Wells Brothers Restaurant came highly recommended by Chicago pizza aficionado Brian Erst, whose pizza judgment I trust implicitly. When he posted about it on his Instagram in October 2021, I took note. He said, “Let the record show that Wells Brothers has the best tavern thin crust—full stop.”
That’s saying something. I bookmarked it and vowed to visit the next time I was in the Chicago/southeast Wisconsin area and had time. Well, that finally happened in May 2023, when I was able to squeeze in an epic 5-day all-meals-pizza tour of Chicago and vicinity.
Racine is about 25 miles (40km) south of Milwaukee and about 70 (112km) north of Chicago proper—close enough that I knew I could easily jaunt up there as a “side quest” to the main Chicago thin-crust trip. What’s more, I have family in Milwaukee, so I figured I could visit them on Monday, eat some pizza in the Cream City (see the Zaffiro’s episode), then stop at Wells on the drive back to Chicago on Tuesday.
Not that Wells was just another stop. It was one of the two MUST-VISIT places on my list for this trip—Kim’s Uncle Pizza in Westmont, Illinois, was the other. I couldn’t make a bee-line to Wells on Monday, though, because it’s closed that day.* Hence the jaunt to Milwaukee and then back down.
In the video above, I visit Wells with my Aunt Mary and honorary cousin Corey, neither of whom had ever been there, either—though they were aware of its stellar reputation. Its full parking lot on a gorgeous Tuesday afternoon in a small town not directly off the interstate seemed to be a testament to that reputation as well, and I worried was I rolled up that we’d have to wait for a table. But Aunt Mary and Corey, who had both arrived separately, had already snagged a spot in the rear dining room.
- Large sausage, mushroom, onion, well-done
- Medium sausage, mushroom, onion, standard cook
- Small plain cheese, well-done
- Small pepperoni, onion, black olive, standard cook
Wells has been around since 1921, founded by brothers James and Dominic Wells, with James running it until his death in 1944, after which sons Tony and Guy took over. In 1999, Guy’s daughter, Paula Huck, and nephew, Bill Rivers, stepped up; and since 2016, Bill’s daughters, Liz Surendonk and Elise Rivers, have joined him and become the fourth generation to run the place. Wells says on its website that it’s “been slinging slices since” 1921, but Titus Pullo of the ChiBBQKing blog notes that they didn’t start making pizza there until after WWII.
At this point in my trip, I’d been to Zaffiro’s and Balistreri’s, and Wells Brothers’ pizza had more in common with Zaffiro’s. It was equally as thin, but even more crisp. (In fairness, two of the four pizzas we ordered we asked for well-done.) It was an excellent pizza, with a generous amount of toppings but a crust that still stood up to the weight. You’ll see in the video that even the standard-cook pizza, while a little floppy, wasn’t completely destroyed by its saucy, cheesy, topping-heavy burden. And the well-done crust displayed an admirable structure.
This was one of the most-looked-forward-to stops on the trip, and I had high expectations. The crust and atmosphere exceeded expectations. And while it’s not fair or informative to rank a spot after a single visit, in terms of overall flavor, I preferred Zaffiro’s from the previous day.
That said, Wells Brothers was still stellar, and I hope I’m able to re-visit it someday soon for more data points (aka pizzas eaten) and to capture more of the interior vibe, because it truly is something else. As Erst points out, the bar there is specifically designed for eating pizza, with a two-tier surface—one level for beverages, the other for pizza. But, I didn’t arrange permission to shoot ahead of time and didn’t want to wander around the (very busy!) dining room and bar room pointing a camera at everything like a weirdo. I looked strange enough setting up my DJI Osmo last minute and blabbing at it. I clearly need to outline a game plan for what to talk about to make these videos a little more interesting. So enjoy what you’ve got here.
* One thing I learned when my wife, daughter, and I visited Chicago for Labor Day 2022 is that restaurants in the area tend to close one or two days of the week, typically any combination of Sunday–Tuesday. In NYC, the brutal economics imposed by exorbitant rent mean that most restaurants are open 7 days a week to pay the landlord.