With all of the exotic dining options available in and around Atlantic County, one thing that seems to please just about every fat boy is Italian food from a simple pizzeria. Sure, it might not come with the foodie cred of some spots, but taking that first bite of a great slice is unmatched.
So when we were perusing our lunch options and Scott mentioned Maurizio’s Pizza in Mays Landing, it was an easy “yes” from both of us. Maurizio’s is a no-frills pizza joint located in a strip mall. That description might be seen as an insult in some states, but here that’s about as authentically Jersey as you can get. A large counter stands up front and a scattering of tables greets you as you walk in. The setting isn’t make or break. Getting you to return is up to the food itself. Here’s what we thought.
Ryan: Trouble started early when Scott attempted to call in our order and was treated to a bumbling employee on the other end of the line doing her best to get the order straight.
Scott: We knew we were off to a bad start when a simple order couldn’t be taken on the phone. I was on the phone at least five minutes placing an order for four items. Then, after I hung up, the polite order taker called apologizing to get it right. Awesome, no problem. Then a manager called back again after her to make sure the order was right. OK, well, that’s fine, I guess. But then our fears emerged: They got our order wrong and our order was obviously done way ahead of when we asked for it to be. More on that later, but we were lucky only one of the four items was messed up with the way the ordering went.
Ryan: I had a lot of choices for what to go for first, but I’m a sucker for a Grandma’s pie, so I grabbed a slice from the non-meatball side. A perfect balance of cheese to sauce with the basil adding just enough seasoning to firmly steer things away from blandness. The crust was thin, not overly doughy nor too greasy and would probably have been amazing straight out of the oven, but we got it to-go and thus it had cooled considerably by the time we dug in.
Scott: It was more than we got it to go. I asked for the whole order to be ready at 1 p.m. When I arrived at 1:01 p.m., it was sitting there ready. Great! When I got it to the car, I noticed the pizza was already luke warm, so it was obviously sitting on top of the oven for quite a bit. By the time I got it back to the office, it had no chance. That said, it was still flavorful. The sauce is nicely balanced between tang and a little sweet, the thin-crust Sicilian style had great texture, even if it wasn’t crunchy like it should have been because of the temperature. I have had this pizza before, and it’s usually stellar. On this day, it didn’t reach that mark but was better than most.
I also had a cup of Italian wedding soup, and it was spectacular. Full of orzo, tiny meatballs and flavored with escarole and garlic, the chicken broth base was perfection. A super Italian wedding soup.
Ryan: The Italian sub was, of course, not the hot one we ordered. I know it’s called a “sub,” but that doesn’t usually mean the restaurant just subs in whatever sandwich they feel like making. And it was definitely disappointing to bite into a cold sub with completely different ingredients than the one we wanted, but I tried to put that out of my mind. The bread that it came on was outstanding. Neither of us could figure out what bakery it came from, but it was soft yet sturdy and reminded me a bit of a somewhat less crumbly version of the Leidenheimer rolls they use for Po Boys in New Orleans. The sub itself was lacking flavor beyond the roll, though. When lettuce and oregano are the dominant flavors, that’s not a great sign. Also meat-wise it was a pretty skimpy portion for 10 bucks.
Scott: The sub was huge length wise, not so huge in thickness. The roll reminded me of a Philly-style sub roll, soft in texture and flavorful. It was the star of the show and would be great for a cheesesteak or chicken parm. This Italian sub has a lot to be desired. In an area with White House, Sack O’Subs, Pete’s, etc., this can’t compete.
Ryan: The unquestionable star of the meal was the stuffed rigatoni. Served in a creamy pink sauce, these perfect pillows of pasta packed with ricotta worked as a sort of olive branch, making up for the pitfalls of the Italian sub mishap. A great pink sauce is often a gamble to order — some spots lean too hard on the tomato end of things, which almost always leads to a big fat disappointment. Maurizio’s was perfectly balanced and straight up delicious.
Scott: Yeah, this vodka sauce was a fat boy’s dream come true. Creamy, flavorful perfection with the perfectly cooked stuffed rigatoni serving as the perfect vessel. On the other hand, we also got an arancini, which is a bargain at $5.95 … if it was good. This giant rice ball had all of the right ingredients, meat, rice, peas, cheese, but it was a soggy, mushy mess. The fun of arancini is that you get small to medium balls of rice that are crispy in every bite. There was no crisp here. Just a giant, messy jumble of ingredients. It went right in the trash can.
Ryan: Although there were a few missteps, I walked away from the table thoroughly satisfied with my meal. The grandma pie and stuffed rigatoni were both outstanding, and that is enough to put this place on my “must return” list. Will Maurizio’s win any awards for dazzling décor or innovative cuisine? Maybe not, but who cares.