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Papa Luigi's 'Milwaukee-Style Pizza' a Destination in Cudahy

Jan. 31, 2017
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Cudahy, the little city on the lake, gets a bad rap. It’s cut off from the rest of the city by the airport, so many Milwaukeeans don’t bother to travel there, believing it’s a sleepy, run-down area full of processing plants and factories. Papa Luigi’s, an Italian restaurant stalwart that’s been around since 1983, is proving that assumption wrong with a renovated, inviting space, welcoming service and some solid thin-crust pizza.

Papa Luigi’s

3475 E. Layton Ave. | Map it >>
Phone: 414-483-6111
Price Range: $$
Website: PapaLuigisCudahy.com
Handicapped access: Yes
CC, FB, FF, RS
Hours: M-Th 4-10 p.m., F 4-11 p.m., Sa 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Su 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

You may have assumptions about Papa Luigi’s—I know I did—and some of them are true. Yes, many senior citizens eat here. And yes, it’s a red sauce joint where you get the same marinara on various shapes of pasta. But that’s all OK. Papa Luigi’s is just as popular with young families and teenagers out on a date as it is with older folks. And if you’re not into mostaccioli with house marinara and meatballs, there’s a huge menu of specialty pastas sans red sauce, sandwiches, pizza and even entrées like barbecue pork ribs ($13.50) and fish fry ($11). Making a diverse customer base happy is this restaurant’s strong suit, and they do it better than any national chain.

The star of the show here is pizza. Look around at any table and you’ll see one, even if everyone ordered separate entrées and are just planning to have a piece or two. It’s Milwaukee style, meaning a cracker-thin crust cut into squares. Toppings are generously applied, though dedicated cheese lovers may want to consider ordering extra cheese. Edge pieces are crunchy, while middles are easily foldable to prevent flopping. You can create your own pizza (including unusual toppings like broccoli, shrimp and pepperoncini), or try a specialty pizza in sizes from 8 to 16 inches ($10+). Chicken Parmigiana, Seafood with crab and shrimp, and Chicken Alfredo are just some of the options. If you can’t decide, stick with the Papa’s Special Pizza, topped with the MKE favorite combo of sausage, mushrooms and onions. The Italian sausage is bold and full of fennel seeds. Order a large pizza and you get free garlic bread.

Appetizers run the gamut from fried breaded calamari ($8.50) to buffalo wings ($8). You’d be remiss to pass up the fried Sicilian Eggplant ($5-$7.50), though. Unlike some fried eggplant strips I’ve had, you can tell you’re biting into a vegetable, as opposed to a stick of breaded air. The batter is more substantial than most, reminiscent of the coating on fried chicken. It’s available in half and full portions, though the half will easily feed four as a starter. Definitely squeeze on the provided lemon and dunk in the red sauce.

The veal in classic Veal Parmigiana ($13) is tender with a dark, crunchy breadcrumb and Parmesan coating. It's topped with mozzarella and served over a bed of linguine and house marinara. The red sauce is rather sweet here, so if you think you might have an aversion, go with the Veal Parmigiana Sandwich ($9) instead. That same crunchy veal cutlet is stuffed into a sesame-seeded hunk of toasted Italian bread with a double layer of mozzarella and just enough sauce to prevent dryness.

A respectable wine list of about 35 choices from $4.50-$11 per glass will help wash everything down. You may be more in the mood for a martini, though, if you came in through the hallway from the dedicated parking lot. It’s lined with black-and-white photos of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, offering the older generation a quick nostalgic jaunt back to when Italian food was endlessly glamorous, and giving the kids something to ask their grandparents about during dinner.

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