Wood-fired Pizzas in Milwaukee

If a Milwaukee restaurant states that its pizzas are baked in wood-fired ovens, they’re not just trying to lure you in with a gimmick. There really is a difference between pizza baked in wood-fired ovens and pizza prepared using conventional gas or electric ovens. The special shape of the oven dome, the high temperature, and the use of wood in a brick oven all affect the baking process and the ultimate flavour of the pizza itself.

Although Milwaukee is not renowned for its Italian cuisine, the city still boasts many great pizzerias. However, only a handful of establishments used wood-fired brick ovens for their pizzas. These three restaurants offer Milwaukee’s best selection of wood-fired pizza pies: Vucciria, Oakland Trattoria, and Louise’s.

1. Vucciria
1323 East Brady Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Best accessible from MCTS Bus Routes 15, 30, and 10.

The exterior of Vucciria makes this restaurant stand out, even on the shop-laden Brady Street. With a tastefully lighted marquis, Vucciria has been turning heads since the summer of 2004. It was opened by the same Milwaukee proprietors who own La Fuente, the popular Walker’s Point Mexican eatery.

Like Oakland Trattoria, the presence of the wood-fired brick oven is vital to the dining experience. In fact, Vucciria is even more specialized, offering an even more extensive and more alluring array of wood-fired pizzas and calzones. Each wood-fired pizza dons an authentic Italian name, often based on the city that inspired its ingredients. If you like eggplant, try the Bellini. If you savor seafood, try the Sorrento (with pepper-flaked shrimp) or the Mondello (with calamari and artichokes). For those insisting on meat, the options are equally plentiful. I especially recommend the Italian ham on the Erice and the prosciutto on the Agrigento. Staying true to its East Side clientele, many of whom are vegetarians, Vucciria also offers six different meat-free pizzas, including an asparagus pizza named after Sicily’s Palermo.

Most wood-fired pizzas range from $14 to $17, so Vucciria is more expensive than Oakland Trattoria. The quality is superb, though, and you’re paying for atmosphere as well as pizza. With outdoor seating available in the summer and a popular bar, Vucciria is as much a wood-fired pizza haven as it is a place to be seen on a pedestrian-oriented Milwaukee street. The dÃ?©cor is trendy, a mix of sleek black and airy white, with curiously pleasing light fixtures and a second floor that adds to the visual expansiveness.

The service at Vucciria is attentive, but expect some attitude from the hipster wait staff. The slight arrogance is not undeserved, as the wood-fired pizzas are authentic, crisped to perfection in the brick oven. Without a doubt, this is Milwaukee’s premier wood-fired pizzeria.

2. Oakland Trattoria
2856 N. Oakland Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53211
Best accessible from MCTS Bus Routes 15 and 22.

Upon entering Oakland Trattoria, the first thing a visitor sees is the large brick pizza oven and a line of workers preparing dough with sauce, cheese, an toppings. Even though this is a full-service Italian restaurant and not just a specialty pizza place, you’d be remiss not to try the wood-fired oven pizza.

Whether you desire a more exotic wood-fired pizza or a traditional choice, Oakland Trattoria has a decent selection. Intended to serve as individual entrees, the wood-fired pizzas are large but not gargantuan. The Margherita pizza, quite a deal at only $8, is a simple classic: plum tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil, and olive oil. Also recommended is the BBQ chicken pizza, as the wood-fired oven endows the pie with a smoky (almost mesquite) taste appropriate for the toppings. More unusual pizzas include the Thai chicken, which features a mildly kicking peanut sauce. If none of the pre-fabricated options sound delicious enough, you are free to create your own wood-fired pizza from a list of toppings. Your server may even have a recommendation, like the prosciutto and eggplant combination that I once tried.

Popular with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee crowd and young professionals on the East Side of the city, Oakland Trattoria can fill up on weekend nights, but the place is large and they manage a full capacity very well. Rarely understaffed and always attentive, the servers are personable and competent, a rare combination. The overall feel of the trattoria is cozy, as though it’s a well-known small town establishment instead of an urban pizza destination.

3. Louise’s
801 N. Jefferson Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
www.louisesbrookfield.com (There is a suburban location and a downtown location.)
Downtown location is best accessible from MCTS Bus Routes 30 and 14.

Coming in third place is Louise’s. Located in a splendid spot in downtown Milwaukee, Louise’s is popular with the business lunch crowd and those attending civic events. Adjacent to Cathedral Park Square, the view (if you’re able to see it from your table) is pleasant.

The existing wood-fired pizza options are limited, with the classic Margherita being the best. You may wish to craft your own specialty, with the combination goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and roma tomatoes being especially palatable. But be prepared to pay for you creativity. Louise’s is a little overpriced. On par with Vucciria’s in terms of tabs, Louise’s provides neither the atmosphere nor the remarkable quality of its Brady Street peer.

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