As a lover of all things Italian, it pains me deeply now to admit it. But for some reason, when I was little, pizza and spaghetti ranked down there with my mom’s weird Chinese vegetables and that strange black soup that she still tries to get me to eat. It was so bad that at my best friend’s birthday party at Showbiz Pizza (the old-school Chuck E. Cheese’s – yes, the animatronic figures were there back then, too!), my dad actually bought me KFC to take in so I’d have something to eat (so spoiled!).
Happily, my tastes have broadened vastly, and I now enjoy pizza in its many forms. I’ve even been fortunate enough to dine on it in Italy (a big, beautifully thin triangle of simple cheese pizza, just steps away from Venice’s Rialto bridge), and something about eating it there in its native land definitely imparts a unique flavor.
What attracts us so much to pizza? It’s easy, it’s portable and there are now a million flavors that can go on it. Though I love my local pizza joints, when Sean and I were craving a slice or two a few weeks ago, Guiseppe’s seemed too far away and I’d done Mellow Mushroom recently, so we decided to check out a relative newcomer, Marco’s Pizza in Martinez.
Caveat: It is a franchise, opening originally on Furys Ferry Road and now with locations in Grovetown and North Augusta. According to its Web site, the Ohio-based company prides itself on true Italian-style pizza (music to my ears): Its founder, Pasquale “Pat” Giammarco moved to the U.S. when he was 9 and grew up working in his family’s pizzeria. Pat set three standards for his stores: dough made fresh daily, a secret sauce and a fresh (never frozen) three-cheese blend.
“Hello, welcome to Marco’s!” was the cheery greeting we were met with as we opened the door. But be careful if you’re walking in with shoes with flat soles: The tiled floor inside the Furys Ferry location is quite slippery, as I found out as I skidded toward the cash register. “It IS very slippery,” agreed the cashier with a sympathetic look.
On that Tuesday evening, the restaurant didn’t have many folks dining in, but a brisk delivery service was going on, as drivers literally raced out of the restaurant at speeds that would rival Jimmy John’s delivery guys (their secret: tennis shoes to avoid slipping and sliding on that tile floor!).
The menu is posted prominently above the cash register and includes small, medium, large and extra large pizzas, subs, salads, extras such as cheesy bread and Pepsi products to drink.
When a pizzeria offers a wide range of toppings, from feta cheese and pineapple to bacon and anchovies, along with crust toppings, dipping sauces and crust options (original or crispy thin), it makes me happy. Why should your choices be limited? This is pizza, after all!
Sean, however, is not super adventurous with his pizza, so I had to scale back my love for pineapple and ham. Right as we walked in, the cashier had handed us a coupon book with Marco’s deals, so we went for the large pizza with one topping plus a 2-liter soda for $13.99 and added an extra topping for $1.50 more. Sean let me choose, so I did: spinach and meatballs.
“Meatballs?” Sean crinkled up his face. But I love meatballs on pizza – although sometimes it’s not that successful. Either there aren’t enough meatballs, or the meatballs aren’t good, or they’re slipping and sliding around on top of the crust, making it hard to eat. “And that’s why!” Sean said.
While Sean paid, I grabbed us the only table that was out of the sun. (The restaurant was also very hot that night, no doubt from all the baking pizza, but the setting sun that was blazing in through the windows wasn’t helping. It cooled down once the sun set.) It was fun watching the delivery guys race back and forth, and about 20 minutes later, our pizza was out.
It was oven-fresh hot, and when I went to get a knife and fork, they were out of knives. But one of the staff heard me asking, went into the back and brought a couple to the table immediately. Same with the little packets of crushed red pepper and Parmesan – they were out, but in moments, someone was at our table to deliver them.
“How does it look?” asked one of the pizza guys. “It looks fantastic,” I said, and even Doubting Sean had to agree. The pizza was studded with plenty of meatballs, halved so they sat nicely on the pizza, and baked well into the cheese. There was plenty of spinach too – the last time I ordered spinach at a chain pizzeria, there was literally one leaf on average on each slice.
And the taste? The crust was baked nice and brown and yeasty, chewy and a little crisp on the bottom and nice and fluffy on the edges – not a hint of sogginess under the sauce, which I can’t stand.
Pat’s secret recipe sauce was great – you could definitely taste the roundedness of good tomatoes and the herbs in it. The meatballs had a hint of spice all on their own, were well-seasoned and bready, and would have been great in a bowl of spaghetti too. Best of all, it wasn’t greasy like a lot of chain pizzas.
Can I first say that both of us have been working out pretty regularly before I admit that Sean had four slices and I had three? It was really good pizza – and I had to be impressed that this came out of a franchise.
Did it take me all the way back to Italy? I wouldn’t go that far. But it was a good, sturdy, savory pie, one that maybe even a picky 8-year-old Chinese girl would love. But I still don’t like that black soup.