Imagine, if you will.
It’s the late 1940s or early 1950s. America has cemented itself as the enforcer of the free world, wielding nuclear weaponry, military mass, and sheer willpower, and bringing justice to those who are threatened wherever evil amasses. The American populace is riding high on post-war enthusiasm, embracing the new technology and economic luxury provided by our victory over the Axis of Evil, breathing easy after the elimination of both the Nazis and the Japanese war machine, and generally resting on its laurels.
In Milwaukee, the trolley system, part of the greater Chicagoland electric railway system, revolutionized public transit, and connected Milwaukee residents with jobs, marketplaces, our plentiful parks, and each other. In what is now Clock Tower Acres, just south of downtown, a small pharmacy sat and watched America become the world’s greatest superpower through the two great wars, keeping constant vigil over the city’s main trolley transfer point, at the intersection of Mitchell St, Kinnickinnick Ave, and S 1st St. until its closing in 1955.
In 2008, however, following a number of other intermediary businesses occupying the building, Transfer Pharmacy was reopened as a pizzeria and café. Integrating the original pharmacy facade into its design, but sprucing it up with a distinctively New Milwaukee finish, Transfer Pizzeria Café (101 W. Mitchell St.) exists at the point between the Milwaukee of days gone by and the MKE of the modern day, watching over the new Milwaukee County Transit System bus transfer point.
Transfer offers a full bar, live musical entertainment (by special guests as well as their own Transfer House Band), drink specials, light Italian fare, and mouthwatering pizzas (and of course, a sizable wine and beer list). The service staff is young, casual and friendly, and the atmosphere is warm and charming, a seamless sprucing of classic Milwaukee decor with modern urban artwork and simple reconstituted furniture. The menu is straightforward, but extensive, and favors local Milwaukee labels such as Sprecher’s and Lakefront Brewery in addition to locally-sourced produce and dairy. They even boast their own in-house wine label, which they shared with their short-lived little-sister restaurant, VIA Downer (2010-2014).
We arrived at Transfer bearing two discount coupons from the MCTS, each offering $5.95 for a small single-topping pizza and a soda. Intrigued, we decided to check it out on a Sunday evening at around 6pm. We arrived and were seated quickly near the entrance.
After having the waiter check our coupons, we ordered a few sodas and our pizzas. Sydney ordered a pepperoni, while I went for a personal favorite, prosciutto. As we waited for our food, Sydney sat and drew spirographs while I took notes.
Our pizzas arrived hot, and in a timely manner. In all, we only waited just over ten minutes between ordering and eating, even though the restaurant was packed when we arrived. My pizza was a little… deformed, which the waiter passed off as “having character”. I didn’t much mind, and actually found the minor gaffe quite charming.
The pizza itself was wonderful, and far exceeded my expectations for the price. The crusts were thin, hand-tossed dough just the tiniest bit undercooked, to the point where a few brown spots graced the underside, and the crust had a nice crunchy shell with a soft, fluffy inside at the outer edge. The cheese was flavorful and melted nicely over the rich, hearty tomato sauce, which was itself a little light on spice but very hearty and sweet with just a touch of sour (in my opinion, one of the best pizza sauces I’ve tasted in the city). The prosciutto was absolutely heaped onto my pizza, whereas the pepperoni was arranged a bit more classically on Sydney’s, just peeking out from beneath the cheese, but without turning the pizza into a huge, soggy puddle of grease.
As we finished our pizza, our waiter came by to check on us, and informed us of the dessert menu. We settled on the delightful-sounding Sinful 7-Layer Cake, which we decided to split.
Of course, despite our full tummies, the cake lasted about a minute flat until it was reduced to a smoldering crater of smeared chocolate sauce on an otherwise empty plate.
After the waiter came by with our check, we marveled at how we got such a great meal for two (plus dessert) for just $18.27.
After stopping to take in some more of the scenery, we paid our bill and headed home. Transfer Pizzeria Café, thank you for being awesome.