I used to live in Greenfield, and during rush hour or major construction I would take Forest Home Avenue to and from the East Side. I’ve driven past Maria’s Pizza, 5025 W. Forest Home Ave., dozens of times but never made it in.
It wasn’t until the past couple of years that I’ve heard people raving about their pizza, and started feeling embarrassed that I haven’t been there. It feels good to cross it off my list and stop feeling ashamed when people ask me if I’ve been to Maria’s.
You can find the history of Maria’s Pizza on the menu. It begins in 1957 when Maria Traxel bought an old building on 7th and Greenfield and opened Maria’s Pizza with her three children, Ronnie, Mickey and Bonnie.
I didn’t know this, but the story states that back then, pizza was not that well-known in Milwaukee. I can’t imagine living without pizza. What would be the point?
As the story goes, Maria painted the inside walls red and covered the cracks in the walls with religious paint-by-number pictures painted by the family – very resourceful.
The second, and current, location was opened in June 1971. The family covered both locations with Maria staying at the 7th and Greenfield location until she passed away Jan. 9, 1993.
Her wish was for the 7th and Greenfield store to be closed and for the family to work together again at the 50th and Forest Home location.
Today, Maria’s Pizza is owned and operated by Maria’s daughter Bonnie Crivello and Maria’s two granddaughters, Maria Story and Mickey Story, named after Maria and Maria’s daughter Mickey.
The building has an old look and feel to it, both inside and out. The ceiling is painted red and the walls are covered in wood panelling, religious pictures, and holiday decorations. In this case Valentine’s Day decorations adorned the walls and hung from the ceiling.
The main floor is essentially split in two. As you enter, the dining room is on the left and small, but tables are arranged to allow seating for around 50 people. The open kitchen and take-out counter make up the other half to your right.
From where we sat, I could see the cooks working their magic. They ran the fresh-made dough through the dough rolling machine to get it really thin, then top the pizzas and move them to and from the large ovens.
Something else that caught my eye was a Black Bear soda fountain behind the take-out counter. I can’t think of any other place where I’ve seen Black Bear instead of Pepsi or Coca-Cola on a soda fountain sign. How cool is that?
My friends and I ordered pitchers of Diet Cola and Classic Cherry, which were only $4.00 each.
Pizzas come in two sizes. The "small" pizza is actually a 14-inch circle and the large pizza is a 14-inch by 18-inch rectangle. The 14-inch cheese pizza starts at $15.75 with $1 for each additional topping. Toppings for the large pizza are $2 each.
The toppings are limited to pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, black olives and green peppers. The Supreme pizza includes all of the toppings except pepperoni.
We decided on a large cheese, sausage and pepperoni pizza and a large Supreme pizza. When the pizzas arrived, we had to get creative with table space management. The pizzas are actually larger than 14 by 18 inches. They literally hung over the ends of the pizza pan by at least 2 inches on each side, so they were closer to 14 by 22 inches!
The size and shape of the pizzas prevented them from being photogenic, but what really matters is the taste, right?
The veggies on the Supreme pizza were finely diced, but the chunks of sausage were quite large. The flavor of the sausage was so bold and spicy that it provided most of the flavor. Normally black olives can dominate the flavor, but not the case here.
The pepperoni was also spicy and delicious and complemented the sausage well.
The crusts at Maria’s are thin and crispy. However, the longer the pizza sat, the softer the crust became in the center due to the grease from the toppings. For the record, we didn’t mind. Both pizzas were delicious.
If I could make one recommendation to make the pizzas better, it would be to add more sauce. I had a hard time finding sauce on the slices. I was able to slide the cheese and toppings off of a couple of slices so I could isolate the sauce and taste it.
The flavor of the sauce was great, but again, I would have liked more. As you might remember from past blogs, I want to bite into a slice and have the sauce squeeze out from both sides of the slice and onto the sides of my mouth. That’s the right amount of sauce
I had a chance to chat with Crivello briefly. She was very warm, welcoming, and grateful to hear I was a first-time visitor. She explained that the sauce starts with canned tomatoes, but their special seasoning recipe is added and it’s all mixed until the sauce is just right - nicely done.
Other menu items include spaghetti, mostaccioli, lasagna and chicken dinners, as well as sandwiches, appetizers, salad and dessert. I was so full from the pizza I didn’t have room for a cannoli. I think some cannoli take-out may be in order some time soon.
I was blown away by the amount of take-out business Maria’s Pizza was doing. There were constantly one to four people in the small lobby, picking up their pizzas and carrying them out two to four at a time!
With a full dining room, I couldn’t believe they were keeping up. Which reminds me, we did have a wait of around 30 minutes for our pizzas because they were so busy.
My friends told me that Maria’s is always that busy, so if and when you visit, start with some garlic bread or antipasto and enjoy some Black Bear soda to help fill the void until the pizza arrives, and take cash with you because they don’t accept checks or credit cards, and "they don’t take American Express."
I agree with you that Maria's Pizza is very good! Something that you omitted and possibly didn't know is that they DO NOT serve any type of alcoholic beverage. So those people who enjoy a nice cold bier with there pizza have no choice other than to do order carry out. I attempted to bring in a few cold biers to enjoy with our pizza, but in the process almost lost multiple appendages :).
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