According to Emily Post, napkins may only be used to cover laps, clean up spills, or signal the waiter via semaphore that your table has hit an iceberg. Master restaurant etiquette over an Italian meal with today's Groupon: for $10, you get $20 worth of pizza and trattoria fare at Maximillian’s Pizza Kitchen in Cary.
Chefs at Maximillian’s Pizza Kitchen create everything on the menu in-house, tossing fresh pizzas and layering flavors in classic Italian entrees. The 40-year-old ovens imported from Brooklyn tenderly char hand-tossed crusts, blowing fiery kisses at artichokes, feta, chicken sausage, and lemon-oregano olive oil on the Zorba ($11.95) or chili-cumin skirt steak, jalapeño pesto, corn, poblano, and cilantro on the El Kabong ($12.95). Thin crust individual pizzas such as the elegant Margherita ($11.95) laze on the grill to develop appetizing tan lines, and the shrimp-basil angel hair buries pan-seared shellfish into warm angel-hair pasta camouflaged with cream and pesto ($15.95). Starch artisans prepare spinach for fresh linguine, chop mushrooms for the marsala pan sauce, and remove satin ribbons tied to tenderloin medallions in the scallopini porcini ($16.95).
Maximillian’s Pizza Kitchen’s ambiance is as inventive as its menu, featuring large tinted windows, lofty ceilings, and dark wooden paneling, with low lighting that illuminates the cheery wall decorations and manuscripts written on the backs of menus in invisible ink.
Maximillian's Grill & Wine Bar
Judging by his daring attitude toward fusion cuisine, head chef Michael Schiffer probably tried to fry the rule book before throwing it out the window. He founded Maximillian's Grill & Wine Bar in 1991 with humble aspirations: it would be a 32-seat pizza restaurant where guests could enjoy quiet meals. In four months, however, he had amassed magazine awards and a clientele that would line up outside the restaurant for an hour before he opened the doors. They were there, waiting patiently, to see what delicious fusion food would sail out of the kitchen that night—Michael hand wrote a new menu every day and often invented new dishes on the spot, fusing Italian flavors with creole and Asian influences.
Unfortunately, in 1998, a fire closed Max’s for good. Though he and his wife Gayle later opened a gourmet deli, it wasn’t until 2001 that they opened Max’s once again, this time in a roomier location with high ceilings, soft light, and tinted windows. The new joint even has a wine bar in the back separated from the dining room by a partition.
In the kitchen, Michael devises fresh takes on fusion cuisine while holding onto many of the dishes that made Max’s famous, classics as the grilled caesar salad—prepped by grilling the actual lettuce—and the peppercorn-encrusted Voodoo tuna. Michael has also archived his old menus on the restaurant's webpage, viewing them as a timeline for his culinary evolution and a way to remember how to spell "bouillabaisse."