-The other Chicago (& Midwest) style pizza: Tavern Style
Maria's had been on my must try list for years since reading about it over there. I finally made it here last year on a trip to Milwaukee after a Cubs-Brewers game. I have actually been saving it for the first trip north the boys in blue make this summer. So if your making the trek up the lake to see the Cubs play the Brewers next weekend (4/23-25) than I got a spot you need to try. Maria's has actually gotten some pub of late from places like Slice over at Serious Eats and the aforementioned LTHforum. But I was really surprised it took almost three years for it to be talked about again at LTH and how many comments there were from the Serious Eats article about people who were born and raised in Milwaukee having no idea it existed. Its been around for 52 years and has been at its current location since 1971.
The looks of a champion
The pizza and atmosphere at Maria's are both right up there with the best I have had and experienced in my lifetime quest for the perfect extra thin and crispy pizza pie in a time honored multiple decade family owned tavern that has been serving generations of families. Who would of thunk there would be this hotbed for Pizza in this part of Wisconsin? Zaffiro's was always one of my favorite pizzas and then I found Well's Brothers and now I got Maria's. The truth is all three are amazing and unique in their own way but Maria's takes the cake when it comes to a unique and very old school dining experience. Maria's is very red inside and I couldn't imagine what its like during the Christmas holiday season. I want to see that one day.
The dining room
View upon entering where they're making the pies
As soon as you step inside the pizza house you will feel like you have taken a step back into time. When we went it was the middle of summer but the walls and ceilings had all sorts of religious art, Christmas like decorations and Milwaukee Brewers flags and signs. I don't know about you but I've never come across a place with those three things cramming the walls. Its a small space and I doubt they have changed anything except for the sporting decorations which change with the season. They even have the old school red and white squared tablecloths that all the old school pizza taverns do. Although even though this feels like a tavern there is no liquor served here. As you may of got the feeling of when you see all the religious paintings, Maria was very religious and didn't want alcohol served at her restaurant when she opened the first one in 1957.
a little history lesson for ya (click pic to enhance)
As you may have learned from the history lesson above Maria loved to make her family happy by cooking. So since many people still didn't know what pizza was back in 1957 she took everything she had and opened a pizza parlor serving her signature thin and extra crispy family recipe where the crust would always overlap the trays they were served on. Maria is no longer with us but the place is still going strong and being run by her daughters who were working that evening we visited and were as nice as could be and started us off with our pitchers of pop and took our order almost immediately.
The pizza menu...notice the large is a rectangle
I have said before that I am a fan of basically tavern style only. I'll eat other styles of pizza and enjoy them but none have me wanting them and needing them like a top notch tavern style pie does. Important factors in achieving a sublime tavern style pie include the feeling of an old school tavern. Stuff like the old family pictures, old tables and chairs, old school bar and of course those red table cloths and just some character that makes it unique. It always helps to have been around since the '50's and have a really good pizza recipe to go with that. Maria's succeeded at all these things on every level. Pies come in two sizes and the smalls are round and large is oval. My standard order of a large sausage pizza was what we got and within about 20 minutes it had arrived in fashion.
Maria's large sausage pizza
The food guru who put me onto this place wrote in his review that "I enjoyed the pizza quite a bit but even if I hadn't I would have considered it a worthwhile visit" and I couldn't agree more. I was with three of my buddies, two of whom are the Swami and savant of all things pizza pie and then of course you got me, the king of the Tavern Pie, and we all really enjoyed our large sausage pizza. You could taste the love they put into every pie and before we knew it there was none left.
tavern style pizza perfection
The crust is crispy and flaky and has some bubbles in it and also has some really nice charred edges and perfectly cooked pieces. The sauce is somewhat sweet but well seasoned and they put on a good amount of cheese like any pizza place in Wisconsin is going to do. Just like the rest of the great tavern style places, the sausage is very good and the way to go should you stop in for a signature pie. The cheese is also of high quality since you are in Wisconsin and all.
A piece of tavern style thin from Maria's
I'm sure there was a time when these little tavern style joints that use houses were abundant in Chicago but there's not many good ones left anymore. Since Milwaukee and other parts of WI haven't been totally taken over by corporate America and the Kitschy bars they still have quite a few amazing pizza parlors. Maria's, Zaffiro's and Well's Brothers are proof of this. Maria's is not too far from Miller Park (5 minute drive) and if you ever head to a baseball game in Milwaukee, Maria's is the ideal place to eat before or after with a group.
Maria's is old school Milwaukee and a must visit should you make it up that way
Rating Scale 5/5
5025 W Forest Home Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53219-4505