I had to be in Milwaukee late last fall for a morning meeting with one of our Focal Pro loudspeaker dealers. I spent the evening before at the Hampton Inn in downtown Milwaukee, convenient to a number of good restaurants in the area. I was in the mood for pizza that evening and the girl at the front desk told me of a place that was a short three block walk from the hotel - the Calderone Club. It turned out that I'd been by the place a number of times in the past, but had never been there before.
Located at the corner of N. Old World Third Street and Kilbourn in downtown Milwaukee (see map), the Calderone Club is run by the brother team of Ilario (Larry) and Gino Fazarri. The brothers were born in Italy (both speak fluent Italian) and came over to the United States with their parents Antonio and Maria (Mama Rose to those around her) in the 1960's. In 1971, the Fazarri's bought the Caradaro Club which is said to be the first place where pizza was made available in Milwaukee. Two men, John Caravella and Joe Todaro, opened the Caradaro Club (the name came from their last names - CARAvella and ToDARO) in 1945 and used a recipe for thin-crust pizza that Todaro and his wife, Agatha, came up with. Their pizzas were served on rectangular sheets and they would hand out pieces of pizza to people walking on the streets of downtown Milwaukee to help publicize their business.
After owning the Caradaro Club for a couple years, the Fazarri family sold the place and in 1977 opened the first Calderone Club. At one time, there were three Calderone Clubs in the Milwaukee area. However, they closed the Mequon location a couple years ago, but still have a location up in Fox Point (see map).
The five minute walk from the Hampton Inn to the Calderone Club was a block north, a block west and another block north. It was a brisk evening and the streets of downtown Milwaukee were deserted, save for the "honest" beggar who hit me up for $4.45 he needed for bus fare. This is a new ploy that I've been hit up on over the past couple of years with panhandlers in Chicago and St. Louis who instead of asking for spare change come up with an odd amount that they say they need for bus fare home or to buy diapers for their kids or to help fix a tire on their car. His self-proclaimed honesty still didn't pry any money away from me.
The interior of the Calderone Club is a mix of old world Italian elegance with somewhat of an art deco feeling. The dining room featured sturdy wooden tables covered with white table cloths with heavy wooden high-backed chairs. The lighting was reduced, but not enough where one couldn't read the menu as I've run into in the past. The dining room was cozy, but not so small that you didn't feel that you were on top of the neighboring tables. The bar area is to the right as you come in and features a long L-shaped bar with high chairs. A couple three high tables with high chairs were also in the bar area. A large 32" tube television - a relic from a by-gone age - hung from the ceiling where patrons seated at the bar had to literally turn around to watch. An NFL game was on the television that night and it was somewhat difficult to watch because it was an analog television versus a high-definition flat panel. It's times like that where you appreciate the advances in television technology over the past 5 years.
I took a seat at the bar and was greeted by Larry Fazarri, an amiable, bear of a guy who liked to talk to the customers at the bar. I took a look at what he had on tap and he suggested a Peroni, but I saw that they had Pilsner Urquell. Larry was doing the hard sell on the Peroni - "You sure you don't want a Peroni? The pilsner is a little forward and bitey."
I said, "Oh, yeah. I know. I've had Pilsner Urquell many times. I'll take one of those." He served it in a tall and elegant Pilsner Urquell glass. It was good. The Peroni is good beer, but overrated, in my book.
Larry Fazarri gave me a menu and mentioned a couple specials they had that evening. They did have a number of interesting and delicious sounding Italian specialties such as a fettuccine dish that featured prosciutto, peas, sliced tomatoes and fresh basil, and cappelini in a garlic olive oil. But I had pizza on my mind when he asked me what I wanted to get. I ordered up my usual sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza. I asked Larry what the difference in size was since the next size up was served in a rectangular fashion 16 by 20 inches. He said, "Are you going to take some back to your hotel?" I told him that I probably wouldn't. He said, "Get a small."
Being that it was a thin crust pizza, it made it out to me in well under 20 minutes. The toppings on the round pizza cover the top with a thicker dough edge around the perimeter of the pizza. The sausage didn't have the zip that I normally look for in a pizza like this, but it was still good, nonetheless. The sliced mushrooms were fresh, but not overpowering. And the pepperoni - while there could have been more on my pizza - had a small spicy bite to them along with a hint of salty taste. The cheese, what there was of it, was caramelized perfectly on the top and the sauce had a sweet, yet tangy taste to it. The crust under the toppings was crisp, but not cracker thin. Overall, it was a very good pizza. It was one of those pizzas that taste great with a cold beer. I had a second Pilsner Urquell halfway through my pizza.
After I finished the whole pizza - it wasn't all that difficult as the crust was so thin - Larry Fazarri asked me what I thought of it. "Killer," I said, giving him a "thumbs up".
He said, "This is what made this place, our pizza. You need to come back sometime and try one of our pasta dishes. Best in Milwaukee."
While I'm sure that Larry says that to everyone, after having their pizza I'm guessing that their pasta dishes aren't too far off from his hubristic boast. I love finding little Italian restaurants like this and the Calderone Club was a great recommendation by the staff at the hotel. I like staying at the Hampton Inn in downtown Milwaukee and while there's a number of good restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, I'd go back to the Calderone Club to get a pizza or to try their pasta. Or maybe both!