GUILDERLAND — Some of the best things come in unassuming packages. Take Marisa’s Pizza & Pasta restaurant, in a modest strip mall on New Karner Road. It’s more than a pizza joint.
My niece Ann Marie gave me the tip for this one, and met me there for a wonderful meal. Like the rest of the family, she knows good food.
Step into the small pizza parlor and admire the variety of thin-crust pizzas behind glass, next to the pile of unfilled cannoli shells. They all look amazing.
Now turn left and head into the other room. There’s the bar area. It’s simply decorated, with a brick wall opposite a long, wood-topped bar, and an arched entrance opening to the dining area with neutral, clean decor. The focus is on the food, as it should be.
For those times you want pizza, Marisa’s skinny, crackling crust and flavorful toppings will more than satisfy. Try one of their specialties, like the Marco Polo, with plum tomatoes, kalamata olives, fresh basil, garlic and olive oil (personal $14, large $22, extra large $24) or create your own ($10, $14, $16, toppings extra).
You can get an Italian mix ($8) or hot eggplant, meatball or chicken ($8) sub. Try their stromboli, sausage rolls, spinach and broccoli rolls ($8 each), or a calzone ($7). Their salads, with careful attention to ingredients, are worth a second look.
I started with arancini ($4), which at Marisa’s is one large rice ball and a dish of homemade marinara. Filled with white rice, ground beef and a bit of melted cheese, it was different than what I’ve seen before, a piece of meat or seafood buried in rice, then breaded and fried.
The breading was everything you’d want in fried food; it took on a life of its own and had crispness, flavor from the seasoned bread crumbs and, not incidentally, from the oil. It was thick without being heavy. There was not one extra molecule of fat on it, it was so perfectly cooked.
The marinara sauce, a bit pulpy and tangy, was so tasty that I could eat it with a spoon.
Ann Marie’s meal came with a salad and she liked it very much. It was an attractive mix of fluffy greens, red onion, croutons, olives, grape tomatoes and pickled pepperoncini. “The croutons have some flavor to them, and I like how the onion is thin.” she said, and added that the balsamic dressing was nice and smooth, with a hint of mustard.
Next came a starter of butternut squash ravioli, made of silky smooth fresh pasta in a creamy sauce that was “not Alfredo creamy,” Ann Marie decided. It was lighter. “This is delicious,” she added.
“It has just the right amount of filling,” said Ann Marie. You don’t think about proportions of a dish unless they are not right.
We both thought the nutmeg, an essential part of the dish, was a bit overdone. Lovely, though, and it wouldn’t keep me from ordering it again.
Their Marisa’s special pizza ($14) was marvelous. “Wow, look at that crust,” I said to Ann Marie as I lifted a slice from the pan. The slice stood up on its own, the bottom browned and crisped enough to give it structural integrity without being heavy. I’m not the only one impressed — online review platforms like Trip Advisor feature many photos of the bottom of Marisa’s pizza.
I liked the fresh basil and generous application sauce, but would have liked a bit more cheese. That made the pizza all about the crust, but Marisa’s crust was up to it. It was also thin at the edge, so even though there wasn’t a lot of topping, it wasn’t too bready.
Marisa’s calls it a personal pizza, but the size would be perfect for two with a salad. Or one very hungry person.
“This is very good,” Ann Marie said after a few bites of her lasagna ($18) and some quiet contemplation. “The ground beef is nicely seasoned, and it’s not a cheese bomb,” as lasagna can sometimes be. I saw a layer of fluffy ricotta between sheets of pasta.
“There’s a lot of meat in there,” she added. “It’s ground up, but mixed in uniformly. It’s easy to get a bite of everything.”
“The way it is cooked, there’s a different texture at the edges,” she continued. Indeed, I know people who love the crunchy edges. Ann Marie liked the texture of the sauce, called it tangy and said it had a lot of flavor.
I finished two slices of pizza and wasn’t stuffed. Marisa’s pizza pie is not bulky.
The tab for the food and one soda came to $50 before tax and tip. Service was snappy, although we didn’t feel rushed.
The best thing about this job is letting people know about great restaurants they may not be familiar with. Here’s one.
Go to Marisa’s, and enjoy.
WHERE: 5 New Karner Road, Guilderland, 518-464-9900, www.marisasplacepizza.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday
HOW MUCH: $50 for food, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Visa, Mastercard, Discover. Reservations accepted. ADA compliant.