It was a typical Friday night, with the usual number of after-work gatherings and an increasing number of crowds of teens wandering about at Market Street in Town Center. We invited another couple to join us for dinner, as Pizza By Marco is one of few local pizzerias to offer a gluten free crust. Since neither of them can have gluten for different reasons, we wanted their take on the offerings as experienced gluten free diners. After the four of us had reviewed the menu and discussed our options, one of us went up to the counter to place our order for four different pizzas and two large salads to split between us.
As we sat at our table enjoying our wine and several minutes after placing our order, the cashier came to our table to let us know they were out of gluten free crusts; she explained that the ingredients for making the gluten free crust had not been ordered for delivery on the weekend truck which arrives on Thursday afternoon(s). She then offered a whole wheat crust as a substitution; Bless her heart, she was very young and obviously unaware of the requirements of gluten free dieting. Our guest smiled and explained that simply wouldn't work. Then the girl asked if we wanted someone to go across the way to HEB and get some gluten free crusts? We weren't sure why she was asking us our permission, but said, sure, if they could that would be fine. Apparently wasn't the answer she was hoping for, because she became flustered and tried to convey that she'd have to ask someone because she couldn't just do that before turning and then shouting, "Mom?!?" over her shoulder. At least, it sounded like 'mom,' as she disappeared towards the back of the kitchen. Regardless, a few minutes later, she returned (with cash in hand) and explained they could take are of it and then asked if we wanted our salads before our pizzas or with them, and if we would like our pizzas all at the same time, or if we wanted to wait until our guests' pizzas could be made with the yet-to-be retrieved gluten free crusts. We let her know we'd like all like our salads, but we would wait and have all of the pizzas when they could come out at simultaneously.
About twenty minutes later, the cashier returned with the gluten free crusts just prior to another girl delivering our salads to us, sans silverware. When we asked for some, she pointed in the general direction of the soda fountain in the back and said something to the effect of, 'they're back there.' Yes, Pizza By Marco is an order at the counter, have your food brought to you establishment without a wait staff, but perhaps a little more effort on the part of the employees would be alright, wouldn't it? Maybe when delivering the food, a simple 'do you need anything else?' followed by a pause at the table to answer any resulting inquiries could be managed. Just a thought. But I digress...
We split a large Caesar Salad ($4.99), our go-to salad. The lettuce was crisp, the croutons plentiful, and the dressing ample & creamy - yet it was missing that special 'zing' that usually comes from the garlic and/or anchovies - resulting in a flat taste. Our guests split the the Greek Salad ($6.99), and they said pretty much the same thing about their salad - all the veggies were fresh and crisp, but the dressing itself was also missing something, maybe it was missing some garlic or the traditional Dijon mustard. Regardless, none of us had much time to properly eat and critique our salads as our pizzas were delivered post haste - barely two minutes after the salads, in fact.
We didn't want the pizzas to get cold, and having to pause for pictures before we can dig in already takes a few minutes, so the four of us all but abandoned our salads for the duration of the meal. When the pizzas arrived, they were all very appealing to the eye, were hot and smelled wonderful. The thin crust at Pizza by Marco is thin - and by that, I mean, extremely thin, which should easily satisfy anyone who does not like a thick crust. The problem with their thin crust is that it was under done, rendering it nearly impossible to pick up a slice and eat it without the toppings falling off. You either end up needing a fork, or you could fold it over New York style - even though far smaller than a stereotypical "Big Apple" pie.
He Said - I had the Special ($14.99, 10") which comes with red sauce, cheese, Italian sausage, beef, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, onions, Roma tomatoes, black & green olives, green bell pepper, and mushrooms, though I substituted in chicken for the mushrooms. The Special is Marco's version of a "super supreme, or deluxe" but without a solid foundation, even the finest structures can fail, and I found myself eating several of the toppings off my plate with a fork. Still and all, those toppings were fresh and tasty. the sauce could have used a little more zest to it, and maybe some more seasoning, like oregano or garlic.
She Said - I tried to go as basic as possible, in order to get a good taste of the crust. I had a Margarita ($9.99, 10") which included only the red sauce, cheese, Parmesan, Roma tomatoes and fresh basil. He wasn't kidding when he said the crust was thin - when I tried to pick up my first slice, a full two-thirds of it simply folded under, allowing the diced tomatoes and chopped basil to slide off and onto my plate. Even with so little topping, the crust just couldn't hold up. By the time I got to my second slice, the juices of the fresh tomatoes had all but soaked through the majority of the pizza creating a soggy mess. I think a little less sauce, and ensuring the tomatoes had been rendered of their seeds leaving only the fleshier parts and skins would have gone a long way in preserving more of the crust. It was wafer-thin, reminding me of Matzo crackers I'd had as a child. Because the crust all but disappeared beneath the tomatoes and sauce, I didn't really get a good reading on the flavor of it. In retrospect I suppose that means it was relatively unremarkable. As for our guests...
He Said - He also ordered the Special ($14.99, 10"), on the gluten free crust, which he did enjoy, commenting his pizza had the the right amount of sauce and all the toppings had a freshness to them. But as it was not made with the house gluten free crust there wasn't much more to say specifically about Marco's pizza.
She Said - She also enjoyed her gluten free Augustus ($11.99, 10") style pizza, which was topped with an olive oil glaze over cheese, fresh garlic, fresh spinach, marinated sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese and oregano, but wished it had more sauce. Again it was not made with a Pizza by Marco gluten free crust which was the main point of having ordered it.
Even before I added the chicken, the amount of toppings on a Special pizza can require a longer cooking time; but I suspect that none of our pizzas actually received enough time in the oven. Even our guest's pizzas with the HEB gluten free crust arrived in an undercooked state. This could have easily been due to the kitchen knowing that we had been waiting for quite some time and wanted to get our pizzas to the table as quickly as possible. While we can appreciate the effort, a few more minutes in the oven would have been acceptable, preferred even in this case. On the plus side, regardless of the mix-up with the gluten free crusts, our friends were pleased to learn there wasn't an up-charge for gluten free crusts. It should be mentioned, however, that ordinarily the gluten free option is only available in a 10" pizza, as that is the standard size Pizza by Marco offers on their house crust.
Those of you who have been with us for a while know that we've been on a continuing quest for the perfect pizza in The Woodlands. After our most recent visit to Pizza By Marco at Market Street, it would appear, for now anyway, that Crust Pizza is still the reigning champion.
They say the third time's the charm, and if there's any truth to that, then we'll need to give Pizza By Marco at least one more try in the near future. Have you been to Pizza by Marco in The Woodlands? We'd love to hear what you think about their pizza.