If you have been to Northern Wisconsin, you probably know about a local entree called “Pizza Fries,” “Cheese Fries,” or “Italian Fries.” It’s kind of like a cheese pizza without the marinara sauce, but hard to describe. Typically, people cut the pizza fries into long 1″ wide strips, and dip them in marinara or other sauces.
I know this is not one of my typical technology posts. I have traveled all across North America, and apparently, no one has every heard of Wisconsin Pizza fries. This is not the kind of thing you can pick up at the typical Los Angeles grocery store. So instead of reading about some architectural programming thing, here’s my recipe for making Italian Fries from scratch.
In Wausau, Wisconsin, there are two restaurants that claim to be the inventors of “Italian Fries:” Papillon’s Restaurant and The Wausau Mine Company. I heard there was some kind of dispute between the two places, but both try to take credit for being the first to serve them.
Wausau Mine Company claims: “ITALIAN FRIES (GF) Yes, this is the only true original Italian Fry discovered in 1979. They’re baked to order so please allow extra time. Indescribably delicious. Not at all what you’d expect! We heard your request and are now offering a smaller size portion of Italian Fries for a lighter appetite! Order with cheese. Large 9.59 / Small 6.59 / Add extra sauce for .59“
While Papillons asserts: “Home of the original world famous Italian Fries!
Papillon’s has proudly become one of the Wausau area’s favorite hot-spots for Pizza, Mexican, Italian, soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, tasty beverages and more! The Germinaro family invites you to stop in and experience the delicious fare and friendly service that customers have come to enjoy for over 30 years!“
Regardless on who started what, Pizza Fries have become a common entree of Northern Wisconsin. Some frozen pizza companies have added the entree to their repertoire. Companies like Orv’s, Jack’s, and others sell cheese fries right next to their deluxe and pepperoni pizzas. However, while these are commonly found at the typical northwoods County Market or IGA, frozen Pizza Fries are nowhere to be found outside the Badger State.
That is, unless you are in the Canadian Northeast. Turns out the Canucks have their own similar entree called Garlic Fingers. And it appears our neighbors to the north have raided Wikipedia and attempted to revise history to make it seem like they discovered it first. News flash: This ain’t hockey; It’s cheese on dough, and that’s what Wisconsin does best.
Aside from the bars of Northern Wisconsin and Nova Scotia, I’ve never seen anything remotely like “Pizza Fries” on any menu or cookbook from Prudhoe Bay to Miami. And I’ve been everywhere.
This recipe focuses on a version closest to the thin-crust Pizza Fries that is often found in a frozen food section, and not like the Papillon or Mine Company style ones. Frankly, the restaurant ones are outrageously cheesy. No joke. I’d wager they are about a half-inch thick of cheese. Ain’t no one got time for that. So, I’m focusing on a reasonable (remember, I’m a Wisconsinite, and what you might consider reasonable is likely way too much) quantity of cheese.
While homemade sauce and crust is the best, to simplify the process for this recipe, I’m going to recommend you pick up a few of my favorite brands: a jar of Classico “Spicy Tomato Basil” and a pre-made thin-crust by Mama Mary’s. Mama Mary’s crusts are already perfectly thin and they suit the proportions of cheese to crust quite well. However, if you want the best homemade pizza crust recipe, I encourage you to buy Erika Reber’s cookbook “From Reichert’s with Love,” which on page 48, contains a delicious recipe by Jeanne Reber.
Recipe: How to make Wisconsin Style Pizza Fries:
3 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 large garlic bulb (or a half dozen large garlic cloves)
Premade or homemade pizza crust
A jar of marinara sauce
1 1/2-2 cups of shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/4-1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (not powder)
Pinch of parsley, basil, and oregano
Preheat your oven to 375-400 degree F.
Mince the garlic as finely as possible. In a small sauce pan over low heat, place the butter and minced garlic. Cook for a three minutes so that the garlic and butter meld. Do not cook the butter so long that it turns brown.
Dump the hot garlic-butter mix on the crust. Spread evenly on the crust. Sprinkle half the mozzarella cheese on the garlic-butter. Then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top of the mozza. Then sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the Parmesan. (Note, please use real Parmesan cheese and not the powder)
Place the pizza fries on a pizza pan or stone. If you are using a pizza pan with holes, place tin foil on the bottom of the oven, just in case butter or cheese melts off of pizza crust and drips through the holes. Slide the pizza in the oven and bake for approximately ten minutes. Check often, because the thin pizza and cheese can burn easily depending on your oven. It should look like the picture above when finished.
Pull the pizza fries from the oven, and sprinkle the top with parsley, basil, and oregano. Cut into long strips about an inch wide. Pour marinara sauce into cups for dipping.
This is supposed to serve four people, but GOOD LUCK. I’ve been known to wolf down a whole pizza fries without a moments hesitation or ounce of regret. I can’t even begin to wonder how many calories this is, but who cares. It’s delicious as hell.
That’s pretty much it. All you need is high-quality cheese, basic herbs, and some thin crust, and you can experience the gluttonous explosion that is the Wisconsin Pizza Fry! Enjoy!
If anyone has any things to say, like about the Papillon-Mine Company feud, or better ways to prepare Wisconsin Pizza Fries, or if you live in an area with a similar entree (If you mention “Cheesy Bread” you will be banned!), please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for this recipe! I was just in Oshkosh and i couldn’t find any in the supermarkets! 🙁 They are always available at the pick n save in Wausau but i wasn’t in the area. If people throughout the US knew these existed, I think we would all be fatter for it. Looking at going into the business!
I’m thinking of selling these in Los Angeles. 🙂
Here’s how the story goes: the owner of Wausau mine and his wife split up. In the divorce, she got permission to use the recipe, opened Pappillions, and the rest is history. Also worth noting is that the dipping sauce is unique. Adding salt & red wine vinegar to crushed tomatoes and cooking it for about 15 minutes is as close as I’ve come to replicating it. Another note – use whole milk mozzarella instead of part skim.
Whole Milk Mozza is a definite. Thanks for the backstory on the recipe!
Angela Larson is correct. Husband and wife split and opened two different restaurants with the same Italian cheese fries. Also, them two restaurants BOTH have amazing cheese fries and thats ALL i would ever order frome tgem growing up or as an adult. Best comfort food ever.
They both are really good. I kinda wish they made a spicy version.
Originally from Wisconsin Rapids and moved around from Tampa, to Los Angeles, and now in Phoenix. I LOVE the Portesi Cheese Fries, but they won’t ship here. Also Springville Wharf in Plover uses 2 full pounds of cheese!
Looking forward to trying out the recipe, thanks for sharing!
I miss those Portesi Fries.
Don’t forget to sprinkle some basil and oregano herbs on the top after it’s done cooking in the oven. 🙂
The real story is my dad and mom made up the recipe at papillons as that was the first restaurant they started together. They bought additional restaurants while married and used the same recipe as it was a hit. When they got split ways my mom took papillons my dad took the Wausau Mine. Now that they have both retired my brother and I are the proud owners of both together and their has never been any feud between any family members over the recipes we had a common goal to serve our community the best way we know how. We do not use any wine in the sauce as a side note. Stop in sometime and we can give you the tour!
Oh. My. God.
First off, I’m honored you took the time to comment on my page. Your parent’s recipe inspired me to bring this entree all the way across the continent to Los Angeles. We make this at our house here in California at least twice a month. We insist if anyone is visiting Wausau, they must go to your restaurants.
I have so many questions. I will definitely stop in next time I’m back in Wausau. This is amazing.
Thank you! I’m a 33yr old tattoo artist from northern Wi, I grew up in schofield Wisconsin eating papillons at least once a month my whole life it seems. I closed my tattoo shop in Wausau and moved to Louisville Kentucky a year ago to open one here. This town is huge and has everything but Can’t find anything even close to papillons Italian fries:( no one here has any idea what I’m babbling about! I found this while searching and now realize it’s only a back home thing.. wish I knew how to make their sauce
Greetings from Los Angeles! I grew up in Wausau, so I know the feeling about no one understanding about Cheese Fries. If you figure out the sauce recipe, please come back and post a comment. I’d love to know!
Grew up in Wausau & remember portesi cheese fries on our school lunch menu regularly. I now moved to Michigan where “cheese fries” are french fries with cheese I have been searching for inspiration to recreate the greasy goodness of my childhood & can’t wait til these come out of the oven for dinner tonight. Sometimes there’s nothing better than back-home comfort food.
I grew up in Wisconsin Rapids and the first Italian Fries that I encountered was at the Springville Wharf (RIP) in Plover. Made the trip there as often as I could, even after I moved to Seattle. (Visit the folks? Sure, if I can sneak up to Plover!)
The Springville Wharf version (and I don’t doubt the person who said they put two pounds of Wisconsin Mozzarella cheese on a full order of them) were somewhat different…rather than simply slice up a round pizza into strips, they would pile stacks of four even length strips on top of each other–I assume they’d cook a rectangular dough…pile on the cheese…and then cut them into strips of four to pile. (Two stacks for the small order…Four stacks on the full…and the cheese is everywhere.)
There was also a chain in a strip mall in Eau Claire called Pizza Slice that had Italian Fries that were very good–but more like the “pizza without the sauce to dip in marinara…cut into strips” variety. I liked those…but that place disappeared almost as soon as I moved to Seattle.
The Springville Wharf is gone…but the same type of Italian Fries that they served is still available from Arbuckle’s in Stevens Point–just returned from a visit and I managed to get two visits in while I was there.
My eleven-year old son, who fancies himself a bit of a baker, asked the person in charge at Arbuckle’s for help in recreating it here at home. He said the keys are: garlic butter…and lots of Wisconsin Mozzarella.
We made sure to bring back a bag full of that mozz with us…and I’ll let you know how my son’s attempt goes.
I never knew about that place in Eau Claire. Wow. You had an eye on every type of Pizza Fries in all of Central Wisconsin. 🙂