Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time in Indianapolis. —The Mgmt.
1106 Prospect St., Indianapolis IN 46203 (map); 317-786-9283; mariasoriginalpizza.com
Pizza Style: Tavern
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Midwestern tavern-style pizza is represented very well at this old school Indianapolis mainstay
Price: 12-inch Sauerkraut Special, $15.99
Last time I went to Indianapolis, I listened to the people of that fine town and visited Bazbeaux, a place routinely cited as serving the city's best pizza but was, for my tastes, decidedly mediocre. As I mentioned in that review, on my next visit to Indy, I was going to follow my heart and hit up Maria's Pizza, which has been putting out Midwestern bar pies for more than 50 years. More than 6 months later, I returned to Indianapolis on Saturday to watch what turned out to be a crappy Bulls team losing to a crappier Pacers team. Much more important than the game that inspired the trip was my tour of some of Indy's classic eateries.
After quenching my thirst with some root beer at Mug N Bun (coincidentally just reviewed on AHT by Nick Solares), I set out to eat. In between stops at an 80-year-old tavern for smashed burgers and a 100-year-old deli with the best rye bread east of Langer's, I headed to Fountain Square, where I encountered what is surely one of the best pizzerias in Indianapolis.
One look at the Maria's menu months ago left me with no doubt as to my order. The Sauerkraut Special, which comes with sausage, bacon, onion and, of course, kraut, is one of eight specialty pies at Maria's. There's also a build your own option, but for some reason sauerkraut is not listed among the ingredients. This was my first sauerkraut pie since I visited Red's Savoy in St. Paul, Minnesota over a year ago (review here). And while Maria's was not quite as good as Red's, it is a pie I would happily welcome into my regular rotation.
The crust at Maria's had is flakier and more flavorful than is typical for the style, which I suspect is due at least in part to some butter in the dough. It was not as good as Pat's (reviewed here), home of my favorite tavern style pizza, but it was very good. The sauce was heavily seasoned and a little sweet, which is common for this style of pizza. It's the kind of sauce that, eaten on a plain pie, might be a bit much. But when included in a well-executed pizza with a good mix of toppings, the sauce adds just the right amount of sweet tang.
The four toppings in the pie worked together seamlessly. The house made sausage was surprisingly light in color. and softer than normal, reminding me of a bratwurst was a healthy dose of seasoning. I noticed a fair amount of thyme, which was fine, but there was no fennel at all. The bacon, which often overpowers pizza, added a smoky porkiness to the pizza, but was applied sparingly enough to to complement rather than dominate. Bringing everything together was the named star of the pizza, the sauerkraut. This grossly underutilized pizza topping provided a zestiness that demanded I continue eating well after I was full.
If you happen to make it to Maria's, either before or after you eat, a trip across the street to the Fountain Square Theater Building is a required stop. There, you can experience the thrill of duckpin bowling, a version of the "sport" popular in pockets of the northeast and, for reasons that are not at all clear to me, Indianapolis.