In search of Milwaukee's perfect pizza

Milwaukee loves its pizza. Our neighborhoods are full of great pizza places — all unique, rips with flavors and bursting with stories and your favorite ingredients. One Milwaukeean, Rick Rodriguez’s, has eaten at all of these places. Hard work, yes, but his work has become your guide to great pizza in greater Milwaukee. Read on, and use and share his stories and, please, save a slice for us.

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Milwaukee Rick’s Picks: North Side


Map: 5400 W Hampton Ave, Milwaukee

"The first thing I noticed was that the toppings were loaded on. There was so much pepperoni, it almost completely covered the thick layer of cheese. The chunks of Italian sausage were also plentiful. Hup’sclearly does not skimp on toppings…"

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Champion Chicken

Map: 8718 W Lisbon Ave, Milwaukee

"You haven’t seen busy, though, until you’ve clocked the pickup counter next door on a Friday at dinner time. A window opens up to a large staff running hither and thither preparing hundreds of fish dinners, fried chicken meals and more for the steady stream of customers popping in to pick up a quick meal.Amazingly enough, even when the rush is on, the counter staff is all smiles and cheer. How do they do it?…"

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Gianelli’s Pizza

Map: 8701 W Fond Du Lac Ave, Milwaukee

"Gianelli’s Pizza does not use bacon bits nor anything resembling bacon bits. It uses real bacon, chopped into various sizes. There were several pieces of bacon on my pizza that were the size of a third of a strip of bacon. You’ve got to love that if you’re a bacon lover, like I am…"

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More from Milwaukee’s north side.

Milwaukee Rick…

The pizza oven at San Giorgio is a Stefano Ferrara certified VPN oven made with beautiful Appiani Blue tiles.
The pizza oven at San Giorgio is a Stefano Ferrara certified VPN oven made with beautiful Appiani Blue tiles. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)

In search of the perfect pizza reprise: San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana

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…

Rick recently tried this pizza from On the Edge Bar & Grill.
Rick recently tried this pizza from On the Edge Bar & Grill.

In search of the perfect pizza: Rick's favorites

For the 10th straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2016."

On opening night of Bastille Days 2012, OnMilwaukee co-founder Jeff Sherman asked me if I would like to write for the online publication. I was flattered to be asked and jumped at the chance.

I submitted a few ideas to Managing Editor Bobby Tanzilo, including a pizza of the week blog. He liked that idea the most, and I went to work. He took a concept from my first blog about wanting to find the perfect pizza from my childhood, and he titled my first blog "In search of the perfect pizza." I loved it, so I asked them to keep that title and add the pizzeria name after it.

It was a challenge to visit and write about a different pizzeria each week – not to mention the health challenges – so I suggested to that I switch to one blog per month.

After the first 50 blogs, I highlighted a few of the pizzas I enjoyed the most, so I thought it would make sense to highlight a few of the pizzas I enjoyed most from the last 50 blogs, as a couple of favorites from my first 50.

As I reviewed my spreadsheet looking for the listings with X’s for the pizzas I would go back for, I counted 20 pizzerias – and that’s just from the last 50! Let’s begin, shall we?

Wells Brothers

I’ll start with Wells Brothers in Racine. The crust is very thin and crispy with a little cornmeal left on after pulling the pie out of the oven. I enjoyed the sauce, spicy sausage and pepperoni. DeRango’s is also very good, especially the location on 6 Mile Road and Highway 32, which is owned by a different family than most of the other DeRango’s locations, but Wells Brothers edges them out for me.

On the way back from Racine, you can stop in South Milwaukee and visit Paisano’s fo…

You might want to skip the pizza at Jimmy's Grotto in favor of the ponza rotta.
You might want to skip the pizza at Jimmy's Grotto in favor of the ponza rotta.

In search of the perfect pizza: Jimmy's Grotto

Around fifteen years ago, I worked in the Brookfield area. I used to explore Waukesha for lunch options after exhausting my options in Brookfield. At the time, a friend asked me if I ever visited Jimmy’s Grotto, 314 E. Main St. in Waukesha. She spoke glowingly about it. I hadn’t heard of it, but I visited soon after, and I hadn’t returned until about two weeks ago.

I was at a party on July 3 that I attend just about every year. Another friend I hadn’t seen in a while was there with her brother and the pizza blog came up. I told them I was closing in on the 100th pizzeria and narrowed my remaining list to two, one of which was Jimmy’s Grotto. Her eyes lit up, and she began to share how she and her brother grew up with the ponza rotta from Jimmy’s Grotto.

A summary of the history of Jimmy’s Grotto can be found on their website, but I found an important piece of the history in a framed article written in 1996 from the Waukesha Freeman that hangs on a wall near the restrooms in the dining room. More on that later.

They seemed to be out of paper menus when we arrived. The five of us shared one and used the new menu boards hanging behind the counter when we ordered. Interestingly enough, the designer of the new menu boards happened to walk in while we were ordering. I met her at a business networking event several years ago. I guess "Smallwaukee" extends to the suburbs, too. Anyway, the menu consists of appetizers and side orders, sandwiches, chicken, shrimp, fish, and spaghetti dinners, pizza, and ponza rottas.

Pizzas are available on thin or hand-tossed crust in 12, 14 or 16 inches, with cheese pizzas ranging $10.30 to $13.30 and extra toppings ranging $1.30 to $1.80. Specialty pizzas include a veggie, taco and deluxe pizzas ranging from $15.30 to $24.10.

When I visited, I went with my friend and her brother who grew up with Jimmy’s Grotto, as well as a couple of other friends, one fairly new to Jimmy’s Grotto and the other who also grew up with it.…