Some pizza topping combinations come and go, while some become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. This week: Sausage, Mushroom & Onion Pizza.

We’re all aware of “Milwaukee Style” pizza. The distinction is usually accompanied by terms like “tavern style” and mention of “cracker thin” crust. Some swear the pizza preparations you’re prone to finding in and around Milwaukee are wholly original to the region. Others consider the so-called “style” to be akin to what the rest of the country simply calls “thin crust pizza.”

We—residing firmly in the “sure, it’s a real thing!” camp—are NOT here to debate the merit and veracity of “Milwaukee Style Pizza,” nor are we devoting any time to trying to change any minds on the matter. Instead of fixating on the region’s preferred crust, we wanted to shift focus to what’s on top of many pizzas that are eaten in the greater Milwaukee area. To be clear, we here at Milwaukee Record support absolutely any toppings people decide to put on top of their ‘za. Yes, even pineapple! However, there’s one clear combination of cheese, meat, and vegetables the city goes to more often than any other: Sausage, Mushroom & Onion.

It might not be your preferred pie, but it’s safe to say the “S.M.O.” (sometimes also referred to by the cheesier “C.S.M.O.” abbreviation) is far and away the most popular pizza topping combo in the city—just as it has been for pretty much as long as pizza has been served here. Much like our collective love of hot ham and rolls, the origin of metro Milwaukee’s shared affinity for the S.M.O. isn’t entirely clear.

Some speculate the city’s large German and/or Polish heritage played a part in forming our shared taste for the topping blend. Others say enclaves of Italian immigrants brought it to citywide attention. Still more folks offer up far more straightforward theories about the popularity and longevity Sausage, Mushroom & Onion pizza has enjoyed for generations…it’s cheap and it’s good.

S.M.O. prices may vary from place to place, but no matter where you’re fortunate enough to be getting one, it’s almost always very, VERY good. We don’t throw around the term “GOATed” very often (mostly because we’re 39 years old and uncool), but when it comes to pizza topping combos, the holy trinity of seasoned and spiced sausage with just the right amount of grease, fresh and umami-packed mushrooms, and diced pieces of crunchy, flavorful onion commingled with melt-y cheese, zesty sauce, and literally any style of crust might be “GOATed.”

Beyond traditional Milwaukee Style crust, we’ve feasted on Neapolitan S.M.O. renditions from time to time.

We’ve had some pan-style takes on it.

And we’ve enjoyed our fair share of hand-tossed riffs as well.

Hell, when we’re getting that topping combo from somewhere as great as Pietro’s, Scotty’s, or Ned’s, we’re more than happy to settle for canned mushrooms if (the far superior) fresh mushrooms aren’t an option.

Though we’ve used the “S.M.O.” distinction to this point, the tasty triad represented by that three-letter acronym goes by a lot of different names around these parts. It’s known as “The Special” at Zaffiro’s, Marco’s, and Vinchi’s Pizza. It’s called “The Classic” at Caradaro Club and “Milwaukee’s Classic” at MKE Classic Pizza. It’s “#1” at Dom & Phil DeMarinis. And at Pizza Man, it’s simply called “Milwaukee.”

This simple blend of baked sausage, mushroom, and onion set atop layers of cheese, Italian seasonings, sauce, and crust is truly something special. It’s an absolute classic. It’s number one in our heart and, yes, when it comes to preferred pizza toppings, the S.M.O. is and will always be Milwaukee.

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About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.