You'll never find canned tomatoes or a pre-made pizza crust in the kitchen at Valentina's Pizzeria, where the staff prides itself on the ingredients it makes in-house every day, from the freshly grated cheese to the sauce mixed with herbs straight from the garden. Owner Greg Steele oversees the crafting of a menu filled with a selection of pizzas, calzones, and subs as well as sides such as eggplant fries and cheese bread.
In 1963, Sal Barbiere founded his eponymous Italian Inn on the principles of “Family, Superb Food, and Quality Ingredients,” according to the restaurant's website. So it was no surprise that he decided to keep the eatery in the family, passing Barbiere's to his son Steve when he retired. And when, 34 years later, Steve was ready to retire in his turn, he also passed the mantle to someone trustworthy: employee Mark Dempsey, who is himself nearly family—he has been working at the restaurant since he was 16 years old.
Today, Dempsey has expanded the restaurant to two locations, both still serving Sal's signature garlic bread and other tried-and-true Italian dishes. Chefs in his kitchens prepare pans of lasagna and spaghetti with meat or meatless sauce. Baked-to-order pizzas feature an array of topping choices including italian sausage, fresh mushrooms, and sliced tomatoes. Grand Marnier from the full bar fortifies pitchers of housemade red sangria, which enhance the food's bold, Italian flavors as well as boring white napkins that definitely look better in tie-dye.
Within the cream-colored brick exterior of a century-old city building, Papa Luigi’s II marries an Italian restaurant with a bowling alley. Amid the wood paneling, wine-red carpet, and chandeliers of the dining room, taste buds can warm up with the house’s favorite appetizer—sicilian eggplant lathered in Papa’s special marinara sauce. Thin-n-crispy pizzas, which Papa Luigi’s II has been perfecting for 23 years, come loaded with canadian bacon or shrimp.
After meals, guests can adjourn to the newly remodeled, smoke-free bowling alley. Here, shining orbs hurtle down 10 lanes whose automatic bumpers forgive shaky aim, and an automatic scoring system lets bowlers tuck their personal mathematicians back into the trunks of their cars. Between rounds, players can refuel at a pub-style bar by tipping back chilled mugs brimming with imported tap beers and gazing at a trio of plasma televisions. Those seeking a new arena for competition can drop by the game room or rent the upstairs gym for shooting hoops.
Nominated as one of the area’s best Italian spots last year on WISN.com's A-List, this Italian-American fusion eatery serves a menu of family-style dishes and handmade entrees. Mike’s signature lasagna awaits noodle enthusiasts ($8.99), along with an à la carte menu ($8.99–$21.99, plus toppings), from which guests choose a pasta, sauce, meats, and vegetables. Create-your-own pizzas top a handmade thin crust with a La Susa family vine-ripened-tomato sauce and a crown of 100% real Wisconsin mozzarella ($5.99–$11.99, plus toppings). A spicy La Susa specialty pie enlivens bland mouth dances with a wheel of fir sporting a menagerie of sausage medallions kick-lining across a field of bacon, as well as habanero-pepper Hustle-performers ($17.99).
Tazinos Pizza & Salad Bistro provides patrons with a buffet-style smorgasbord of specialty pizzas, pastas, and salads. Already cooking at three locations, a fourth eatery in downtown Milwaukee is slated to open its doors this summer. Each casual restaurant revolves around an all-you-can-eat menu of fresh, nutritious Italian fare, including pizzas crafted from natural Wisconsin cheeses and dough that is kneaded onsite every morning using unbleached flour and absolutely no high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, MSG, or magic beans. Pies range from classic pepperoni and authentic Italian margherita to the specialty Tailgater, topped with Klement's bratwurst, green peppers, brown mustard, and barbecue sauce. Salads, such as a sweet Asian-style slaw, and pastas, ranging from mac 'n' cheese to garlic-and-herb fettuccini, keep forks gainfully employed, and each meal is rounded out by a selection of soups, desserts, and spicy pepperoni rolls.
On Saturday and Sunday, Sunriza pizzas fend off the morning munchies with renditions of breakfast favorites in pie form. Topping choices include eggs and bacon, eggs ranchero, and morning-fresh veggies, and each slice may be enjoyed alongside other breakfast staples such as french toast, cereal, and mini cinnamon rolls.
Homemade from egg, spinach, or whole wheat, The Pasta Tree Restaurant & Wine Bar's namesake noodles earned the eatery the honor of best Italian restaurant and runner-up for best romantic restaurant on Express Milwaukee's Best of Milwaukee 2012 list. Now celebrating 30 years of dining excellence, chefs toss them with ingredients such as a bleu cheese Alfredo sauce, caramelized mushrooms, and Australian lobster tail. They incorporate more local ingredients into other homemade delicacies, such as fresh baked bread and tiramisu.
To help wash down each homemade bite, barkeeps pour reds and whites by the glass, whip up classic cocktails, and decant local beers. Feasts unfold in The Pasta Tree Restaurant & Wine Bar's European-style bistro, split between an intimate dining room and a cozy wine bar. There, a fireplace thaws chilly customers in the winter, while a secret garden patio opens in summer to surround diners with aromatic flowers, tranquil fountains, and gnomes that lust after your food but never touch it.