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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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Sal Barbiere opened his Italian restaurant in 1963, moving to the current location in 1973.
Sal Barbiere opened his Italian restaurant in 1963, moving to the current location in 1973.
The thin crust pizza was prepared just the way I like it.
The thin crust pizza was prepared just the way I like it.

In search of the perfect pizza: Barbiere's

I came across Barbiere's, 5844 W. Bluemound Rd., while exploring my extended neighborhood. Its website tells most of its story which saved me some time.

To summarize, the story begins with Sal Barbiere opening Barbiere's Italian Inn in 1963 on 106th and Bluemound. The restaurant was moved to the current location in 1973.

In 1979, Sal and his wife Bernice retired and turned the business over to their son Steve and his wife Kathy. They ran the business until they retired in 1997 and sold the business to current owner, Mark Dempsey, who started working at Barbiere's in 1973 at age 16. In 2009, he added a second location at 1021 Milwaukee Ave. in South Milwaukee.

That's what the website told me, but I had a couple of questions the website didn't tell me, like why the thick and buttery garlic bread recipe is so similar to the garlic bread I've had at another local Italian restaurant chain? Also, why does the Barbiere name precede the name of that Italian restaurant at one or two of the locations?

I called in to ask. Dempsey wasn't in, but the gentleman who answered was willing to help. He believes that Steve Barbiere may have had a sibling who went his own way and became involved with the other pizza chain. OK, I'll accept that for now. Let's move on.

The Barbiere menu features the items you would expect at an Italian restaurant, such as an antipasto salad, minestrone soup, sausage and meatball sandwiches, pasta and pizza.

Pizza seems to be the most popular item here, although I'm told the lasagna is also very popular.

The pizza is served on a thin crust and comes in four sizes: 8, 10, 12 and 14 inches. The 8-inch cheese pizza is $8.00 and the 14-inch cheese pizza is $14. The 10-inch and 12-inch cheese pizzas are $9.50 and $11.75, respectively. Additional toppings are $.75-$1.50 each.

On my visit, there were diners at four other tables. At the table to my left sat five men having a curious conversation. It was curious because I couldn't figure out what they were talking about.

I heard "game" and "special powers" which had me thinking "Dungeons and Dragons" or some similar video game played online. Then I heard "audience" and "performance" which had me thinking live game or dinner theater of some sort.

My eavesdropping helped pass the time between the time I devoured my garlic bread and the arrival of my pizza, but I just couldn't bring myself to care enough to ask what they were referring to. I still slept well that night.

The garlic bread was sliced to around two inches thick and about four or five inches long. Then it was dipped in melted butter and served in a paper-lined basket that may have had a little extra butter sitting on the bottom of it. I forgave them.

The bread was very crispy, buttery and delicious if you like that sort of thing, which I happen to.

When my pizza arrived I was anxious to dig in. I decided on sausage, pepperoni and pepperoncini. I remembered enjoying that combination on another pizza a while back and since the pepperoncini was an option here, I decided to go for it.

First, I noticed that the slices were cut into triangular pie slices. I've had so many pizzas with square slices recently, I forgot that pizzas were also cut this way.

When I bit into the first slice, I noticed the cracker-like crunch that I love in a thin crust pizza. Looking at the slice from the side, I could see the slightly separated flaky layers that further told me this crust was prepared just the way I like it.

It wasn't just the edge of the pizza crust either. The entire crust was perfectly crispy and held strong with the toppings when I lifted each slice. I was a very happy man and I haven't even told you about the toppings yet.

The sauce was applied in a thin layer. I couldn't really taste it, but what little I was able to isolate, I enjoyed. The cheese was great, but I think cheese is more difficult to get wrong unless someone forgets to add it.

I didn't think the sausage was spicy, but I was pleased with the bold and delicious flavor. The sausage is purchased from a local butcher shop and arrives as packed, ground sausage. Barbiere's adds its own flavorful blend of seasoning and applies small chunks of the seasoned sausage to the pizza.

The pepperoni, on the other hand, had a great, spicy flavor, but the pepperoncini really stood out. It brought another level of spice and flavor to the pizza. The more I ate, the more the heat built. It wasn't too spicy, but spicy enough. The flavors all worked really well together.

The menu stated that the pepperoncini was imported, but I was unable to find out where it came from.

Barbiere's longevity is impressive given its proximity to another popular Italian restaurant with two locations just a few blocks away. Barbiere's website explains it is about "Family, Superb Food and Quality Ingredients."

I guess there is enough business to go around if you produce a quality product. Barbiere's will be on my short list for return visits.

Talkbacks

soloizia | Jan. 25, 2013 at 10:02 a.m. (report)

Jim Barbiere owned Barbiere's across from the Milw. County Zoo for many years. It also was very popular in the 1970s - early 80s.

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mygreendoor | Jan. 17, 2013 at 2:01 p.m. (report)

Barbiere's strong suit is definately their pizza and garlic bread. Salads are also pretty good, despite the fact that they only use boring iceburg lettuce - the dressing is delish. Don't bother with other menu items. I've had several of their pasta dishes and the sauce tastes like it comes out of a tin can. I can't vouch for the dinner hour but it's a great place to go at lunch if you want a sit down place with great service that isn't noisy and packed.

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AndrewJ | Jan. 17, 2013 at 10:38 a.m. (report)

36464 Excellent pizza. It's a toss up any given day between them and Balistreri's. Just depends if you're in the mood for a crispier or a floppier crust that day. Their garlic bread is a hands down winner. Plenty of times I've picked up pizza from another place, and swung by Barbiere's just for some bread.

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