East Side landmark doesn’t disappoint
This July, a Milwaukee East Side tradition was resurrected from the ashes of a 2010 fire. The new Pizza Man appeared at the corner of Downer and Belleview after three years of sustaining a faithful Facebook following and owner Mike Amidzich resisting pressure to sell the famed ultra-thin pizza crust recipe. Amidzich said he was seeking funding for another venture when a potential investor quipped, “I don’t know anything about liquor. Why don’t you re-open Pizza Man?”
Among the ruins salvaged “to bring the old memories back” into a dynamic 225-seat space (designed by Rinka Chung Architecture) were the original bar and much of the old menu. Some artifacts, like the bag-and-tackle pulley entrance door, were replicated. The new Pizza Man has plenty of windows though the ambience remains dark. Intimate turn-of-the-century light fixtures and pin spots galore illuminate the traditional aged barn wood oak, tin ceiling and twisted metal decor. A magnificent chandelier made of colored wine bottles graces the stairwell.
Great vibe, but how’s the food?
From the first bite of our spinach, basil, onion, mushroom and half black olives staple, I was not disappointed. Patrons will still be enamored of the “most famous of all,” “Artichoke ala Mode” ($19 for 12-inch pie) with dollops of cream cheese atop artichoke and fresh tomato. Head chef Zachary Baker, formerly of Lake Park Bistro, has added items for the health-conscious diner to indulge without guilt. While the vegetarian curry-cauliflower “Leaf Eater” ($14) was soulfully satiating, I was unable to sell my partner on sampling the 12-inch gluten-free crust, kneaded in Wisconsin especially for Pizza Man.
A perennial winner of Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence, Pizza Man serves a satisfying $6 red blend from one of their tap-kegged wines by renowned winemaker Joel Gott. Ask sommelier and manager Heather Korte for a premier artisan cheese pairing. Pizza Man’s tradition of providing the epicurean experience at a good price lives on.
Each time I’ve dined here since the reopening, I’ve encountered a waiting list, the dynamic buzz of a vibrant crowd, the chill of the open-air second-floor veranda (possible retractable roof next year), recognizable classical motifs played below conversational level and the kinetic synergy of a svelte, black-clad staff busily attending a full house. Try to nab the cozy seat under the stairway for that special occasion.
2597 N. Downer Ave.