Wisconsin State Journal
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Samara Kalk Derby
La Rocca's Restaurant and Pizzeria would have been right at
home in the old Greenbush neighborhood, in a Josie's Spaghetti
House kind of way.
The mom-and-pop pizza
parlor, which opened April 4 in the middle of Williamson Street,
does the kind of old-school Italian cooking that has recently taken
a back seat to the more fashionable "Tuscan" this and "Tuscany"
that. (Although I should note that the 3-year-old Griglia
Tuscany in Middleton recently closed.)
Vito La Rocca, who runs
the restaurant with his wife, Caterina, told me last December that
he was born and raised in Sicily and ran a restaurant in Italy for
nine years. For the past three years the couple had a
part-time carryout and delivery business of the same name in the
village of Brooklyn.
The pizza is the star
here, baked in a formidable pizza oven. The crust is
everything a good pizza crust should be, soft on top, crispy
underneath. Ingredients aren't piled on too thick, so the
pizza sauce is able to make a contribution.
The restaurant has five
combination pizzas, including its namesake with sausage, ham,
mushroom, and black olives topped with a four-cheese blend.
Almost as good is the Quattro Gusti with artichoke hearts instead of
olives and tomatoes instead of sausage.
If you choose to build
your own pizza, La Rocca's has nearly 30 toppings, including a few
unusual ones you don't ordinarily see like tuna, blue cheese, and
beef prosciutto, known in Italy as Bresaola. Pizzas come in
four sizes, 10 to 16 inches, and the combination pizzas range in
price from $11 to $17.
La Rocca's also offers
thick crust, pan style and stuffed pizzas, although those options
are not emphasized on the menu. The stuffed pizza is worth
seeking out because there are so few outlets for deep dish pizza in
Mussel and clam fans may
want to seek out the Fettuccine alla Vito ($12), with a white wine
sauce that is neither too rich nor too salty. Cayenne pepper
gives it a nice bite.
My companion appreciated
the Veggie Chef Salad ($5) more than I did. It had a fresh mix
of gourmet lettuces, along with mushroom, tomato, red onion, green
olives, banana peppers, and blue cheese. The vinaigrette was
rather acidic for my taste.
He was also more
enthusiastic about the Arancina ($3), a breaded and deep fried rice
ball we ordered as a starter. There are two versions, and ours
held spinach, mozzarella, and Parmesan.
The square dining room --
a former used appliance store next to Heartland Credit Union --
isn't much to look at, but the gregarious and engaging Caterina La
Rocca goes a long way to brighten the place up. On two recent
weekend visits nearly every seat was taken, and Vito could be seen
working furiously in the kitchen.
The La Roccas seem right
at home on Willy Street, and the neighborhood has quickly embraced
them, too. ■
Wisconsin State Journal
Sunday, May 7, 2006
At first glance, the new La Rocca's Restaurant and Pizzeria
might seem like a clone of Roman Candle, the pizzeria that
opened a year ago one block away.
Aside from the obvious --
pizza joints, old buildings, and Willy Street -- they have very
Roman Candle makes
exuberant use of recycled materials and seems very much a product of
the Marquette neighborhood.
La Rocca is old-school
Italian, owned by a native of Sicily, Vito La Rocca, who with his
wife Caterina remade a former used appliance store.
The couple brightened the
place with faux red brick wainscoting, orange stucco-look drywall
and a shiny gray linoleum floor, and has more charm than that
description might imply. The La Roccas previously had a
takeout and delivery business in Brooklyn.
La Rocca's has several
types of pizza: medium crust, thick crust, pan style, and stuffed
Diners can build their own
pies with 30 toppings, some as far-fetched as tuna, pineapple, and
jalapeño peppers, and five medium crust combination pizzas are on
the menu. The restaurant's massive pizza oven turns out very
good crust, crisp and pliant at the same time.
"The Great" pizza has a
lively sauce, lots of good quality cheese, sausage, finely sliced mushrooms, green peppers, onions, black olives, and
bacon. A medium pizza is more than two adults can comfortably
A daily special, calzones
stuffed with artichokes, spinach and mozzarella, also benefited from
the good crusts and good marinara sauce.
One of the prettier dishes
on the menu is the Veggie Rollé, with tri-colored pasta rolled with
ricotta and finely minced vegetables, and half of it topped with a
light Alfredo sauce and the other half with marinara.
One of the pasta entrées
is Fettuccine alla Vito. It was teeming with fresh mussels,
clams, and shrimp, and tossed with a light white wine sauce with
garlic and parsley and just enough cayenne to make the combination
spring to life without camouflaging the seafood.
The seafood was just
slightly overcooked, but when the brine mixed with the sauce and
noodles, it was delicious.
La Rocca's salads are
generous, fresh and inexpensive, though dressings tend to be acidic
and applied to excess.
Of the desserts, the
tiramisu looked and tasted mass-produced, though it wasn't bad.
The cannoli, no matter how it was made, was classic and enjoyable,
with a crispy cookie cone texture and a smooth custard, not too
sweet, flecked with chocolate chips. Spumoni and homemade
cheesecake is also available.