The Story of Milwaukee Party-Cut Pizza
Story by Rick Rodriguez
Photography by Joe Laedtke
My love of pizza started early in childhood. I have fond memories of going out for pizza with my family, whether it was dine-in or carry out. We were lucky to have two of the best pizzerias in town within a block of our Riverwest house. Aldo’s Pizza was on Holton, just south of Center Street, and Roseanne’s Italian Restaurant was just around the corner from us on Booth and Clark. Both were great, both were responsible for my current love of thin crust pizza and both cut their pizza into rectangles.
I didn’t know why the pizzas were cut that way, and it didn’t matter—the pizza was delicious and fun to eat. The slices fit so well in my little hands. I’ve heard it called “Milwaukee-style” pizza, “Milwaukee party-cut” pizza, or a term I recently learned, “tavern-cut” pizza. I just called it pizza because I didn’t really know any other styles until I was a teenager. As I grew older, my love for thin crust, rectangular-cut pizza remained, but I’ve also become interested in other pizza styles, along with independently-owned pizzerias and their histories.
In Milwaukee, the history of pizza began in 1945 with the Caradaro Club, located in the Historic Third Ward. In fact, a plaque can be found on the outside wall of the building at 143 N. Broadway, commemorating the original location of the Caradaro Club and the birth of pizza in the city.
John Caravella and Joe Todaro came to the United States, from Naples and Sicily, respectively. Together, they opened the Caradaro Club, combining the first half of John’s name with the last half of Joe’s to title the business. Neapolitan-style pizza, which originated in Naples, is traditionally a round 10-12 inch pie with a thin crust, baked in a wood burning oven. Sfinciuni, a Sicilian-style pizza, is traditionally thick crust (using focaccia-style bread dough) and is often rectangular, with slices cut into rectangles. I learned from Gino Fazzari, the current owner of the Calderone Club, that the pizza recipe that Caravella and Todaro created was likely a combination of the two styles, which resulted in the thin crust pizza, cut into rectangles, that many of us have grown to love.
As the current owner of the Caradaro Club, Wallace “Wally” Kutch, explained to me, Caradaro Club pizza became very popular. Tavern owners in Milwaukee realized that, if they installed a pizza oven and served the popular thin crust, rectangular-cut pizza with beer, they could be very successful. The idea spread quickly among Milwaukee’s many taverns, and the style of rectangular-cut pizzas became known as “tavern-cut.” You’ll still find taverns around the Greater Milwaukee Area offering homemade thin crust pizza, cut into rectangles.
Another fun fact is that while pepperoni seems to be the most popular pizza topping in most other cities, the most popular pizza ordered in Milwaukee is topped with sausage, mushrooms and onions. Some pizzerias list that combination of toppings in their Specialty Pizza list as the Milwaukee Special or the Milwaukee Pizza. I still haven’t learned why that is, but I plan to find out some day.
In the early 1960s, Joe Todaro had taken sole ownership from Caravella and left his friend and his son to run the business while he returned to Italy to open a ceramic tile business. During this time, a young man named Giorgio Pazzano was hired to help with various tasks in the pizzeria and was later promoted to manager.
By the late 1960s, crime had grown and the Third Ward became a less desirable place to live and operate a business. Todaro was called to return to Milwaukee to assess the situation. He decided it would be best to close or sell the Caradaro Club and return to Italy with his son, so he offered the business to Pazzano. Pazzano contacted his aunt’s husband, Antonio Fazzari (who had restaurant experience), about the business opportunity. Fazzari immigrated to Milwaukee from Italy in 1968 and was working as a fork lift operator for Pabst Brewing at the time.
Fazzari bought the land contract, the Caradaro Club name and the pizza recipe from Todaro in 1969. He brought Pazzano and his brothers-in-law (Pazzano’s uncles), Consiglio “Connie” Cirillo and Ilario Cirillo into the business, then sold the business to the Cirillos in 1973 and returned to Italy where he opened another restaurant. Between 1973 and 1977, Connie Cirillo bought his brother’s share of the Caradaro Club and moved the business to 1417 S. 70th St. after a fire destroyed the original Third Ward location.
Meanwhile, Fazzari decided to return to Milwaukee in 1976 to open a restaurant. Since he sold the Caradaro Club name, he decided to call it the Calderone Club because it sounded like Caradaro Club and was the name of a very popular restaurant in Italy. He opened the original Calderone Club at 2498 N. Bartlett Ave., which is currently a bar and restaurant called Red Dot.
When Connie Cirillo was ready to sell Caradaro Club, his family wasn’t interested in taking over the business, so he sold Caradaro Club and the pizza recipe in 2002 to one of Caradaro Club’s biggest fans, Wally Kutch. Kutch was a mechanical engineer by trade who had, and still has, an incredible passion for pizza and its history. Kutch wasn’t ready to see the Caradaro Club close, so he sold his shop and bought the pizzeria to keep the storied tradition going.
The Calderone Club has since moved to 842 N. Old World Third St., where it is owned by Fazzari’s son, Giorgio. Giogrio, or “Gino,” Fazzari, graduated from culinary school and began researching ingredients and techniques to recreate the original Caradaro Club pizza recipe. Gino’s father assisted with the taste tests and believes that his son’s tenacity has resulted in a successful recreation of the original recipe.
Gino Fazzari credits his cousin, Giorgio Pazzano who currently resides in Italy, as the reason the Caradaro Club tradition continues and maintains a presence in the form of the Calderone Club, as well. It was the relationship that Pazzano had with Joe Todaro that gave Todaro the confidence to trust the future of the Caradaro Club in Pazzano’s hands, and it was Pazzano who called Antonio Fazzari about the opportunity to purchase the Caradaro Club back in 1969.
Under Kutch’s ownership, the Caradaro Club remains at the same West Allis location where Connie Cirillo moved it in the late 1970s. Kutch also added a second location near 50th and Vliet. Of the dozens of pizzeria owners I’ve spoken with over the years about thin crust pizza, I was excited when Kutch mentioned Roseanne’s pizza as one of his favorites while sharing his story and experiences with me. He listed Caradaro Club and Hup’s as his other favorites from that era.
Kutch admits that while he received the recipe from Connie Cirillo when he bought the Caradaro Club from him, it is possible that it might not be the exact recipe as the original since it has changed hands a few times. While the pizzas at Caradaro Club and Calderone Club are slightly different, both are delicious and both trace their roots to the original Caradaro Club, where pizza was born in Milwaukee, and that is good enough for me!
Where to Get Your Milwaukee Party Cut Fix
Representing the fourth ownership, Wally Kutch has kept the historic pizzeria alive and well. Caradaro Club offers carry-out and delivery from both locations, but customers can dine in at the Vliet Street location. Sunday nights seem to be the busiest for deliveries, so get your orders in early.
Caradaro Club West Allis, 1417 S. 70th St., West Allis • 414-475-1080
Caradaro Club Milwaukee, 5010 W. Vliet St., Milwaukee • 414-476-7700
Current owner, Gino Fazzari worked tirelessly to recreate the original recipe that his father, Antonio, acquired and later sold to Connie and Ilario Crivello. Located in Milwaukee’s arena district, it’s become a popular stop for locals and tourists alike.
Calderone Club, 842 N. Old World Third St., Milwaukee • 414-273-3236
This pizzeria is also linked to the original Caradaro Club. Founder James Balistreri made pizzas at Caradaro Club from 1958 until 1964 and opened his first restaurant in 1966. Balistreri’s offers two locations for your convenience. In addition to their popular thin crust pizzas served on baking sheets at the Ristorante on 68th St., Balistreri’s Bluemound Inn also offers gourmet pizzas, such as the Sfinciuni Balistreri on extra thick crust with anchovies, Romano cheese, green olives, ragu of tomato and onion, grated parmesan and virgin olive oil.
Balistreri’s Italian/American Ristorante, 812 N. 68th St., Wauwatosa • 414-475-1414
Balistreri’s Bluemound Inn, 6501 W. Blue Mound Rd., Milwaukee • 414-258-9881
Maria’s Pizza dates back to 1957! To cover blemishes at the original location, the walls were painted red and the cracks were covered by religious paint-by-number paintings. The same decor can be found at their current location, which has been home since 1971. Take the family and enjoy a large thin crust, oval-shaped pizza, which will likely be hanging over the edges of a baking sheet. Then wash it down with a Root Beer or Blue Raspberry soda from Oak Creek’s Black Bear Soda. Maria’s daughter, Bonnie, and granddaughters, Maria and Mickey, currently own and operate this Milwaukee institution.
Maria’s Pizza, 5025 W. Forest Home Ave., Milwaukee • 414-543-4606
As their website shares, Liborio “Bobby” Zaffiro opened a tavern in 1951 and started serving pizza, as many other taverns were doing at the time. In 1956, he opened the Zaffiro’s restaurant at the current location. His brother John made the pizzas until he retired in 1988. Zaffiro’s Pizza is currently still family-owned by Bobby Zaffiro’s son Michael and Michael’s wife, Rose. Their nearly paper-thin crust pizza has become so popular, it can be found in Zaffiro’s franchises owned by the Marcus Corporation in several of the movie theatres across the Midwest!
Zaffiro’s Pizza, 1724 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee • 414-289-8776
Since the late 1960s, Hup’s has been serving their thin crust pizza recipe on Milwaukee’s north side. They don’t have a dining room, so it’s recommended that you call in your order for carry-out. Expect a thin, crispy crust generously loaded with toppings. The pizzeria, currently owned by Bobby Rogers, almost looks like a red and green garage on the corner of 54th and Hampton Ave., but I assure you there are no cars inside. Their large kitchen is sure fixing a lot of pizzas, though.
Hup’s Pizza, 5400 W. Hampton Ave., Milwaukee • 414-461-7510
Opened in 1960 by Joseph Bongiorno, this east side institution for thin crust pizza remains family-owned by Joseph’s son, Gary Bongiorno, Sr. Lisa’s has the feel of a supper club when dining in, but they also do their fair share of carry-out business. Thick crust pizza lovers will also find options, as will those seeking a gluten-free crust. The Italian sausage that tops their pizza is made in house and is a bit on the spicy side.
Lisa’s Pizzeria, 2961 N. Oakland Ave., Milwaukee • 414-332-6360
Rick Rodriguez has lived in Milwaukee his entire life. He is a UW-Whitewater alumnus and an Implementation Analyst at U.S. Bank. He considers himself a food and craft beer enthusiast, and he is passionate about all things Milwaukee. He spends most nights and weekends exploring the greater Milwaukee area dining scene and reviewing his experiences on Yelp. He also writes a monthly pizza blog for OnMilwaukee.com called “In Search of the Perfect Pizza.” Follow him on Twitter @rickyrodmke