Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ITALIAN

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Balistreri's Bluemound Inn

6501 W. Bluemound Road

It's a hit on the West Side, seldom less than crowded during peak hours, and the formula for its success is simple: great pizza, an array of Italian and Sicilian specialties, plus steak and fish. Come in a suit, come in a baseball cap on your way to Miller Park, come as you are. (D.L.)$$- $$$. CC. FB. FF. LT. 258-9881

Bartolotta Ristorante

7616 W. State St.

This is serious Italian served in a classic former Pabst Cream City brick tavern. The seating is snug, European and cozy. Attentive servers, an elegant atmosphere and rustic Italian cuisine are the hallmarks of the menu. Prices may resemble Rome but at least the pastas can be ordered in half portions. Sidewalk dining is a delight in the heart of the Tosa Village. (J.B.) $$$-$$$$. CC. FB, OD. Handicap access. 771-7910

Calderone Club

842 N. Old World Third St.

One of Downtown Milwaukee's most reliable Italian dining options, Calderone Club serves thoughtfully plated Italian cuisine with a keen attention to details. The mixed greens in the house salad are crisp, the bread served before meals is warm and fragrant and the red sauce at the heart of most entrées is thin, silky and heavenly. Served on a simple crust that's not too thick and not too thin, the pizzas let the fresh ingredients carry most of the flavor. Calderone Club's full bar, large wine selection, snappy service and upscale but not too formal environment make this a smart date destination. (E.R.) $$$ CC. RS, FB. 414-273-3236

Carini's La Conca D'Oro

3468 N. Oakland Ave.

Sicilian seafood is the specialty of this fine menu, including mussels, calamari, langostinos and swordfish. The pasta is good, especially the signature pasta Conca d'Oro, with its mix of seafood. Landlubbers will find chicken, veal or steaks. The lunch buffet is vegetarian. (J.B.) $$$. CC. OD, FB. LB. Handicap access. 963-9623

Caterina's Ristorante

9104 W. Oklahoma Ave.

This is the Sicilian-American menu of years ago with standards such as Sicilian steak and veal marsala. Caterina's remains popular for its attention to detail. The pounded veal is tenderized perfectly and the tenderloin is of top quality. The menu also includes fine chicken dishes, pastas, scampi and daily seafood specials. Dinners include antipasto, soup and salad. Lunches are considerably cheaper and of the same quality. (J.B.) $$$. CC. FF. 541-4200

Centro Café

808 E. Center St.

The interior is European in feel and the intimate setting gets crowded on weekends. Behind a stunning marble counter chefs prepare a fairly simple menu of appetizers, sandwiches and pastas. The pastas are available in gluten free versions and quite a few items are vegan. If you're wondering how good vegan pasta can be with no meat or dairy, Centro Café answers: quite tasty. (J.B.) $-$$. CC. SB. 455-3751.

Ryan Braun's Graffito

102 N. Water St.

Graffito is the replacement for the short-lived Ryan Braun's Waterfront. This time the interior is more casual and the menu is Italian. The menu has pizzas, pastas, salads and entrees. The chef is Dominic Zumpano, formerly of Umami Moto. At times the plates here show brilliant presentations such as the deconstructed watermelon and roasted beet salad. Servings are on the small side and the tab will grow quickly. But Graffito is a pleasant setting located in the heart of the Third Ward section of the RiverWalk. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB. OD. SB. RS. Handicapped access. 727-2888

Il Mito Trattoria e Enoteca

6913 W. North Ave.

Il Mito combines a pleasant Italian-inspired setting with a menu to match. While not purely Italian the flavors are there. The osso buco is intensely flavored and the gnocchi has a rich ragout of muscovy duck and rabbit. The pizzas are innovative and all excellent. From the soup and salad to the primi and secondi courses Il Mito always pleases. The wine list perhaps could be larger for an enoteca but it is good enough. Lunches are a good value as even the pizzas include soup or salad. (J.B.) $$-$$$. CC. FB. SB. Handicap access. 443-1414

Joey Buona's

500 N. Water St.

Everything is large at Joey Buona's, a downtown Italian restaurant and pizzeria that specializes in serving big parties, with private dining rooms and banquet halls can fit parties of up to 250. Many of the entrees, including chicken parmesan, chicken marsala, grilled salmon, steak and mushrooms and sausage and peppers, can be ordered as single servings or shared family style. The menu is large, sometimes to a fault—it's best to avoid the paninis served at lunch—but diners can't go wrong with the generous pasta dishes and massive thin crust or deep-dish pizzas. (E.R.) $$$. CC. RS OD FB 272-8662

Louise's

801 N. Jefferson, 273-4224

275 Regency Court, Brookfield, (262) 784-4275

Louise's was probably the first restaurant of its kind in Milwaukee—the sort of place whose interior is so swanky that you'd never guess it was part of a national chain. The lively atmosphere and exposed kitchen combine with a menu featuring specialty pizzas, pastas and wonderful focaccia. (D.L.) $$. CC. RS, OD (Milwaukee only), FB. SB. Handicap access

Maggiano's Little Italy

2500 N. Mayfair Road

It's a national chain with a sense of style, a restaurant in Mayfair Mall that Frank, Dino and the boys would have enjoyed. Their parents would have loved the big portions of authentic Italian food. Think we're kidding? In the tradition of family-style cooking, Maggiano's doesn't skimp when it comes to sausage, spaghetti or spiedini. The dark interior is reminiscent of Italian-American restaurants of yesteryear. (D.L.) $$$. CC. FB, OD, RS. Handicap access. 978-1000

Mimma's Cafe

1307 E. Brady St.

Mimma's means pasta. Since opening in the '80s, a time when tomato-based Southern Italian cuisine was the norm in Milwaukee, Mimma's helped introduce creamy Northern Italian sauces to the city. All colors and shapes of pasta with cream sauces, wine sauces, herb sauces and more are meshed with delicacies from sea and land. An extensive selection of Italian wine is available. (D.L) CC. RS, OD, FB. Handicap access. 271-7337

Nessun Dorma

2778 N. Weil St.

Everybody likes a good deal at a restaurant, especially when the food proves as good as the prices. One such place is Nessun Dorma, named for a Puccini tune and housed in a former corner tavern. The menu is focused on lighter fare with an Italian touch, including bruschetta, antipasti and panini. The daily specials are worth a trip to Riverwest.  (J.B.) $-$$. CC. FB. LT. 264-8466

Palermo Villa

2315 N. Murray Ave.

After more than 30 years of serving pasta and pizza to East Siders, Palermo Villa still pleases. Start with the calamari and try the pizza Florentine with three white cheeses and spinach. Pastas have flavor and character, especially the penne puttanesca. (J.B.) $$. CC. FB, FF. RS. 278-7460

Rustico Pizzeria

223 N. Water St.

Rustico is a more casual venue than its sister restaurant, Zarletti. This menu focuses on pizza with a few salads, pastas, paninis and appetizers. Outdoor dining is directly on the RiverWalk. Pizzas rank with Milwaukee's best; straightforward and only with Italian ingredients. Pastas are also worth a try. The prima vera is lovely with the flavor of grilled vegetables, while the pasta della nonna is as fine as at Zarletti's. This menu is more affordable, making Rustico a fine Third Ward dining option. (J.B.) $$.  CC. Handicap access. 220-9933

Tenuta's

2995 S. Clement Ave.

Tenuta's traditional Southern Italian food is well prepared, as if made in a kitchen that hasn't changed in a century. The presentation, however, is very contemporary. Quality starts with freshness, which brings not only the best flavors from the familiar ingredients but the richest colors as well. Emphasis is on pasta dishes and pizza. An extensive wine list is available. (D.L.) $$. CC. FB, OD. SB. Handicap access. 431-1014

Third Ward Caffe

225 E. Saint Paul Ave.

A quiet, upscale Italian dining room draped in white linens, the Third Ward Caffe prides itself on its romantic setting and the freshness and quality of its meat and produce. Rich, creamy pasta dishes and veal and fish entrees are among the specialties, as are beef tenderloin and beef tenderloin tips, which are served in several decadent variations. A well-stocked bar offers over 100 Italian wines and brunch is served on Saturdays. (E.R.) $$$ CC. RS, OD, FB. 224-0895

Via Downer

2625 N. Downer Ave.

Via Downer is the latest venture from the owners of Transfer Pizzeria. While pizza is prominent on Via's menu, diners will also find appetizers, sandwiches and pastas along with soup. The bruschetta and crostini have their own section on the appetizer menu. As expected, the pizzas are top notch with thin, puffy crusts. (J.B.) $$. CC. FB. Handicap access. 501-4510

Zarletti

741 N. Milwaukee St.

Zarletti is an Italian place that's simply excellent. The panini served at lunch are simply the best. At dinner the pastas are compelling, but do try the dreamy (if pricey) osso bucco. It rarely gets any better. (J.B.) $$$-$$$$. CC. FB. RS. Handicap access. 225-0000