Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mario the Baker, Now Number One In North Miami

I've been living in North Miami too long. In 1956 the Italian restaurant that everybody raved about was Marcella's, a couple of blocks from here on the other side of West Dixie Highway. Marcella was a character but she made the best pizza and was famous for her garlic rolls as well as her spaghetti baked in a bowl with melted cheese on top. I was 14 and on nights my mom had to work late she'd give me a dollar for dinner. A small pizza or a bowl of sphagetti and garlic rolls was seventy-five cents, a 12 oz. bottle of ice cold pop was a dime, sales tax was 3%, and the waitress got the twelve cents change.

The city had a sizeable Italian population and everybody likes pizza. Soon Marcella had a small fleet of three wheel Vespa motor scooters (made in Italy, of course) zipping about town delivering pizza. She opened another location across town, and then one in Freeport in the Bahamas. An empire in the making! Then the IRS felt that there were some irregularities in her bookkeeping procedures and for awhile we were all afraid that the best pizza in town would soon be just a memory.

Marcella managed to weather the storm and remained in business for quite a few years, but a new building was going up on a vacant parcel down the street. When the sign went up everybody wondered at the sanity of anybody who'd dare challenge Marcella right there on her home turf. Some people liked Mario's food better, others insisted that it wasn't as good, but for several years we had the choice. Marcella was getting older, the fight with the government had taken its toll on her (no jail though) and it was the kind of business where Marcella WAS the business. It couldn't survive without her.

Now when I get the urge to smell like garlic the choice is Steve's Pizza over on U.S. 1, where slices are the specialty and there's about no room inside so you better hope for good weather since you'll be sitting outside, or else it's Mario the Baker. The decor is spartan with Formica tables and tile floors, not much of interest on the walls, but the waitresses are friendly and scurry about making sure that your food is hot when it arrives, and your drink is always full. They still shape the dough by hand, tossing it into the air, all out where you can see it.

I ordered spaghetti with meat sauce. There was plenty of ground beef in the sauce and the portion was so big that I took half of it, along with a few of the rolls, home with me. In the morning I had garlic rolls wth my coffee. The donuts would have to wait!


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