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Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009

Riverfront Pizzeria’s Good Times, Good Pizza

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Greendale residents have long been familiar with the name Ricardo’s—and the specialty thin-crust pizza it’s been serving for 40 years. In 2006, a second location opened, this time on a prime waterfront location in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. The newer location is called Riverfront Pizzeria, and the place still looks like it just opened.

Inside you’ll find a bar along with booths and tables placed near the many windows. Outside are metal tables and chairs along the RiverWalk. The river view provides an interesting contrast, combining an old, rusty railroad bridge with luxury condominiums and the many impressive boats docked along the shoreline. The interior looks like a renovated warehouse, with marbleized concrete floors and a high ceiling boasting exposed wood and beams.

Pizza is clearly the focus, but the menu also offers appetizers, salads, pastas, sandwiches and a limited number of entrees. The appetizers include the predictable Italian-American lot: calamari, bruschetta, eggplant strips, mozzarella sticks, etc. A few salads and entrees break from the mold, but the kitchen gets more creative with the pizzas.

The basic cheese pizza comes in four sizes ($6.75-$16.50). The thin, crisp crust is one of the best in the area, and the tomato sauce is suitably spiced. You can custom-design your pizza, selecting from more than 25 toppings that range from artichokes to pepperoni, from pineapple to Canadian bacon. The house offers creations of its own as well, again available in four sizes ($9.25-$26).

The Harborfront is the restaurant’s version of a pizza margherita; you’ll also see novelties with names like Thai chicken, BLT, Hawaiian and cheeseburger. The special “pizza of the week” goes a step further. A recent option was called a Rueben, with the sandwich ingredients on a rye crust. Another was chicken curry, which substituted a mild red curry paste for the tomato paste and combined pieces of chicken breast with bell peppers, sweet onions and a blend of mozzarella with provolone—exotic in name, but full of summery garden flavors.

The entrees include a beef option and three seafood selections. The beef entree is Sicilian steak ($17.95), a very tender cut with a light bread-crumb coating. It is served with tomato sauce and topped with sliced green peppers, onions and mushrooms. A side of pasta with garlic butter and chopped fresh parsley accompanies the dish. Though the steak is tender, the meat curiously lacks flavor. Perhaps some of that garlic, so prevalent on the pasta, should be added here.

The menu features more than a dozen choices for pasta. Sausage Diablo ($14.95) is orecchiette pasta in a marinara sauce spiced up with a dash of hot red pepper flakes and a bit of lemon juice. The sausage link comes in slices, and the marinara sauce in this meal has more happening than the sauce served with the steak. This is a pleasing dish and, despite the name, relatively mild.

The entrees and pastas are strictly a la carte, but the menu offers a garden salad ($4). It is a blend of iceberg and leaf lettuce complemented by Roma tomato and red onion. Dressing (the balsamic is merely a little above average) is served on the side. The salad is of good size, though some browning leaves escaped the attention of the kitchen.

Sandwiches include a variety of burgers and paninis, and Fridays feature a fish fry ($9.50-$12.95).

Geared toward a casual clientele and very popular with groups, Riverfront Pizzeria is a fun place to be. The servers try hard and the kitchen is prepared for busy times. The wine list ($6.50-$9.50 by the glass, $25-$45 for bottles) has several Italian choices and the prices seem right for a place like this. The surprise at the bar is an extensive vodka selection, on par with a specialized martini bar. But the draw here really is the pizza, which you’ll see at nearly every table—and with good reason.

Riverfront Pizzeria509 E. Erie St. (414) 277-1800 $$ Credit Cards: All major Smoke-free Handicap Access: Yes