The control pizza: A cheese, sausage and pepperoni.
The control pizza: A cheese, sausage and pepperoni. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)
The Carbonara pizza from SALA, one of the finest the author has tasted on his search.
The Carbonara pizza from SALA, one of the finest the author has tasted on his search. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)

In search of the perfect pizza: SALA

A friend introduced me to SALA, located at 2611 E. Hampshire St., three or four years ago. At that time, it was still known as Sala da Pranzo. I was looking for a place to host a group dinner, and my friend was related to the owners, siblings Teresa, Tony and Peter Balistreri.

Our group dinner was a great success. All of the food was excellent, and we were able to try their pizza, which was a new menu item at the time.

Teresa and Tony Balistreri worked together in restaurants for several years and decided they wanted to open their own. Sala da Pranzo opened in 2001, and their brother Peter joined them after completing culinary school around three years ago. In 2012, they changed the name to SALA as part of their plan to remodel and revitalize the restaurant and menu.

SALA’s dinner menu includes starters featuring grilled zucchini and a risotto of the day, as well as salads and entrees such as seafood pasta, chicken marsala, saltimbocca, salmon and tenderloin.

The lunch menu features paninis, Italian beef, and a meatball sub, as well as an abbreviated offering of salads and entrees from the dinner menu. Pizzas are available for lunch and dinner.

The pizza menu offers two crust sizes: 10-inch and 14-inch, although the actual crust sizes may vary a bit. On my visit, the 10-inch was closer to 11 inches and the 14 was closer to 13 inches. All crusts are hand-tossed, and a double crust can be ordered for an additional $1.50 for the 10-inch pie and $2.75 for the 14-inch pie.

SALA also offers a 10-inch gluten free crust, made locally by Schroeter’s Gluten Free Bakeshop, for an additional $5.

Cheese pizzas start at $10 for the 10-inch and $14 for the 14-inch. Additional toppings are $1 to $2.25 for traditional toppings – such as sausage, pepperoni, artichoke and anchovies – and $1.50 to $2.75 for gourmet toppings like prosciutto, pancetta, goat cheese, Boursin cheese and Kalamata olives.

Specialty pizzas range from $12.50 for a 10-inch Papa Tony’s, topped with pepperoni and Boursin cheese, to $30.25 for a 14-inch Sicilian supreme, topped with sausage, prosciutto, green and black olives, fresh mushrooms, onions and green peppers.

Other specialty pies include the Tuscan Countryside with sausage, Kalamata olives and goat cheese; Angelina with spinach, gorgonzola, prosciutto, walnut and garlic olive oil; and Sfinciuni, which is served on a thick crust and topped with tomato, onion, anchovy and garlic olive oil.

I remember the great flavors of the pepperoni and Boursin on Papa Tony’s pizza from the dinner party I had a few years back, but on this visit, my friend and I agreed that the Carbonara was a must, in addition to my "control" pie: the cheese, sausage and pepperoni.

We started with the 14-inch cheese, sausage and pepperoni pizza. SALA sources their ingredients locally as much as possible. In fact, many of the veggie toppings are grown in their own garden in the summer.

The sausage is sourced from Mille’s, which many of you know from their Summerfest stand and some will know from the Mille’s Spaghetti Factory days in Mequon. It was applied in small pieces and was slightly spicy with a good flavor, as was the pepperoni.

The hand-tossed crust was crisp throughout, and the slices held the toppings well. There was minimal flopping, if at all. SALA’s pizza dough is made fresh as needed, while allowing for time to properly ferment.

There was just enough sauce to lightly coat the crust, so it was difficult to isolate and taste. However, I was able to find one spot along the edge with enough sauce for me to taste the slightly spicy flavor that also seemed to have a subtle sweetness to it.

I know that pizza purists say less is more when it comes to making authentic pizza, but I like to taste the sauce. When I bite into a slice and get sauce on both sides of my mouth, that’s the right amount of sauce for me.

It doesn’t have to dominate, just be present and complement the cheese and other toppings. I think SALA’s pizza sauce is good, so I’d like more of it. I’ll try to remember to order extra sauce next time.

Next up was the 10-inch Carbonara, which was easily one of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted. Topped with an Alfredo sauce, red onion, pancetta, nutmeg and cracked egg, I wished we had ordered a 14-inch.

The Alfredo sauce seemed to provide most of the texture and flavor of each bite, with the egg yolk being the second most notable topping, especially after breaking the yolk of the second egg and spreading it around.

The slivered red onions, sprinkled nutmeg and diced pieces of sliced pancetta were clearly visible, but played lesser complementary roles in the flavor profile. I could only pick out the Alfredo sauce and egg yolk flavors easily, but my taste buds knew there was a lot more at work than just those two ingredients. I would definitely order this pizza again.

We visited on a Tuesday night, which happens to feature a $5 home-made meatball with spaghetti special. Wednesday nights feature a $5 mussels special. There were a few tables with diners when we arrived a little after 6, but nearly every table was full by the time we left, which was closer to 7:30.

I think a full restaurant between 7:30 and 8 on a Tuesday night sends a strong message about the affinity that SALA’s customers have for it. While I’ve only dined at SALA five or six times, I’ve always had a great experience with excellent food and service.

If you’ve never dined at SALA or you haven’t been there in a while, make it a point to go soon – not just for the pizza but for the other delicious items on the menu as well. I’ve enjoyed the gnocchi, eggplant, and the $5 Meatball special on prior visits.

When you visit, pay attention to the parking signs. Because UWM is across the street, there are different parking restrictions depending on what street and what section of the street you park on. Don’t let a parking ticket ruin a great lunch or dinner.

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