Actually, the name of the place is just Steve's Pizza Palace, but the Platteville, WI location is the first of a number of Steve's Pizza Palace's that have come and gone around the Midwest over the years. I had eaten at the Steve's Pizza Palace in River Falls, WI - one of the best pizzas I've ever had (click here to see that post). My friend, Eric Page, who turned me onto Steve's in River Falls (and who used to work there when he growing up in that town), told me that he'd been to the Steve's in Platteville before. He said, "It's not as good as the one in River Falls." I was driving between Cedar Rapids and Madison one evening and decided to pop into downtown Platteville to have a pizza at Steve's.
The story of the original Steve's Pizza Palace began in 1955 when Greek immigrants Stavros (Steve) and Stella Blatzas moved from their World War II-torn area in Greece to Duluth on the invitation of Stella's uncle. Stella's family - including her four brothers - eventually made their way to Duluth, mainly working in local restaurants.
In 1964, Steve and Stella moved to Platteville and opened Steve's Pizza Palace. They ran the business for four years before selling it to Stella's brothers, John and Nick Zaimes. The Zaimes brothers eventually sold their shares in Steve to their brother Patrick and his wife, Nina, in 1980. Patrick and Nina Zaimes soon obtained a liquor license so they could sell beer at their pizza joint. (I can't imagine a Steve's pizza without beer.)
In River Falls, the Poulios family operated the Steve's Pizza Palace there. They had invited Eleni Poulios' family, the Patakos, over to the United States to work in the family restaurant. Her younger brother, John Patakos, knew little English when he moved to the United States, but he eventually graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Platteville with a degree in history with honors.
In 1988, the Zaimes' decided to move back to Greece and they put Steve's Pizza Palace up for sale. John Patakos bought the place and continues to run it today. However, here's the "rest of the story"...
Patrick and Nina Zaimes decided to move back to the United States in 1999 to allow their children, Katherine and George, the opportunity to go to college in the states. The Zaimes' children moved in with John Patakos' parents (who were now living in Platteville) to go to school at UW-Platteville. Both Katherine and George had literally grown up in Steve's Pizza Palace and both worked there part-time while going to school.
Katherine and George eventually transferred to Iowa State University, but John Patakos kept up correspondence with young Katherine. Their relationship became romantic when John and Katherine became engaged in 2003. She moved back to Platteville in 2004 after getting her degree at Iowa State and is now the president of the company that includes not only Steve's Pizza Palace, but also The Perfect Pint - an Irish-themed bar attached to Steve's - and The Captain's Cove, a Caribbean-themed restaurant that serves basically the food as Steve's Pizza Palace. Katherine also finds time to teach ballet and work with the UW-Platteville's drama department.
Steve's Pizza Palace was also one of the very first smoke free restaurants in the state of Wisconsin. Not long after John Patakos took over, he instituted a smoking ban in the restaurant. This was a risky business move nearly 20 years before Wisconsin did a state-wide smoking ban in restaurants and public places. However, it turned out to be a boon to business at Steve's, turning it into a destination for families and those who didn't want to smell cigarette smoke while they were eating their pizza.
It was about 8 p.m. when I pulled up in front of Steve's Pizza Palace at the corner of Main and Chestnut in Platteville (see map). The outside of the building was in a state of construction as it appeared they were in the process of putting in new windows across the front. I walked into the restaurant and there was a small bar area to the left and a good sized dining area facing me. In the back of the restaurant's dining area was a small gas fireplace with some chairs situated around a coffee table in the middle of the room. I thought it was sort of a nice touch, but it cut down on the seating area for the restaurant. (I guess if Steve's dining room is full they can get a table over at the Perfect Pint which is connected down a hallway from Steve's.) It gave Steve's Pizza Palace a very homey and cozy feel to the place.
One of the waitresses showed me to a booth and dropped off a menu. I didn't need it one - I knew I was going to get a small Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza. But Steve's also features appetizers, salads (including a Greek salad with Steve's homemade Greek dressing), calzones, spaghetti, and a number of sandwiches including gyros and a Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato sandwich that's served on pita bread.
About 20 minutes and two beers after I ordered my pizza, the waitress brought it out to my table. For some reason, I could tell right away that it wouldn't be as good as the pizza at Steve's in River Falls - as Eric Page said. First of all, the crust appeared to be a bit more thick than the one in River Falls. And the sausage chunks looked like they were sort of haphazardly thrown on to the top of the pizza - not like the pizza at Steve's in River Falls (or at Alex's Pizza Palace in Rolla, MO - another great Greek pizza place) where each individual square "party cut" has their own chunk of sausage. But in the long run, it didn't matter. It was a very good pizza from the first bite.
The crust, while a little more thick than the River Falls Steve's location, was crisp, yet chewy. The sauce had a nice sweet and tangy taste to it. The mozzarella on top was plentiful and flavorful. And other than the sausage just sort of thrown on the top in a feeble attempted to get a chunk on each square, the toppings were fresh and above average in taste. It was a damn good pizza, overall.
All across the Midwest, I've found that a number of small college towns have a great little pizza place. I think of all the horrible pizza that we have in the Quad Cities with only two or three places that are worthy of getting a good pizza. Then I find a place like Steve's Pizza Palace in Platteville - not that far from the Quad Cities, where the pizza could easily be better than anything the area has to offer. I know Steve's have tried to franchise out to people in other small Midwestern towns, but it can't be as good as the original Steve's Pizza Palace in Platteville and definitely not as good as the even better Steve's in River Falls.