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An Ex-Chicagoan Searches for Pizza in Kenosha

2/2/2020 - Frederick Butzen

Foodie
Any way you slice it, Kenosha is home to some great pizza places!
Any way you slice it, Kenosha is home to some great pizza places!
Any way you slice it, Kenosha is home to some great pizza places!

An Ex-Chicagoan Searches for Pizza in Kenosha

You’d never know it to look at me, but I love pizza. But not just any kind of pizza. You can keep the ketchup-coated saltine that passes for pizza in New York, or the fruit-salad-on-toast they serve in California. I want my pizza Chicago-style: heavy with sausage, thick with cheese, festooned with lots of red pepper and mushrooms and, yes, anchovies, all smothering a dense, crispy crust. That, my friends, is a meal!

Pizza and I go back a long way together. During my boyhood, my mother would make it for my dad and us six kids: we liked it, it filled the void within, and, most importantly, it was cheap. In high school, at St Ignatius, we went to The Brown Bottle on Taylor Street (now called Barnaby’s). Later, during my college years in Toronto, my friends and I would go to a Canadian chain called “Pizza Pizza” for our midnight munchies. My recollection is that it was pretty bad – the crust sodden with grease, the topping merely speckled with sausage – though my memory of those occasions is a bit blurry, for some reason.

My education in pizza truly began in the late 1970s, when I worked at a publishing house on Chicago’s near north side. On special occasions, we’d go to lunch at Pizzeria Uno or its sister restaurant, Pizzeria Due, which claim to have invented deep-dish pizza. That was long before Uno or Due became “a thing”; it just happened to be the local pizzeria. But man, was it good!

In the years since, I’ve eaten pizza at many Chicago places: downtown at the Exchequer, on the South Side at the Home Run Inn, on the far North Side at the Candlelight Lounge, and, of course, at Giordano’s and Malnati’s. All are good, each in its own way – though I must confess being partial to Malnati’s Chicago Special, with its butter crust: you can feel the lipids crying “Yippee!” as they flow into your bloodstream.

So, when I moved to Kenosha in November of 2018, I wondered whether I’d have to stock up on frozen pizzas, just to satisfy my periodic craving. But not so! Kenosha has many places where a Chicagoan, ex- or otherwise, can fulfill a craving for the Food of the Gods.

What Makes a Great Pizza?

So, you ask, what makes a pizza great? To me, what makes a pizza are the same elements that make any great food: ingredientsdesign, and preparation.

Ingredients is obvious: high-quality cheese, fresh vegetables, savory spices, lean meats, quality flours. With regard to cheese, I think buffalo-milk mozzarella is the sine qua non of pizza cheeses. It’s expensive, but worth every penny. With regard to crust, I like a crust that has something more in it than just ordinary all-purpose wheat flour – some whole wheat flour, say, or corn meal, or semolina flour (which my wife uses in her crust, and you don’t think a crust can be delicious, just try it and see). A bit of rosemary or garlic can turn a bland crust into something special. As for toppings, the meats must be lean and the vegetables fresh. Even with refrigerated shipping, it’s hard to find truly fresh veggies at this time of year, but it makes a huge difference.

By design, I mean a pizza whose sauce, cheese, crust, and toppings complement each other rather than clash, and in which the quantities are nicely balanced. In other words, no BBQ chicken with blue cheese; and the sausage is laid on thickly, rather than being spotted here and there.

Finally, preparation: baked to a turn, the crust risen well but not spongy, then baked brown and with a light crisp; the cheese viscous but not liquid; the meats pre-cooked and well drained (I loathe a greasy pizza); the veggies chopped but not minced, and with some texture still in them.

Bring those three elements together – ingredientsdesign, and preparation – and you have the making of a great meal. And, as Dr Johnson pointed out, “Hunger is the best sauce.”

So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been exploring Kenosha’s pizza scene (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it), in search of a great pizza. And I’ve found a number of places that make the grade.

Kenosha Pizza

Given the prominence of Kenosha’s Italian community (to judge by the number of businesses bearing the name “Ruffalo” or “Ruffolo” – and yes, actor Mark Ruffalo was born here), many of the pizza-philic restaurants are Italian, and offer a style of pizza that is more traditionally Italian. But whatever kind of pizza you crave, odds are that you’ll find it here – or one that is just as good, if not better!

Boat House Eatery & Pub

4917 7th Avenue – 262-654-9922   

The Boat House, which is located on Kenosha’s lakefront, near the Simmons Island Marina, is best known for its fish. Last summer, I had the pleasure of eating there; I ate lake salmon and trout that we had caught just hours earlier. The Boat House also smoked the rest of our catch, to enjoy at home – my portion of the smoked salmon made several exquisite omelets.

In addition to their specialty of locally caught lake fish, the Boat House’s menu offers a 14-inch thin-crust pizza. Additional toppings include a variety of veggies, pineapple, and Italian sausage, pepperoni, BBQ pork, or blackened chicken.

Italian-American Supper Club

2217 52nd Street – 262-658-4881

Kenosha’s Italian American Society was founded in 1923, as a coalition of number of Italian fraternal organizations, such as the Garibaldi Society and the Maria SS. Della Schiava. In addition to its fraternal activities, the Italian American Society sponsors a restaurant, the Italian American Club, that is open to the public.

In addition to a variety of pasta dishes, fish (including the traditional Friday fish-fry), and meats, the menu offers a 12-inch thin-crust pizza. You can have plain cheese, or cheese plus sausage or pepperoni, with additional toppings (veggies, olives, pepperoni, anchovies) available.

The Italian American Club is popular, and reservations are recommended.

Kaiser’s Pizza & Pub

510 57th Street – 262-653-5897

Kaiser’s Pizza & Pub is a sports-themed restaurant in downtown Kenosha. The décor is sports-themed, the atmosphere casual: an elbows-on-the-table kind of place. You can watch “the big game” on big screens in the bar area, or, if you prefer, you can eat in the video-free dining area.

In addition to burgers and sandwiches, plus a good selection of beers on tap, Kaiser’s specializes in pizza. The varieties that Kaiser’s offers includes veggie, BBQ chicken, buffalo chicken, “taco pizza” (which includes jalapenos), and “The Beast” (Italian beef, onion, and hot giardinera). My favorite is the classic “Kaiser’s Special” of sausage, mushroom, green pepper, and onion: Call me old fashioned, but some things just can’t be improved on!

Each variety comes thin-crust, pan, and double-decker – the last being, basically, a pizza with a crust on top as well as on the bottom. Kaiser’s pan pizza is the closest I’ve found in Kenosha to a deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza.

In addition to the pizza, I recommend the buffalo wings with blue-cheese dressing: Outstanding!

Mason’s Eatery & Pub

7000 74th Place – 262-925-3330

Mason’s is an Irish-themed pub located in the Southport Plaza, just south of Cinemark theaters. Unlike most places surveyed here, it’s open for breakfast, as well as for lunch and dinner. You can watch sports on big screens while you eat or drink, or hear live music. The bar offers an impressive array of craft-brewed ciders, beers, and stouts on tap.

In addition to burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and mac ’n cheese (a specialty of the house), Mason’s offers 16-inch thin-crust pizza. In addition to the usual veggie and meat toppings, you can have jalapenos or garlic giardiniera. For a few dollars more, you can have a “specialty pizza”: either buffalo chicken, BBQ chicken, or “mac ’n cheese”. 

Slip 56 Bar & Restaurant

506 56th Street – 262-764-8040

Slip 56 is located in downtown Kenosha, on 56th Street, near Southport Marina. As its name implies, it is a bar that serves food. The décor is modern – lots of chrome, weathered wood, neon, and exposed ductwork – and the atmosphere young and “hip”.

The menu offers a selection of meat and fish entrees, appetizers, and salads. It doesn’t offer pizza per se, but instead a variety of flatbreads with toppings: Meat Lovers, Barbeque Chicken, Buffalo Chicken, or the Caprese Classic (a combination of cheeses and greens, with drizzle of Balsamic and olive oil). Although flatbreads are nothing like the classic Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, they can be awfully good, especially when complementing a good wine or beer, and in good company.

Casa Capri

2129 Birch Road – 262-551-7171 

Casa Capri is a family-owned Italian restaurant that has been in business since 1954. It’s a classic family-run, family-oriented restaurant: no loud music, no big screens, no neon – just good Italian food in a comfortable setting. Casa Capri is a popular venue for banquets and receptions, as well as for family outings.

Casa Capri offers a wide selection of pastas, chicken, veal, steaks, and sandwiches, but pizza is a specialty of the house. It’s a classic Italian-style thin-crust pizza, either 12-inch or 16-inch. The basic pizzas include plain cheese; cheese and sausage or pepperoni, or all vegetables; or the “Casa Special”. Additional toppings include a variety of veggies, garlic, fresh ricotta, spinach, artichoke hearts, and anchovies (yes!).

On a recent visit, my wife and I had the Casa Special. A 12-incher was about all we could handle. The crust was baked a little crisper than I am used to, but it was good. For appetizers, Anne had the stuffed mushrooms, and I had a cup of the French onion soup. Anne pronounced the mushrooms “delicious”; while for me, the soup was just the way I like it: lots of cheese melted over bread that was firm – neither crunchy nor sodden – and a stock that was rich and not too salty.

As I once discovered, Casa Capri can be a little difficult for the uninitiated to find. In brief, it’s at the edge of rural Kenosha county, at the SE corner of the three-way intersection of Birch Road, 14th Place, and 22nd Avenue. Birch Road branches northwest off of Sheridan Road just north of Carthage College; if you take it to where it merges into 14thPlace, you’ll be right there. The entrance is on 22nd Avenue. Trust me: Casa Capri is worth seeking out.

Tenuta’s Deli

3203 52nd Street – 262-657-9001

Back in the 1970s, my wife and I were living in the building at the NW corner of Southport and Melrose streets in Chicago – an area that now is very, very tony, but back then was a typical working-class neighborhood. The neighborhood was graced with two excellent Italian groceries just north of the Southport El stop: Tony’s, which was a vegetable market; and a deli owned by a woman whom we knew just as “Tony’s mother-in-law”. Both places were delightful, but Tony’s mother-in-law’s place was especially good. I loved to go in there just to inhale: the heady odor of strong cheese, olives, virgin oils, and heavily spiced sausage, which spoke of all manner of good things to eat.

I was young then; and now I’m a retiree. But whenever I step into Tenuta’s, which is Kenosha’s best-known Italian deli, the odor is exactly the same as in Tony’s mother-in-law’s: an odor that speaks of all manner of good things to eat. If you love Italian food, or good deli, or just like to browse a store filled with exotic things, Tenuta’s is worth the trip from Chicago all by itself.

For the times when you just want to slide a pizza into the oven, Tenuta’s has pizzas for baking at home. These are refrigerated, not frozen, in a variety of sizes, with a variety of toppings  (some with meat, others meatless), and reasonably priced. I like the sausage pizza; or I’ll get the plain cheese and add my own toppings.

Tuscany Bistro Bar & Grill

7410 118th Avenue – 262-891-3272

Located just north of 75th Street and just east of I-94 (and just south of Woodman’s), the Tuscany Bistro is owned and run by Chef Guglielmo Ianni and his daughter Chef Theresa Ianni Robinson. As its name suggests, the Tuscany Bistro specializes in northern Italian cuisine. The décor is wood and brick, the atmosphere quiet and family-oriented – a world apart from the busy interstate a block away.

The menu offers pastas, meat dishes, and “Guglielmo’s Favorite” – a selection of linguinis, each of which I look forward to trying.

Gourmet pizza is a specialty of the house. All are 14 inches; varieties include piccante, ortolana, “meat lover’s”, and “suprema” (pepperoni, Italian sausage, black olives, mushrooms, and green peppers). Also available is a 12-inch gluten-free pizza. “Traditional” and “gourmet” toppings can be added; the gourmet toppings include prosciutto, shrimp, artichoke, and wild mushrooms.

Valeo’s Pizza

5021 30th Avenue – 262-657-5191

Unlike the other places listed here, Valeo’s not a place where one sits down, orders a meal, and eats it. Rather, it’s a pizzeria: you phone/dial/walk in, order your meal, then take it home, or have it delivered.

While Valeo’s offers sandwiches, bombers, salads, and desserts, their “thing” is pizza. Valeo’s menu offers an almost dizzying variety of sizes, crusts, sauces, cheeses, and toppings and garnishes, from which you can have assembled your dream pizza. (But no anchovies, alas.) Gluten-free crust and vegan toppings are available. Or you can select one of the standard, pre-designed pizzas.

If meat is your thing, I recommend the “Carnivore” pizza, with the hand-tossed crust: washed down with a good beer, it definitely hits the spot.

Villa D’Carlo

5140 6th Avenue – 262-654-3932

Villa D’Carlo is another of the long-lived, family-owned Italian restaurants in Kenosha, having begun life in 1957 as Carl’s Pizza, after owner and chef Carl Ruffalo. It is located near Simmons Island Marina, across the street from the Wyndham Garden hotel.

The menu, in addition to pasta dishes, meats, sandwiches, and appetizers, offers thin-crust pizza in sizes ranging from 9 to 16 inches. You can either assemble a do-it-yourself pizza from a variety of meats, vegetables, and garnishes; or you can order a “designer” pizza – from “Spinach With Garlic”, to “Garden Pizza”, to “Zak’s Gut Buster” (sausage, hamburger, meatball, pepperoni, garlic, ham, tomatoes, chicken, bacon, and jalapeno – all on one pizza).

Recently, my wife and I enjoyed a 14-inch pizza there. That’s supposed to feed three, but it was so good that we came close to polishing it off ourselves. I especially liked the crust, which was dusted with corn meal, to keep it from sticking to the pan. That gave the crust a flavor that reminded me a bit of polenta, one of my favorite Italian dishes. I’m loyal to my roots, so I prefer deep dish to thin crust; but Carl’s pizza just might change my mind.

When you go, be sure to leave room for the tiramisu: outstanding!

Waterfront Warehouse

3322 Sheridan Road – 262-764-4970

The Waterfront Warehouse, as its name suggests, is located near Kenosha’s waterfront, a short distance from where the Pike River flows into Lake Michigan, at the intersection of Sheridan Road, 7th Avenue, and Alford Park Drive. If you’ve ever driven north to Carthage College, you’ve probably gone past it.

The menu specializes in burgers, sandwiches, and salads, plus some “lil more serious” entrees. Instead of classic pizza, the Waterfront Warehouse offers flatbreads: from “The Ultimate BLT” (bacon, smoked gouda and cheddar, with lettuce and tomato), to “Caprese” (“fresh mozzarella, roasted tomato, basil, and arugula), to “Buffalo Chicken” (grilled chicken breast, smoked bacon, smoked gouda and cheddar, plus lettuce tomato and cucumber) – and many in between. All sound delicious, especially when washed down with one of the many craft beers on tap.

Et al.

There are many other great options for pizza in the Kenosha Area as well. The Kenosha Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Dining Guide is an excellent source of information on where to eat in Kenosha – whether you are in search of a slice or a different type of cuisine. 

 

Frederick Butzen

Frederick Butzen

Community Blogger

Recently retired software engineer & technical writer. Essayist and amateur musician, lifelong Chicagoan and newly arrived Kenoshan, enjoying exploring life and culture north of the Cheddar Curtain.

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