup. Pizzas are a surprise too. The Trinity matches chicken and bacon with ranch. Or start with a beurre blanc sauce and add bacon, provolone and fried Brussels sprouts – that’s the Skinny Pig. Owners also hit the road with a brick oven for offsite events.
Sometimes it’s smart to not mess with the tried-and-true. Find pizza perfection that has drawn applause for decades in an ordinary-looking brick building and in a modest neighborhood where two Wells guys began tossing pies in 1921. Now a third generation is in charge and using the same recipes, described as a “tavern-style thin” approach. Fans love the grittiness of cornmeal on the crispy crust, stretched oh-so-thin with a bakery roller. Don’t ignore the fennel-rich sausage.
Sustainability is a priority here and evident from the careful sourcing of local ingredients from area farmers to foragers (gathering wild ramps to wild mushrooms). The husband-wife chefs, trained in Europe, add little surprises to their cuisine. Chicken and Choke pizza contains chicken and sun-dried tomatoes, spread over artichoke dip. The Green and Gold includes cheese curds in its toppings.
For the pizza fanatic, keep exploring unique offerings by stopping by Wisconsin’s pizza farms as well.