I had a dealer who moved from downtown Chicago to the north side a couple of years ago and getting to their new location I sometimes go down W. Lawrence Ave. to get there. On a number of occasions I've passed a place with a sign on a wall above it that simply says, "Stop here! Marie's Pizza and Liquors." Well, of course pizza and liquors are a winning combination anywhere, but I've never seen a place that sold both. One evening before heading back out to my hotel, I decided to stop in to Marie's Pizza and Liquors and check the place out.
Marie's Pizza and Liquors dates back to 1940 when Greek immigrant Theodore Karavidas opened a small tavern and a package store - sort of a combination liquor store/convenience store in those days. Theodore came to the U.S. at the age of 16 and initially lived in New England. He eventually made it to Chicago where he married a young woman who gave birth to a child. When Theodore's wife was pregnant with her second child, she tripped in a hole and severely injured herself. She miscarried and then died of her injuries.
Distraught over losing his wife, Theodore sent a letter back to his home village in Greece explaining the tragedy and asked if they could send him a new wife. Well, I guess that's how things were done in those days because the village did send him a new bride. He drove to New York and met her on Ellis Island. They married there and came back to Chicago. Her name was Mary, but she is the Marie of the Italian restaurant owned by a Greek family.
Theodore and Mary raised four boys and a girl, all of whom worked in restaurants that Theodore ran prior to opening the tavern/package store. One of the sons, George, was serving pie and coffee to patrons before he was 10 years old. George eventually went off to serve in the army toward the end of World War II. When he was honorably discharged in 1948, he came back to Chicago and bought out Theodore with plans of expansion and a new direction for the tavern. In 1950, George put in a pizza oven and systematically knocked down walls of surrounding buildings to expand his place.
George and his wife Lillian had a son and a daughter. The son went off to law school and became an attorney. The daughter - Nadine - was a self-described "triple threat" of a singer/dancer/actor. She lived in Las Vegas until her father fell ill in 1999. She moved back to Chicago and took over when George died a year later at the age of 72. Nadine still runs Marie's today and her mother, now well into her 80's, helps out as the restaurant's secretary.
Marie's Pizza and Liquors is located in Chicago's Albany Park/Mayfair neighborhood. (see map) I was able to find parking on Lawrence Ave. across the street from Marie's. The liquor store and pizza parlor share the same front door with Marie's to the right and the liqour store to the left as you walk in.
Walking into Marie's was like taking a step back in time. A 35 year step back in time. The dining room, heavy on red vinyl trim and chairs, dark wood accents and a stained glass ceiling above the bar, looked a little kitschy. But it looked like one of those places that had recurring neighborhood clientele. I instantly fell in love with the decor.
The pizza is made right up front as you walk into the restaurant/lounge area. Since Marie's is on a corner, the pizza maker has two large windows that allows people walking by to get a good look at his craft.
I took a seat in a booth next to the bar and my server for the evening, Susie, came over to great me. I noticed that they had the Revolution Brewery's Anti-Hero IPA on tap and I ordered up one of those while I looked through the menu. (Since the liquor store is next door, if you're looking for a type of beer or wine they don't have in the restaurant, Marie's allows you to go next door and purchase something to bring over.)
Even though I was there for a pizza, I did take a tour through the menu to see that Marie's also offered a number of pasta entrees, Italian favorites such as veal or chicken parmigiana, a number of sandwiches, soups, salads, and an extensive list of appetizers such as toasted ravioli, chicken wings, fried zucchini and pizza bread.
I asked Susie how big their small pizza was and she was using her hands to show me the size. "I don't know, 10 inches, I guess," she said with not a lot of conviction in her voice and a lot of movement with her hands. I told her that I'd take one with sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. She got the order right in.
When Susie brought the pizza to me, it was served on a small tray covered with white paper. I also found that she was a little off in her size description. It was more of a 12" to 13" pizza, but cut into party cuts that I like so well. My hotel room had a refrigerator and microwave so I figured I could always take back what I didn't finish and have pizza for breakfast in the morning.
The crust was thin, but pliable. The cheese was caramelized across the top of the pizza. The first bite told me this was a great pizza. The sauce had sort of a sweet tomato taste to it. The sausage had a notable black pepper taste on the tongue. The mushrooms were fresh and earthy, and the pepperoni had that salty and spicy taste. This pizza definitely went very well with beer. And there were definitely pieces left over when I determined that I was full enough.
Quite actually, I thought the pizza tasted better after I let the remaining pieces sit and coagulate the taste sensations all together overnight in the refrigerator, then warming it up in the microwave. Not that it wasn't that good when I was having it at the restaurant - it was still an outstanding pizza. But Marie's pizza is one of those that you can be assured that it will taste as good - if not better - if you take it home and warm it up later. Susie's service was straight-forward, personable with a bit of humor, and efficient. I seriously liked the decor in the old place and you can't beat a pizza place that has a liquor store attached to it. Marie's is worth the stop if you want to step back in time, but experience one of the better thin crust pizzas in Chicago.