Tom Wackman wants Milwaukeeans to think outside the pizza box.
The dining and nightlife impresario recently opened Dick’s Pizza & Pleasure with his business partner, the elusive “Dick.” Two-thirds nightclub and one-third pizzeria, Dick’s is dishing up some pretty far-out pies by Brew City’s standards, Wackman says.
Milwaukeeans are accustomed to ultra-thin crust or New York-style pizza, he says. And his coal-fired creations — with their gourmet toppings and charred (not burnt) crusts — are totally out of the ordinary.
“We’re doing something in Milwaukee that nobody has ever seen before,” Wackman says.
Before opening his downtown eatery, Wackman consulted extensively with the folks at L.A.’s Pizzeria Mozza, which is owned by famed chefs Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton.
“They were a big inspiration in what we did,” Wackman says.
The Mozza crew taught the Dick’s folks the secret to their award-winning pizzas, including their proprietary dough recipe, which produces an amazingly puffy and chewy crust after being cooked in a hellaciously hot, coal-fired oven.
Dick’s menu is intentionally small, featuring only a half-dozen appetizers, four salads and eight signature pizzas.
“The reason we kept the menu so limited is so we can bring in everything fresh daily,” says Wackman, who repeatedly uses words like “simple,” “natural” and “different” when discussing Dick’s offerings.
The restaurant’s good-as-nonna’s red sauce, for example, is just a humble mix of hand-crushed organic San Marzano tomatoes, vinegar and salt and pepper. Artisanal salumi, which is made by Mario Batali’s Seattle-based dad, Armandino, subs for pedestrian pepperoni. And there’s not a single mozzarella stick or garlic bread loaf on the menu.
“We wanted to offer things that were a little different from what you’d find at your traditional pizza place,” Wackman says.
What diners will find are some interesting appetizers and salads. (We’ll come back to those shortly.) And some really creative pizza combinations, including the extravagant $100 Pizza (yes, $100), a white-sauced pie topped with foie gras, sliced Kobe beef, local mushrooms, truffle shavings and burrata cheese. A spilt of Veuve Clicquot is also included in the price.
“We just started playing around with [the ingredients] and came up with some different combos. I’ve eaten so much pizza in the last year — it’s insane,” Wackman says. The menu features the best of the 150 varieties the Dick’s team tinkered with.
Diners can also create custom pies by choosing from a list of 29 intriguing toppings — including house-made sausage, Calabrian peppers, white anchovies and the like.
My friend Mithra — a Milwaukee girl and fellow foodophile — and I left our pizza selections in the hands of our server, Adam. But first we shared some of Dick’s meant-to-be-shared appetizers. We liked the flavor of the coal-fired chicken wings ($9), which were seasoned with a hot and zesty cumin-heavy dry rub and served with a dill dipping sauce. But we were really enthralled with the English pea bruschetta ($5). Here, toasty pressed bread was topped with a grainy and garlicky pea purée, a spoonful of fresh ricotta, EVOO and a sweet-tart pop of preserved lemon.
Moving into salads, Mithra and I easily agreed on the arugula salad ($7). Evenly coated with EVOO and fresh lemon, the fresh and crispy greens were tossed with fennel, local mushrooms and pleasantly pungent Carr Valley Marisa cheese.
With so many tempting pizza options to choose from, Mithra and I made the insane decision to order three pizzas for two people. Dick’s portions are more than ample, and a single pizza would have sufficed. But, well….
Adam guided us toward the popular White and Black ($15) — white as in white sauce, black as in black truffle. Redolent of those aforementioned truffles, the pizza was a gourmet cheese (and garlic) lover’s dream, featuring a blend of imported Italian fontina, Grande mozzarella, burrata and parmesan.
Egg ($11) — also spread with the creamy, Alfredo-like house-made white sauce — came topped with a (fried) egg, but also included slightly sweet marinated radicchio, big tender bites of Yukon gold potatoes and fresh, fragrant rosemary.
Adam was rightfully insistent that we try a red-sauced pizza. And at his recommendation, we opted for the sausage ($13) and red onion, which also featured a quirky sprinkling of fennel pollen. Unexpectedly, this simple pizza turned out to be our hands-down favorite.
As Mithra has been telling her Facebook friends — and I must concur — “order anything with the red sauce, and you’ll be happy.”
Dick’s Pizza & Pleasure
730 North Milwaukee Street
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202