Featured on OnMilwaukee.com during its early-aughts inception, Sala Da Pranzo's dinner and lunch menus offer both contemporary and traditional Italian fare to fill the boot-shaped hole in Milwaukee's collective heart. Dinner diners get the chance to taste the ricotta-enhanced grandeur of the house specialty appetizer, the eggplant con pane ($11). Pastas like the saporito ($18.50), which tosses shrimp, tomato, basil, and garlic into the capable hands of fettuccini pasta, are available all day, and scene-stealing entrees such as the grilled salmon ($26) with chive cream sauce or the tenderloin porto vino ($34) shine like a strobe light covered in smaller strobe lights. For afternoon eaters, the veggie balsamic sub ($7.25) staves off narcolepsy with the time-tested jolt of mozzarella, tomato, onion, cucumber, lettuce, and balsamic vinaigrette.
In the warm spirit of Italian-style cooking, VIA Downer comfort diners with a hearty selection of homemade pastas and pizzas, which were described as "beautifully crisp" by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A parade of palate-popular dishes emerges from the restaurant’s open kitchen flaunting bowls of al dente fettuccine milano draped in a flavorful blanket of tangy goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and fresh basil. VIA Downer's menu also accommodates special diets with plentiful gluten-free options, from smoked salmon crostini to gluten-free garlic pizzas topped with cheese and grilled portobello. Diners break bread within the restaurant’s cool, laid-back setting with brightly painted modern art and exposed brick walls strong enough to withstand huffs and puffs from a hungry pack of wolves.
It's got imaginative cocktails, gallons of craft and mainstream brews, and hearty comfort food, but The Hotch Spot is as much about what you do as what you eat and drink. Depending on the date, there might be a live band rocking out on the stage or a board-game day with a DJ. The bar's '80s and '90s nostalgia permeates everything from the special events to the scrunchie slingshots that land plates on tables.
And while the food's homestyle preparation may remind guests of family meals, modern touches such as organic ingredients and craft beers update the fare. Weekend brunches feature the signature Hotch Hash, full of entire refrigerators worth of mix-ins, from broccoli and artichokes to turkey and andouille sausage. At lunch and dinner, burgers, salads, and pizzas quell appetites. The bar pours drafts and cracks open brews from New Glarus, Angry Orchard, and Stella Artois, among others. Bartenders can also mix up a variety of drinks, including The BLT, a bloody mary with Guinness garnished with practically a side salad: bacon, lime, and tomato.
Toppers' pizzasmiths craft a menu of saucy cylinders, sandwiches, and wings until 4 a.m. Swan dive into an inventive specialty pie, such as the cool chicken-bacon-ranch or the spinach-and-feta-speckled California Topper ($13.99 for a 12"), or construct your own pizza with more than 20 available toppings for an edible edifice more flavorsome than an astronaut's house of Tang ($9.99+ for a 12"). Other tongue merriments include buffalo wings ($5.99 for six), quesadillas ($7.99+), and grinder sandwiches, which come enswathing savory meats such as chipotle chicken or smoky barbecue beef ($5.99 for 6", $8.99 for 12"). Topperstix—hand-tossed breadsticks piggybacking tasty adornments that range from cheese to berry—can act as meal sidekicks, desserts, or handheld props during table-top reenactments of Don Juan's famous food fight against Duke de Lorca ($4.99+; eight dipping sauces available).
The doughsmiths at Salvatore's Pizzeria assemble a menu of five specialty pizzas and six sandwiches made with fresh ingredients and dough and bread crafted by Peter Sciortino's Bakery, a Milwaukee staple. Like Pavlov's dogs on their Sicilian vacation, mouths water instinctively when the scent of fresh-mozzarella-and-marinara appetizers ($5.95) fills the air. Medium Veggie Lovers pizzas ($15.65) round up a posse of pugnacious greens, olives, onions, and green peppers to coax bubbling cheese into settling amid Salvatore's famous crust, and a medium supreme pie ($17.10) ups the ante with sausage and pepperoni. Sandwiches such as the meatball sub ($6.95) accompany sides of fries and expertly transport saucy contents, illustrating why the best suitcases are usually constructed from bread.