MORRIS – Stepping into Maria’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in Morris for lunch one day, I immediately noticed something.
Maria’s has the charm of Italy without trying too hard. Tables arrangements had a cafe feel. The murals of famous locales blended into the decor. The place mats tell the history and geography of Italy.
And the hospitality was among the best I’ve experienced.
We were seated right away, with our server taking our beverage order. Since my colleague and I both had to get back to work, we ordered soft drinks and coffee, although Maria’s offers several red and white wines by the glass ($7) and the bottle.
Among the wines listed on the menu were Chianti, Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Lambrusco and Shiraz (red) and Pinot Grigo, Chardonnay, white Zinfandel, Riesling and Moscato (white), with a full wine list available on request.
Several things we also noticed right away about Maria’s: daily specials, light dining Monday through Thursday and gluten-free pizzas and pastas.
For an appetizer, we ordered char bites: seasoned bite-sized tenderloin served with homemade steak sauce for $10.95. My friend and I did spar back and forth between medium (friend) and rare (me) before agreeing on medium-rare.
Granted, this was a bit pricier than most of Maria’s appetizers (in the $5.95 to $6.95 range), except for the combination platter of breaded mushrooms and breaded cauliflower, onions rings and cheese sticks, which was $10.95, and the deep-fried calamari, also $10.95.
The tenderloin was delicious, cooked to order, well-seasoned, came out hot – so good, that we debated about ordering more appetizers (and tenderloin) and foregoing lunch. We also considered ordering pizza, since its range of crusts (extra thin to stuffed to extra thick) is sure to please everyone.
But because the tenderloin was that good, I ordered the sirloin steak sandwich for $8.95, which came served on a garlic French roll. To be healthy, I skipped the fries and cole slaw that came with the $11.95 deluxe option and ordered the salad bar for $3.99.
My friend ordered the Chicken Caesar wrap with extra-crispy fries and a cup of homemade chicken noodle soup. The soup was nice and hot, which is all my friend care about when it comes to soup. The wrap was delicious, saucy, but not so much that the wrap fell apart.
The steak on my sandwich was cooked a perfect medium rare, minimal fat and no gristle (which sometimes happens with steak sandwiches). I do think that roll could have used more garlic butter, but that’s my opinion.
The sandwich also came served with fries, although I didn’t order them. Our server said the cook often forgets and plates up the fries anyway, so this was a nice bonus and forget healthy.
The fries were hot and crispy, but not as crispy as my friend’s. Note to self, and anyone who orders fries at Maria’s: order them extra crispy.
The lunch menu also offered a variety of sandwiches, such as Maria’s burger, hoagie, grilled chicken and meatball, along with wraps, including a veggie and a Philly, most within the $7.97 to $8.95 range, depending if one ordered the sandwich only or the deluxe.
Maria’s also offers a full range of entrées at lunch, as well as a dinner menu.
Then, even though we were both full, we checked out the dessert menu and split a slice of cheesecake for $5.95, passing on the optional strawberries for another $1.
This was the price of most of the desserts (tiramisu, lemon sorbet and cannoli), with the carrot cake and chocolate fudge cake for slightly more: $6.50, as was the La Bomba (vanilla and chocolate gelato in a chocolate coating). Ice cream (vanilla and spumoni) was $3.50.
Since only one of us could take home the leftover cheesecake, I made the “sacrifice.”
• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at The Herald-News. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Maria’s Ristorante & Pizzeria
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
WHERE: 1591 N Division St., Morris
INFO: Call 815-942-3351 or visit mariasristorante.net.