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A Look Into The History Of Milwaukee Style Pizza

Milwaukee style pizza from Maria’s.
Adam Ryan Morris
Milwaukee style pizza from Maria’s.

All across the country, cities have adopted certain styles of pizza. Milwaukee is no different with restaurants like Zaffiro’s and Calderon Club championing Milwaukee style pizza.

Ann Christenson has been covering dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997 and recently wrote an article about the history of pizza in the Cream City. She joins Lake Effect and starts by explains the key components of a Milwaukee style pie.

“Cracker-thin crust, it is often cut into squares as opposed to triangles. Typically, the toppings are things that everybody knows like cheese and sausage, mushroom, pepperoni, very typical types of toppings. The sauce is usually a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy,” says Christenson.

The pizza’s history can be traced back to a restaurant called the Caradaro Club that opened in the Third Ward in 1945.

Caradaro Club in 1959, the restaurant is credited with inventing Milwaukee style pizza.
Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Library

The idea came from combining two styles of classic Italian pizza — rectangular cuts from Sicilian pizza and the thinner crust from Neapolitan-style. Caradaro Club served their new pizza until 1979 when the restaurant burned down but by then, the style had taken hold across the city.

“There are other restaurants around town that followed suit, you’ve probably heard of Balistreri’s in Wauwatosa; Zaffiro’s on the east side; Maria’s, which is on Forest Home on the south side, these are some of the restaurants that are still around today and do that Milwaukee style pizza,” Christenson says.

No matter the style, over the past year pizza sales have boomed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As restaurants have had to shift to take out or take and bake, pizza has become a pandemic favorite as it is made to survive the car ride from the pizzeria to the dinner table.

“I can say from experience that I was taking out a lot of pizzas, or I have been in the last year, so I think it was really a great time to do a pizza story,” she says.

Some nay-sayers will claim that Milwaukee does not rival neighbors like Chicago or Detroit when it comes to pizza but Christenson says those people just haven’t looked hard enough.

“We have so many awesome pizzas here, if you don’t think that we do, you probably just haven’t discovered them yet,” she says.

For those looking for help finding the best slice, check out Christenson’s guide to the best pizza in Milwaukee.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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