Papa Luigi's pizza uses a secret blend of seasonings.
Papa Luigi's pizza uses a secret blend of seasonings. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)
The chicken alfredo pizza on thick crust.
The chicken alfredo pizza on thick crust. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)
Papa's special pizza.
Papa's special pizza. (Photo: Rick Rodriguez)

In search of the perfect pizza: Papa Luigi's

I had lunch at a fairly new Mexican restaurant in Cudahy a few weeks ago. Directly across the street was a pizzeria that I made a mental note of for a future visit.

Papa Luigi’s Pizza has two locations, 3475 E. Layton Ave. in Cudahy and 1919 12th Ave. in South Milwaukee.

Salvatore Purpora opened Papa Luigi's around 30 years ago. He wasn’t in the restaurant when I visited nor when I called on a separate day. The information I was able to gather came from a video posted on the website and from brief conversations with the managers on duty.

Possibly the most interesting piece of information I received was that the recipes for the pizza sauce, many of the Italian entrees, and the secret blend of spices were all passed down by previous generations.

According to one of the managers, Purpora’s children are also involved with the restaurants and take turns with their father creating the special seasoning blend which they then deliver to both locations in a brown paper bag.

That alone should create enough intrigue to pay Papa Luigi’s a visit.

The building looked new even though it had been there for many years, painted in a dark beige with black awnings and red letters spelling out Papa Luigi’s Pizza. The interior was just as nice, with a full bar and two dining rooms. The furniture and walls were clean with nary a blemish to be found.

Papa Luigi’s has a large but not overwhelming menu, featuring a large sandwich selection, Italian specialties, seafood, broasted chicken, ribs, buffalo wings, appetizers and salads.

Featured items on the menu include the Sicilian eggplant appetizer and the lasagna rolls dinner with baked pasta rolls stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, romano and parmesan cheeses, topped with Papa Luigi’s signature marinara sauce.

Sal’s Seafood Sensation dinner features shrimp, lobster, scallops and crab sautéed with fresh vegetables and served over fresh linguini noodles with your choice of alfredo or marinara sauce and garlic bread.

Papa Luigi’s offers several options on the pizza menu. Thin crust is the default option, but you can also choose hand-tossed or thick crust if you prefer.

Pizza sizes come in 8, 12, 14, and 16 inches. Build-your-own pizzas range from $9.45 for an 8-inch with cheese to $13.45 for the 16-inch cheese pizza. Additional toppings range from $1 to $1.75. Large groups of 8 to10 people will like a 16-inch by 32-inch "Party Pizza" for $26.99 and $3.50 per topping.

The list of available toppings is one of the largest I’ve seen and includes sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, green olives, tomatoes, pepperonicini, jalapeno, broccoli, pineapple, Canadian bacon, ground beef, chicken, shrimp and anchovies!

Extra sauce and extra cheese can be added starting at $1 and $1.25 respectively. If you like a really thick crust, just add $1.25 to the 8- inch pizza and up to $2 for the 16-inch pie.

Did you get all of that? I hope so, because I’ve got more for you.

Let’s talk about specialty pizzas. Papa Luigi’s has many to choose from, and the prices for the 8, 12, 14 and 16-inch specialty pies are $13.10, $18.10, $19.10, and $20.10.

The list of specialty pizzas includes buffalo chicken, BBQ chicken, chicken parmesan, chicken alfredo, Hawaiian, meat lovers, Sicilian and Papa’s deluxe with cheese, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives and onions.

Papa Luigi’s also offers Papa’s veggie with cheese, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and black olives, starting at $11.65 for the 8-inch and Papa’s special with cheese, sausage, mushroom and onions, starting at $10.95 for the 8-inch pizza.

There is also a unique offering in the form of a pocket pizza, which is a pizza crust folded in half and baked with mozzarella cheese, marinara sauce and one topping for $7.99.

The specialty pizza that caught my eye was the Sicilian, which is simply an olive oil-covered crust topped with mozzarella cheese, sausage and "Papa’s secret spices."

We ordered this one on an 8-inch thin crust and it was delicious! It was simple yet perfect.

The crust was very crisp from the first bite to the last. Papa's used just the right amount of olive oil to provide great flavor without dominating. The true star of this pizza was the secret blend of spices which harmoniously complemented the olive oil and the Italian sausage. I would definitely get that pizza again!

My friend and I also decided to try the 8-inch chicken alfredo pizza, this time on their thick crust. For those of you who love a really thick crust that’s crispy outside and soft inside, this is one you should try.

We thought it was a bit too doughy for our taste. The alfredo sauce was good, but we agreed that the pizza could have used more of it to balance out the crust that was around an inch or more thick. The diced, grilled chicken breast pieces were tender and generously applied.

However, the dough wasn’t fully cooked. After a couple of bites, my friend pointed out a grayish line along the center of his slice. We examined the other slices and noticed the same.

This pie needed a little more time in the oven. We let our server know and he sincerely apologized and took it straight to the manager without us even asking. The manager came over, apologized and offered us the option of making a new pizza or taking that one off the bill.

We still had another pizza coming, so we decided not to press our luck and just have that one remove from the bill. Whatever downside there was to the undercooked pizza was more than made up for by the immediate and sincere response by our server and the manager, as well as their commitment to customer satisfaction.

Our last pizza was Papa’s special on thin crust, featuring Papa's signature pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, sausage, mushrooms and onions.

Once again, I found a sauce that I really liked. My taste buds tasted a little savory, a little spicy and a little sweet.

The sausage was spicy and the crust was very crisp along the perimeter, and slightly crisp in the center. I was pleased that the center of the crust maintained its crispy texture rather than becoming soft and soggy.

The only item that disappointed me was the canned mushrooms. They tasted fine, but as you know, I prefer fresh mushrooms on my pizza. Overall, I was very happy with this pizza.

It’s no secret that Cudahy frequently gets picked on for various reasons, but I can tell you that on several visits to various dining establishments in that community, I have had some pretty good dining experiences.

I know of at least five pizzerias in the Cudahy/St. Francis area that are on my list to visit, and so far, so good.

Other than the small setback with the slightly under-cooked thick crust pizza, my visit to Papa Luigi’s was a positive one.

Kudos to Papa Luigi’s for its sauce and crispy thin crust pizza, and kudos for training its staff on how to make customer satisfaction a priority. That is how you build customer loyalty.

I hope to visit Papa Luigi’s Pizza again soon to explore more of the menu.


olderwiser | April 11, 2013 at 11:47 a.m. (report)

I always read and enjoy this pizza blog. I hope to see it continue as my family, friends, and I are always on the trail of finding a good pizza restaurant. I will agree with you 100% on the selection and review of Papa Luigis. It is worth the drive to this little corner of the city and I agree, Cudahy does not get a lot of respect anymore. The pizza is good. The restaurant underwent an extensive remodeling job a few years ago and the expansion is quite nice. The quality of the food and the friendliness of the waitstaff is still ranked quite high on my list.

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oldschool | April 10, 2013 at 12:17 p.m. (report)

This blog has turned into one of my favorite things to read at Great choices to write about.

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