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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

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The classic pepperoni pizza is also one of two options diners can buy by the slice.
The classic pepperoni pizza is also one of two options diners can buy by the slice.
The Hawaiian is one of Benny's newest menu items.
The Hawaiian is one of Benny's newest menu items.

In search of the perfect pizza: Benny's

My dad has a friend who owns a bar a few blocks south of Lincoln on 13th Street. When he is in town, I occasionally join him there for a beverage or two.

On my way there, I've passed Benny's Pizza, 1102 W. Lincoln Ave. There were always customers there, so I figured it may be worth a visit.

The storefront includes four booths along the west wall and a counter with stools along the east wall next to the service counter. A glass case with two large pizzas, one sausage and one pepperoni, sat atop the service counter for pizza slices sold at $2 each.

When I visited, Benny's was busy with delivery business. Delivery drivers were steadily carrying out three to four pizzas at a time. A few patrons came in for carry-out orders.

I started with a slice of sausage pizza from the case. The crust was hand-tossed and thicker than I expected. I don't think I would call it deep dish, but rather a "double crust," about a third of an inch thick, maybe a little less.

The crust was crispy but had a dense consistency like that of a cookie or a pie crust, except without the sweetness. In fact, I thought the crust could have used some butter and garlic to balance out the dense and somewhat dry texture.

The sausage chunks were on the small side but had a nice spicy flavor, and the pizza was loaded with thick layers of cheese. I didn't try the pepperoni pizza, but it sure looked good.

The sauce was sweet and actually quite good in my humble opinion. I also like the way the sauce oozed onto both sides of my mouth with each bite. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get past the crust issues or I might have been a fan of this pizza.

I decided to try something else, so I looked at the menu but was confused by the pizza pricing schedule on the board. I asked for a take-out menu and it didn't help much.

Pizzas come in 12, 14, 16 and 18 inches. The small cheese pizza starts at $8.15. The 18-inch cheese party pizza starts at $15.75. The part I couldn't figure out was the charge for additional toppings.

Other menu items include appetizers, salads, ribs, shrimp baskets, pastas and sandwiches.

The menu advertised a new Hawaiian pizza with the standard ham and pineapple, so I decided to give it a try. The price was clearly stated for this pizza. I pre-paid for the pie and patiently waited.

I sat in the booth closest to the door. You never know when a quick exit may be needed. In the booth behind me sat three young adults. One young man was playing hip-hop songs on his cell phone. The songs told stories of questionable behavior.

The other two were a couple. The young woman sat silently as if she felt she could only speak when spoken to.

After they completed their dinner, the two men got up to leave, advising her to leave with them. I don't think she was finished yet. She asked them not to leave her. They left anyway. A few minutes later, she left, too.

I wondered if they would have come back for her. She likely thought they would not. I'm sure they found each other again. That kind of bond can't be broken ... but I digress.

My pizza could not arrive soon enough. I didn't want to find out what other characters might visit.

The pie was loaded with cheese and pineapple over a layer of ham. I pulled a small slice of ham out to isolate its flavor. It reminded me of hot ham from a bakery on a Sunday.

I did notice that the crust was half the thickness of the pepperoni and sausage pizzas but still dense. Also, the pizza was cut into squares instead of the triangle slices found on the pies in the case.

The slices were heavy from all of the cheese and toppings, so there seemed to be a benefit to the density of the slices. My hands weren't quite as messy as a result, although they were generous with the napkins they provided me.

I asked the gentleman behind the counter if I could speak to the owner. He told me the owner, Abel Rodriguez (no relation), lived in Chicago and may be in the next day.

I called back twice the next day and again the day after, but Rodriguez was in a meeting or out of the store when I called. I was unable to get my questions answered.

How long had Benny's Pizza been in business? Where did the name come from? Why this location? Did he own other pizzerias in Chicago? Was he a Milwaukee native?

I'm not sure I'll make it back to Benny's, so I may never know. If you find out, maybe you can tell me.

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