Zaffiro's Pizza in Milwaukee is a local institution and arguably the finest thin crust pizza in town. Upon a tip from one of my dealers, I stopped into Zaffiro's one evening for a pizza. I'll tell you upfront, I certainly wasn't disappointed.
I pulled into the side parking lot, accessible via an alley behind Zaffiro's around 7:30 one evening (see map). It was a cool night and with all the snow they'd had in Milwaukee, it was best to be in the parking lot than on the street with all the snow piled up on the curbs.
I walked into Zaffiro's and it was like walking into a 50's pizza joint. In fact, Zaffiro's has been around for over 50 years. In the early 50's, "Bobby" Zaffiro opened a bar/restaurant in the historic and mainly Italian Third Ward of Milwaukee. The "Rock-a-Bye Tap" served pizza from its inception.
Faced with mounting competition from other pizza places starting up around the area, Zaffiro moved to the present day location in 1956 and simply called it "Zaffiro's Pizza". For 14 years, Bobby and his wife, Rose, ran the business in a small location. In 1970, Bobby bought the barber shop next door and expanded the restaurant, putting in a full bar and nearly tripling the amount of tables they had in the place.
Bobby and Rose's sons, Mike and Joe, eventually were brought into the business. When Bobby died in 1989, Rose and her sons continued to run the business. Mike Zaffiro was working there the night I was there.
Now, there's something about a place that has an old juke box that plays Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jerry Vale and Dean Martin. And that's what was playing when I walked in. I wanted to eat at the bar, but I was told by the waitress/hostess that I could only order pizza at the bar. No problem there.
There was only one seat left at the bar. It wasn't a big bar - it only seated 10 people. To the right of me were two older couples waiting for a pizza. To the left of me were three older guys working on a pizza, with two more older guys sitting there waiting to order.
I ordered a beer and got a menu from the bartender. Mike Zaffiro was the one who eventually took my pizza order and I ordered a small (10") sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. I sat and waited for my pizza.
Now, Zaffiro's is an old neighborhood joint. This is the type of place where not only do they have great old music playing on the jukebox, but the one TV was tuned to American Idol. With the sound down. And people were watching it. It was just priceless and timeless at once. Thank God I had a Chicago Tribune to read.
After about 20 minutes, Mike Zaffiro brought out my pizza. Oh, boy! Thin crust, nice and flaky, great texture and taste. The sausage were the big chunks like sausage on a pizza is meant to be. The pepperoni was fresh and flavorful. The only downer was that the mushrooms were the canned variety and not fresh. But it didn't detract from the overall taste of the pizza which was outstanding.
And it was cheap, too! A small three topping with cheese was just under $10 bucks! My bar tab was higher than my food bill, but that's hardly surprising.
I was able to eat the whole thing in one sitting - and I was STILL hungry! It was a great pizza. It didn't fill me up and I still wanted more.
Zaffiro's is also famous for their lunch specials, but their pizza is what makes the place. It has a great homey, old time feel to the place and I just fell in love with it that night. Oh, yes - I'll be back to Zaffiro's.