POSTED ON JANUARY 26, 2011:
A Slice of Life
Family pizza place dishes deep with affordable pies and good service
If you have a platoon or more of kids, and you want to go somewhere for pizza and: a) want to be reassured that others have as many kids as you, and b) want your kids to blend into the crowd even though normally they stick out like a sore thumb in any public setting, then go to Marley's Pizzeria, 6104 E. 71st St., which is situated in what was for many years Flavor's Restaurant.
This is without a doubt a family place and the restaurant accommodates them well. The employees are all around 12, or look like it anyway. Either they're all getting younger or I'm getting ol ...oooh, never mind. I think I just figured it out!
Prime time on a recent Saturday night the place was packed. We only waited 5 or 6 minutes for a table -- not bad at all. It seemed like there was room after room of folks out for a casual, informal evening, almost everyone towing along small children.
We were seated in one of three rooms. It was a bit boxy feeling, just a square room with wood floors and straight lines, Marley's was brightly lit with spotlight can lighting and the walls were adorned with faux oil paintings of famous rock stars, mainly from the 60s: Hendrix, The Beatles, etc., as well as a few concert posters.
Everything was overshadowed by eight or nine flat-screen TVs, which were strategically placed so every table had a view. Other rooms included one that could accommodate a group for private function or meeting, and a larger room with a full bar.
It was a bit unnerving at first, since regardless of where in the room you were seated, there was a screen above your head. I asked my wife if my hat was properly covering the third eye in the middle of my forehead because everyone was staring at me. I finally figured it out: a football game was charging a foot above me. Whew! My secret is still safe.
Our server stopped by and took our drink and appetizer order. She was actually pretty good, between the din and bustle of the place, and could easily find a job at a more elegant establishment. Even when she didn't come to the table I could see her monitoring all her customers, and we never once had to ask for anything. About the time you thought you needed something it was magically there, a talent that can be only partially trained into someone.
Upper Crust. Marley’s Pizzeria does bustling business on weekends serves up traditional pies and its specialty: deep-dish, Chicago-style pizzas.
Our appetizer course, fried mushrooms, came in about 10 minutes, and there were enough to feed four. Small button mushrooms were dusted in flour and deep-fried and served on a platter with tomato and ranch sauces for dipping. They could have been very good, but the breading lacked seasoning. Like pasta cooked in unsalted water, unseasoned, deep fried items will never have deep flavor. Diners can dump a pound of salt and pepper on them, or dip them in gallons of spicy sauce and they will still taste bland.
We split the strawberry salad. The crisp lettuce advertised featured large chunks of romaine leaves, which would have been more presentable if chopped to a manageable size, but it was fresh and crisp. The salad was dotted with a generous amount of quartered strawberries, pecan halves and a fat-free raspberry dressing. Lackluster, but true to what the menu promised.
We ordered the Maui Wowi, a Canadian bacon, pineapple, smoky bacon, and mozzarella pizza sure to send anyone's cholesterol and blood pressure through the roof. Since Marley's advertises themselves as "Chicago Style Pizza," we opted for ours made that way. All the pies come as a standard pizza, and most offer Chicago-style as an option. The menu states that it takes longer, and the diner should allow 35-40 minutes for this preparation.
A Chicago-style pizza is different in several ways. First, it is a deep-dish pizza made from unique dough. Traditional pizza is made with a yeast dough that gives its crust lots of elasticity and structure, with less texture in terms of air pockets or bubbles. If you tried to make a Chicago-style pizza with a dough with this much elasticity it wouldn't hold its shape, so a Chicago dough is kind of a cross between a yeast dough and a biscuit dough and uses a different formula with leaveners like baking powder and a higher fat-to-flour ratio. The dough is also kneaded less and when a dough bakes the fat in it melts and breaks up the long strands of gluten into shorter strands that stay tender.
The second major factor in constructing a Chicago-style pizza is the order of ingredients. As we all know traditional pizza builds cheese on top of sauce, on top of crust, with ingredients scattered atop of the cheese. Chicago-style inverts everything. The crust goes down and is formed up the sides of a deep-dish pan to the top rim. Next the toppings, then comes the cheese and sauce. Traditionally, a top crust is pinched together with the edges of the bottom crust to create a pie form. For obvious reasons Chicago-style pizza takes longer to bake and presents a very different flavor and experience than many people are used to. Fans of this style are adamant that it's the best.
Our server did make sure to tell us that it would take longer, roughly 35-45 minutes. Unfortunately the kitchen didn't meet her prediction and it took an hour for our pie to arrive. Additionally the top of the pizza was smothered in chunky, unappetizing tomato sauce. Apparently our server forgot to tell the cooks that we wanted our pizza hot. The pie was barely warm and burned around the top edge of the crust to boot. How does one arrive at this combination of circumstances? I'm guessing it got pulled out of the oven, and sat for 15 or 20 minutes before it was put in the window for pick up. I was afraid to send it back for a reheat, since we didn't have another hour to spare, so we soldiered on.
After a couple of bites we both noticed a pronounced saltiness. After deconstructing a piece to check each ingredient for liability, we realized that it was neither bacon, nor the sauce or cheese. The crust was the salty culprit. I will say that the more classic-style pizzas we saw on other tables looked good, and people were eating them, but I can only assume that they were better than ours. The menu also offers a variety of hot sandwiches and wraps, so there is a little something for everyone. Marley's does offer gluten-free pizza.
Appetizer prices average about $6.50, Pizzas range from $10-20. Sandwiches and wraps were almost all $7.
6104 E. 71st St.
Hours: Every day -- 11am to close
Service: **& a half
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