Friday, January 7, 2011

Sometimes You Need To Bastardize The Homogeneity

Since I started writing this blog two years ago, I have stopped in occasionally to visit a childhood favorite of mine, Marie's Pizza and Chicken. This Wadsworth-based restaurant established itself on the south side of town where it's most major accomplishment was to win the Akron Beacon Journal's Best Pizza Award in 1976. From that point until the late 2000's when the new location opened up just north of I-76, the focus has been on what made the restaurant such a maven for locals: great pizza and simple, but delicious Italian classics.

When walking into the new building, one familiar with the previous location could immediately recognize that the new space tripled (and that's without the extra banquet room space) the amount of seating. In addition to starting out with a completely new space for the restaurant, the owner also decided to expand the menu, presumably in an effort to compete on a more level playing field with the likes of Applebee's just down the street, which never seems to have a shortage of patrons on the weekends.

Smartly, the dishes that made Marie's such a go to spot in the first place remained on the menu. Not-so-smartly, the expanded menu sought to include dishes that were well outside of their comfort zone, such as teriyaki-flavored dishes and sandwich wraps. When the new location opened several years ago, the place would be literally mobbed for lunch and dinner and in fact, I waited about six weeks before even attempting to try and get in. Since then, I have written about them three times, two of which were positive and the last, well, not entirely glowing.

I decided to include a fourth review not because I am a glutton for punishment, but because a) they have a newly printed and bound menu and b) I think I am at the point where I can conclusively recommend Marie's for only a handful of items on the menu, sadly most of the ones that made the original menu at their first location such a success.

When I sat down today, my server handed me the now tome-like menu. While not quite as bad as say, The Cheesecake Factory, it was certainly nowhere near the brevity of their first menu:

Marie's Menu Page 1
Marie's Menu Page 2
Marie's Menu Page 3
Marie's Menu Page 4
Marie's Menu Page 5
Marie's Menu Page 6
Marie's Menu Page 7
Marie's Menu Page 8
Marie's Menu Page 9
Marie's Menu Page 10
As I looked through the menu, I was actually filled with a bit of sadness. Besides the spelling mistakes I noticed, the menu spoke of the homogeneity of today's modern dining out experience. This menu had the same look and feel of almost every national chain restaurant; instead of standing out and counting on its individuality, the new menu instead emphasized the vast blandness of conformity. So sad.

While I have more or less stuck to the tried and true menu items from my youth, today I was feeling in neither a pizza nor pasta kind of mood. Since my last sandwich selection wasn't particularly good, I decided to try one of their newer additions, the Tuscan Wrap. While the sandwich came with potato chips by default, for an additional upcharge, I could add fried-from-frozen French Fries and a side such as coleslaw, applesauce, or cottage cheese. I chose the coleslaw, which came out first:

Food-service Coleslaw
Essentially food service coleslaw (which, gentle reader, means that the kitchen simply portions each serving from the prepared and delivered container that someone like Sysco provides), this side was about as remarkable as every other version you could get at a national chain restaurant. Which is to say, completely unremarkable.

Things perked up slightly after our table received the complimentary garlic bread sticks and warm marinara dipping sauce:

Garlic Breadsticks and Marinara
Since I've described the bread sticks and sauce in a previous entry, I won't do it again here. Sadly, this was the high point of the meal for me.

After a little bit longer, our lunch plates arrived. Here was a shot of my Tuscan Wrap with French Fries:

Tuscan Chicken Wrap Platter
Here was a close-up shot of the filling in today's wrap:

Tuscan Chicken Wrap
The Tuscan Wrap was a sun-dried tomato basil wrap containing grilled chicken, onions, green peppers, melted cheese and dried Italian herbs, I'm guessing oregano. While the ingredients in the wrap were definitely hot, my first taste of the wrap left me wondering if they had opened up an Italian Taco Bell in the kitchen as the flavors and textures reminded me of the chicken burrito I can get for $1.39 at the fast food giant. With how uniformly cut the chicken chunks appeared inside the wrap, it didn't take a stretch of the imagination to realize that the chicken had already been cooked and chopped and simply re-warmed for service.

Fortunately, the French Fries were the saving grace of this plate of food:

French Fries
While they were fried-from-frozen (as confirmed by our server), at least they were fried properly, seasoned well, and were nice and fluffy on the inside. I ended up eating less than half of my wrap and about half of my fries before throwing in the towel and calling it quits.

Having eaten Marie's pizza about a week prior to this lunch, I do have to say that the pizza still captures a special place in my heart. However, should their pizza and pasta start to decline, even just a little, I would be entirely willing to write this once adored pantheon of carb-laden goodness off as a casualty of conformity.

As today's visit to Marie's was a celebratory one (my aunt's birthday was the day prior), we returned to my grandmother's condo to finish off the lunch with a small cake from Ann's Pastry located in downtown Wadsworth:

Small Cake from Ann's Pastry
After expressing my desire to have a small cake (it was just four of us) that had REAL buttercream frosting and not the seemingly de facto standard of vegetable shortening sweetened with sugar, my mother managed to track down exactly what she needed at Ann's. While the cake had thoughtfully come adorned with just a single red rose, my mother decided to transform the cake into the poster child for breast cancer awareness by covering every available square inch on top of the cake with pink candles.

After singing Happy Birthday with some very, ahem, interesting clapping by my aunt (whom I promised I would not post the footage I captured on my camera), I set about slicing up four servings of the cake:

Yellow Cake with Buttercream Frosting
The good news was that this yellow cake was both tasty and moist. The bad news was that the frosting, although a buttercream, suffered from way too much sweetness; to the point where I had to seek out a glass of water to help tame it down a bit. I haven't had the opportunity to give a range of Ann's Pastry Shop products a try yet for the blog, so I don't want to condemn the entire shop just because the frosting today was over the top in sugar content. They've been around quite a long time (more than twenty years), so they must be doing something correct. I'll have to give them a more formal review at some point in the near future.

For those interested in checking out this quaint little shop, it can be found at 121 High Street, Wadsworth, OH 44281 and can be reached at 330-335-7441.

Ann's Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon

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