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 Jimmyâ€™s Grotto, 314 E. Main St. in Waukesha. She spoke glowingly about it. I hadnâ€™t heard of it, but I visited soon after, and I hadnâ€™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 hadnâ€™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 Jimmyâ€™s Grotto. Her eyes lit up, and she began to share how she and her brother grew up with the ponza rotta from Jimmyâ€™s Grotto.
A summary of the history of Jimmyâ€™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 Jimmyâ€™s Grotto, as well as a couple of other friends, one fairly new to Jimmyâ€™s Grotto and the other who also grew up with it.
We started with an order of breaded and deep fried green pepper rings and garlic cheese bread. The pepper rings were unique. They had a good flavor and werenâ€™t over powering. The garlic cheese bread was a hit. Crispy bread with a soft center was topped with a thick layer of mozzarella cheese; but what stood out to me was the flavor of the garlic. Itâ€™s rare that I actually taste the garlic in garlic cheese bread. This was among the best garlic cheese bread Iâ€™ve had in town.
We all placed orders for ponza rottas, but I also ordered a thin crust sausage and pepperoni pizza because this is a pizza blog.
They called my number for the pizza, and I was disappointed to see it was in a box. They assumed the pizza was to go, but also assumed the ponza rottas were for dining in, so they were half right.
When I opened the box, the pizza looked like they dropped it, but I donâ€™t think they did between the oven and the 10 steps it took to get to the counter. The toppings were mostly on one half of the pizza, and the slices were shuffled out of place a bit. I donâ€™t know which photo our editor will use, but Iâ€™ll admit that none of the photos look very good because frankly, the pizza didnâ€™t look very good. The pizza did taste a little better than it looked.
The crust was slightly crisp at the edge but mostly soft with plenty of corn meal underneath, an element of which Iâ€™m not a big fan though I know some of you are. The cheese was applied generously, but the sauce was scarce. I couldnâ€™t find a trace to isolate and taste. Were it not for the reddish hue I saw on the crust when I peeled back the cheese, I would have guessed they forgot the sauce.
The pepperoni was on the mild side, but the slices of Italian sausage had a slight tang, and the fennel seeds were clearly visible, for which Iâ€™ll give a point. Itâ€™s not a pie I would go back for, but maybe the hand-tossed pizza is better.
The ponza rotta, however, is why people come. The restaurant was steady and carry-out orders went out the door in waves. The boxes were small, so it was ponza rottas being ordered, not the pizzas.
I was the only one in our group that didnâ€™t order a ponza rotta with pizza toppings. Since I ordered a pizza, I opted for the taco ponza rotta, which is essentially the taco pizza in ponza rotta form.
For those who donâ€™t get to Waukesha and donâ€™t know what a ponza rotta is, Iâ€™ll tell you. Think of a calzone, except it isnâ€™t baked. The pizza dough is filled, folded and deep fried. It looks like a big empanada but has a much lighter textured shell.
When I cut into it at the center, I found it filled with a little mozzarella cheese on one side, seasoned ground beef, diced green peppers and onions, cheddar cheese, black olives and a little salsa on the other side. I liked it, but I liked my friendâ€™s ponza rotta with sausage, pepperoni and onions better. While there is a Philly cheesesteak ponza rotta Iâ€™d like to try on a future visit, the traditional pizza toppings seem to be the way to go.
The ponza rottas come in one size and sell for $4.65 for cheese plus $.75 for additional toppings. Specialty ponza rottas include taco; Philly cheesesteak; veggie with cheese, canned mushrooms, black olives, onions and green peppers; and the deluxe, which is a veggie with sausage and pepperoni added.
So where did the ponza rotta come from? The framed article that I read on the wall explains that the original owners of Jimmyâ€™s Grotto were Jimmy and Rosie Rucci, who opened in August 1946, and did so by tearing off the top story of their brick home and reassembling it next to the house as a small brick building. That building became Jimmyâ€™s Grotto.
In 1958, Mr. and Mrs. Rucci turned the business over to their son-in-law, Rocky Werning, who brought in his brother Dick Werning as a partner in 1971. In 1972, Rocky left the business, and Dick and his wife Bobby took on new business partners in Dick and Lucy Obodowsky. They owned the business until they retired in 2003, and long-time store manager Doug Ciampa took over the business.
The story states that Rosie continued to cook after she left the business and would occasionally visit Jimmyâ€™s Grotto with treats in hand. In 1976, she brought in a pastry filled with tomato sauce and ricotta. The staff loved it and worked to recreate it. Since they didnâ€™t have ricotta, they used the cheese they had on hand for the pizzas and later added toppings as filling, and the ponza rotta, which is a trademarked name, became the top selling staple for the business.
You can Google the ponza rotta and find the southern Italian panzerotti and ways to make very close variations on YouTube, if you are so inclined. I choose to leave it to the professionals. One of the friends who joined on this visit just heard about the ponza rotta a few months ago from a co-worker at her job in Waukesha, and she is hooked. So, if you havenâ€™t had a ponza rotta and want to try pizza in a different form, give it a shot. You might get hooked, too.
Some of you may want to sit down for this next part. I donâ€™t know which ones, so play it safe and sit down when you read this next part in case youâ€™re one of the seven people who actually like reading my pizza blog. I wasnâ€™t sure how long this pizza blog would last, but I didnâ€™t think Iâ€™d write about 100 different pizzas in just over four years.Â I made a decision six months ago to stop at 100 pizzerias, and I let my OnMilwaukee editors know. Jimmyâ€™s Grotto is that 100th pizzeria.
After the first 50 pizzerias, I wrote a blog to summarize those visits. Next month, Iâ€™ll write another summary of the last 50 and maybe highlight a few of the first 50. So, technically I will have written 102 pizza blogs, which seems like an odd place to stop, but thatâ€™s how it worked out. I hope youâ€™ll click on the blog one more time next month so I can formally thank you. And I hope youâ€™re eating a slice when you do.
Jimmyâ€™s Grotto is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Rick Rodriguez
Published Sept. 20, 2019
Happy National Pepperoni Pizza Day! Our neighborhoods are filled with pizzerias - all unique, bursting with flavor and filled with storied histories. One Milwaukeean has eaten his way through the lion's share. His hard work translates into your guide to great pizza in greater Milwaukee.
Published April 15, 2019
San Giorgio Pizzeria Napoletana was under construction when Rick Rodriguez retired his blog "In search of the perfect pizza," but he vowed to come back and write one last blog about Milwaukee's first and only certified Neapolitan pizzeria.
Published Oct. 11, 2016
Rick Rodriguez has been blogging about his search for the perfect pizza for four years. Now that he's retiring from his post, he shares some favorite spots from the past few years as well as parting words for readers who've followed his adventure.
Published Aug. 3, 2016
Rick Rodriguez says he doesn't think he's ever written about a pizza place as new as Fixture Pizza Pub. In this installment of his pizza blog, he gives the lowdown on the space, the food and a few other interesting facts about the owners and offerings.
Published July 15, 2016
Rick Rodriguez is often asked "who makes the best pizza?" or "who makes your favorite pizza?" The latter is a difficult question to answer, and the former is nearly impossible to answer. Still, here are some his top picks for Milwaukee pizza.
Published July 6, 2016
Sometimes Rick Rodriguez looks in unexpected places for pizza - like Shaker's Cigar Bar, for instance. But does this venue that regularly gets onto lists of the most haunted bars in America make the cut when it comes to delicious pizza?
Published June 1, 2016
Despite a sizable menu that includes hand-tossed pizzas, pizza blogger Rick Rodriguez dings Zayna's Pizza for the dense crust and a Mexican pizza on which the toppings "could use a little tweaking."
Published May 4, 2016
The folks at Carini's La Conca D'Oro have a long and storied history, with roots in Italy. They serve up authentic Neapolitan pizza, along with other Italian dishes including a variety of seafood entrees.
Published April 6, 2016
It's not often Rick Rodriguez writes about reader-selected spots. But the words "thin crust," "good pizza" and "small bar" were repeated by enough people that he felt a visit to Scotty's was warranted.
Published March 2, 2016
In addition to pizza, Albanese's offers a slew of specials, including wings, Sicilian style pork chops and Italian style fish fry on Fridays. They also happen to have gluten free pizza that's worth seeking out.