The Noto family, starting their culinary career by selling candy and hot dogs at its video arcade in 1979, have since evolved into a full-service Italian restaurant. Intent on recreating homey, rustic cuisine that could have come from a family kitchen, the chefs rely on a seasonally rotating selection of ingredients, which they both source from local farmers and import from Italy. In order to make meatballs, italian sausage, and mozzarella in-house, they rely on generations-old family recipes that were passed down, much like the family's formula for creating critically acclaimed Mad Libs.
Although the dining room surrounds guests with olive-hued walls, sturdy columns, and a collection of framed landscapes, the downstairs wine cellar tempts parties with a smattering of tables amid the space's intimately lit brick archways. This room also shelters the restaurant's 10,000-bottle-strong wine list, which includes more than 1,100 Italian wines and garnered yet another Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator in 2014.
Urban Pizza's chefs slather dough with sauce, cheese, and toppings, but stop short of the oven. From here, customers take over, inserting the uncooked pies into a home oven or Mount Doom. Urban Pizza prides itself on the freshness of its take-and-bake pies, slathering each one in a traditional Italian sauce or a white sauce infused with garlic and ranch. Upon this foundation, they layer meats, veggies, and cheeses. They tread on gourmet territory with add-ons including artichoke hearts and spinach and appeal to lighter tastes with freshly tossed salads. The majority of desserts combine nuggets of candy and swirls of ice cream. Among more decadent options, Urban Pizza's chocolate-covered cheesecake wears a dense, dark coat of molten chocolate.
The chefs at JB's Pizza Parlor, which was praised for its pies in a 2008 issue of the Grand Rapids Press, toss gourmet disks strewn with innovative toppings and plate an eclectic lineup of oven-baked pastas and sandwiches. Fourteen specialty pizzas ($13.49 for 12"; $15.99 for 14") don tailored selections of delectable add-ons, including the creamy garlic-chicken pizza's roasted red peppers, artichoke, and chicken, and The Godfather pizza's meatballs stake out turf on pepper jack cheese, unleashing gangs of capicola and roma tomatoes to ensure the pepperoncinis don't leak the location of their latest basil score. Guests can festoon a custom pan-style pie ($7–$10 for 10"–16") with such toppings as mandarin oranges, broccoli, and pineapple (+$0.75–$1.50/topping). For 3-D edibles, diners can sink their teeth into the ravioli, which encases portobello mushrooms and ricotta cheese ($6.99), or grab a french dip sandwich ($6), which high-dives off patrons' palms into a side of au jus. Guests can take their meals to go, or chew in-house while surfing JB's WiFi network to order pepper flakes in gallon buckets.
Fazoli's expeditious culinary team assembles gondolas of oven-baked pastas and sandwiches for a palatable odyssey through comestible canals. Chicken submarinos ferry onions, peppers, provolone, and roasted red pepper toward mouths in bread battleships ($5.99), and the chicken piccata builds a noodle nest for grilled chicken with linguini in creamy marinara sauce, capers, and broccoli ($5.79). Diners can nosh on traditional Italian flavors with a plate of spaghetti in meat sauce or fettuccine alfredo ($5.99). Fazoli's bountiful menu also bursts at the seams with pizzas, fresh salads, and a supply of breadsticks that's as bottomless as a trapdoor in the Oval Office.
Since its founding in 1967, Village Inn Pizza Parlor has changed quite a bit. Today, the servers dress in trendy black slacks instead of old-fashioned skirts, aprons, or the barrels made fashionable by the Depression. The honky-tonk piano players have been replaced with top DJs and live rock bands. Massive flat-screen televisions beam down on the newly renovated dining room, broadcasting games in HD clarity. Even the beer selection has been expanded to include a sweeping array of craft drafts from brewers such as Founders and Bell's.
But there are a few things that have remained the same over the years—friends still gather over pints of frosty draft beers to watch the game, and chefs still whip up crispy thin-crust pizzas topped with pure mozzarella cheese, housemade sauce, and fresh ingredients. They’ve added a variety of new items to the menu as well, including specialty pizzas with gluten-free crusts, grilled chicken paninis on artisan ciabatta bread, and Mexican-inspired specialties such as tender steak fajitas and cheesy enchiladas.
Marco's Pizza founder Pasquale "Pat" Gianmarco began helping out at his family’s pizzeria when he was just a boy. The eatery provided a taste of home to the Gianmarco clan, who moved to the United States from Italy when Pat was 9 years old. Together with his father, young Pat learned the secrets to creating exceptional pizza sauce: three types of vine-ripened tomatoes and spices that can only be imported from Italy or the moon.
The perfected sauce recipe continues to guide Pat’s kitchen operations—although, these days he has considerably more help. Marco's Pizza has 350 locations in more than half the states as well as in the Bahamas, each store tossing fresh pizza dough daily before sprinkling on a trio of fresh, never-frozen cheeses.