Each week, Patch picks a great restaurant either in town or nearby that is worth checking out. Here's this week's choice:
Address: 531 Route 202 North, Raritan
Overview: Maria's Pizza is very new, having only been opened a few months ago by Raritan resident Sam Abozid, who in his 32 years in the restaurant business has previously had several other branches of the restaurant in Middlesex, New Brunswick and another area of Raritan. Named after Abozid's wife, the restaurant is small, with only a few tables, but a very large selection of pizzas, pastas and other food choices.
Abozid said he has sold his other locations, but he has fond memories of the other towns.
"A lot of people would go to a park in Middlesex and then come across the street to me, and I had pictures of the kids eating the pizza," he said with a smile. "Middlesex gave me a certificate to honor the business."
Décor: The décor of the restaurant is very sparse, with only a few items on the walls and a television in the corner. Abozid said the previous owner of the space had a pizzeria as well, so there were not many changes that needed to be made when he took over.
"It only took me two months to clean this place up," he said.
The Drinks: The restaurant has the basics in terms of sodas, iced teas and water, which guests can pick up on their own in the cooler near the door.
Entrees: I decided that since we were heading to an actual pizza place, it would only be right to have pizza for dinner. So I was a little disappointed to see that there was only one pizza out in the window of the counter, with slices available. Abozid said that happened because it was the end of the day and closing time, but he said he could make a few slices, including his baked ziti pizza. I opted for a slice of the plain pizza [maybe boring, but you can tell a lot from the plain slice] and a slice of mushroom pizza.
The plain pizza was very good, warm, covered in the melted mozzarella. I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the mushroom pizza. The mushrooms themselves were not baked into the pizza, they appeared to have just been thrown on top of the slice after it was heated, and they tasted like canned mushrooms instead of fresh. It was good, but it really just tasted like a piece of plain pizza with mushrooms thrown on top.
My dining partner opted for the baked ziti, which came with a side salad and a basket of bread. The dish was large, although I had trouble finding the cheese on it, and he commented that it appeared to be more like a penne vodka with the color of the sauce. The dish, he said, was tasty, although he couldn't tell whether it tasted more like baked ziti or penne vodka.
Still, the restaurant offers a plethora of dishes, a very large menu and lots of different options. Between salads, chicken, pasta dishes, burgers, wraps, subs and, of course, pizza, there is a lot to choose from—and everything is very reasonably priced, with individual slices costing $1.50 plus extra for toppings, and the baked ziti costing $11.50.
The most popular pizza, Abozid said, is his buffalo chicken one.
"It's a little spicy," he said.
And the barbecue chicken pizza does pretty well too.
"People are eating more protein, and this is a low fat option," he said.
"Of course the most old fashioned is the pepperoni," he added.
Abozid said he also offer a variety of family deals, each only $15.99, and which include an assortment of different meals, such as a large pizza and 12 wings; a large pizza, chicken fingers and french fries; or a combo platter of chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, wings and french fries. Those, he said, are offered because he understands that money is tight lately.
"A lot of people are having a tough time," he said. "I want to do something special for them, especially with the kids. Sometimes families are busy and have no income."
Desserts: The restaurant does not offer desserts, only entrees.
Service: As I was there on a Sunday evening, only three hours before closing, service was very quick because my dining partner and I were the only two there eating. My pizza was heated quickly and his pasta was prepared within about 10 minutes, with the salad and bread beating it out. For the most part, Abozid said, his business is take-out at this point.