Nathan Smith will pass on the pretense.
"At the beginning, there was some bad staff," says the Marzio's Pizzeria manager. "So it was just a matter of getting the right people in, and I think things are running great now. We just had too many employees, and not enough good ones."
Working with just one other person in the dining room, Smith has definitely turned things around at three-month-old Marzio's. Outside of a fine-dining destination, rarely have I been so looked-after as a customer and made to feel so welcome, with complimentary drinks offered while waiting to be seated, and consistent, but not annoying, check-backs for quality once there.
Inside, the big space still needs work. Marzio's is housed in the old Antonio's Italian Restaurant but hardly seems at home. The former tenant's name is still etched into a dining room glass window; the waiting area awkwardly dwarfs two dining room chairs and some scattered newspapers; a large arcade, to the right upon entry, blinks and blares to no audience.
The friendly dining room fares better, with small, Italian-themed scenes hung between the windows and large, black-and-tan leather booths sized well for the big pizzas; $15.99 for a 16-inch pie, $18.99 for 18 inches.
First up: the Vegetale, a meat-free offering of black olives, green peppers, mushrooms and onions. It was better with the additional kick of requested jalapeños, but all the veggies were crisp, with nice bite, and the mild mozzarella cheese and homemade sauce were fresh.
The Carne Lover — pepperoni, Canadian bacon, beef and sausage — was also pleasant, each meat holding its own against the others.
On both, the homemade crusts were soft, with a nicely crunchy exterior, and tasted great brushed — like all the pies — with the house Parmesan, herb and garlic butter spread.
For early variety, get the sampler platter ($6.99 for 8 ounces, $13.49 for 16 ounces): jalapeño poppers, mozzarella sticks and fried mushrooms, zucchini and okra. Though slightly overdone — and subbing in cauliflower for the out-of-stock okra — each satisfied the need for greasy goodness.
The 7-inch Italian Unione sandwich ($4.99, or $8.99 for 14-inch) of ham, pepperoni and salami came on firm, fluffy house-made bread, that held up well under the loads of veggies and condiments. The Marzio's Hamburger ($5.99), with mushrooms and Swiss cheese ($1.49 extra), was juicy and pleasantly salty, as was a tender pork loin sandwich ($7.99).
Lastly, a chef insalata ($6.99) of romaine lettuce and spinach leaves, topped with turkey, ham, tomato, cucumber, a hard-boiled egg and American and Swiss cheese was fresh, large and satisfying.
Which spoke to a recurring theme throughout. No food item redefined what a flavor could taste like; nothing screamed, "I'm the best dish you've ever tried!" But nothing offended, nothing lacked execution, and all recipes started in-house.
Marzio's is essentially tasty, Italian-themed family dining, filling and on the cheap. It's served with warmth of feeling, and a palpable, concerted effort to please. The restaurant needs to grow into its own shoes and iron out some kinks — for instance, desserts on the menu were unavailable on both visits — but its large menu, which includes a full breakfast list, is more than worthy of review.