Maxwell's Pizza 

East Coast eats arrive in SLC

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No longer do I have to travel to Park City to enjoy one of the best East Coast-style pizzas around: Fat Kid Pizza at Maxwell’s in Kimball Junction and The Sidecar bar on Main Street. That’s because a new Maxwell’s East Coast Eatery has opened downtown in the historic Boston Building. The build-out on the new Maxwell’s must have cost a fortune. The first floor was essentially gutted, creating a huge, open space where modern flat-screen TVs sit in contrast to the historic landmark’s original brick and Beaux arts styling. The large restaurant space is broken up by raised, high-back booths, creating the illusion of separate dining rooms. Like Maxwell’s in the Newpark Hotel in Park City, this one is big. And loud. If noisy dining isn’t your thing, I recommend heading to Fresco, Martine or another restaurant with a more serene ambiance. This ain’t that. During a recent lunch, we were treated to a steady stream of Billy Joel circa 1980, Huey Lewis & the News, A Flock of Seagulls and others.

So, Maxwell’s is fun and informal. It’s not a place to ponder the cuisine; for that, you go to Forage. But, as I mentioned, for some of the best pizza you’ll ever get your mitts on, Maxwell’s is where you want to be. Owner Steve Maxwell hails from New Jersey and knows his way around a pizza oven. The thin-crust pizzas come with just the right amount of (not swimming in) sauce and cheese, and slices are perfect for folding in half, New York style. And yes, there’s a thin trickle of grease that runs the length of the fold, like there oughta be. They don’t come cheap, however. Cheese pizza by the slice is $3 ($3.50 for pepperoni) and an entire 20-inch pie—there’s only one size—is $16, plus $2 per extra topping and $5 if you want meatballs or eggplant on it. That brought the total for my pizza with thick slices of homemade meatballs to $21—but it was worth every penny.

Tragically, the same can’t be said of Maxwell’s “famous” cheesesteak. I give due credit for bringing Amoroso rolls in from Philadelphia, a must-have for any truly authentic Philly cheesesteak. However, this is a waste of a perfectly good Amoroso roll. First, the cheesesteaks are skimpy—especially for $10. Cheesesteaks at places like Pat’s and Jim’s in Philly are running about $8 these days, and those guys are much more generous with their meat. The sparse, thinly sliced chopped beef in my Maxwell’s cheesesteak was overcooked—crispy and very salty, to boot—and a real disappointment.

You’ll be happier with the pasta offerings. Along with house specialties such as lasagna and a very good rendition of spaghetti with white clam sauce ($16), you can also mix and match pasta and sauces, lining up your choice of spaghetti, fettuccini, gnocchi or ravioli with marinara, Alfredo, tomato-basil cream, brown butter-sage, pesto cream and Bolognese sauces. Pasta-plus-sauce pricing ranges from $10 to $17, and there’s an additional charge for add-ons like meatballs, grilled chicken, Italian sausage, sautéed shrimp, spinach, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, etc. I like that at Maxwell’s you can really have it your way; customize to your heart’s content.

Mushroom ravioli paired with brown butter-sage sauce ($17) is large, triangle-shaped homemade ravioli, and the sauce is subtle and delicious, strewn with an abundance of pine nuts. It cries out for a glass of Pinot Grigio alongside but, for now at least, the Salt Lake City Maxwell’s serves only beer, sodas, coffee and iced tea. Large, wine-cork size gnocchi is another winner, although I wasn’t crazy about the Bolognese sauce: very rustic with large chunks of carrot throughout. It’s really more of a tomato-meat sauce; traditional Bolognese incorporates little or no tomato and features milk or cream. It would be nice to have bread to help sop up sauce, but pasta dishes come strictly solo and unaccompanied.

A daily special of ground-pork risotto ($16) tasted fine, but the rice was soft and mushy, not discreet kernels of al dente rice as expected from risotto. Chicken Parmigiano is a mammoth boneless chicken breast coated in crispy breading and topped with mozzarella cheese, served with fettuccini and marinara sauce alongside—a very good choice, indeed.

Service at Maxwell’s can be trying. Granted, the restaurant is new and probably suffering growing pains. But, for example, when I asked a server about how they acquired their Amoroso rolls for cheesesteaks, he didn’t even know what I was talking about, even though they are clearly highlighted on the menu. I had to explain what an Amoroso roll is. Another rookie server at lunch was so skittish he made me nervous. And, a hostess with all the personality of a Boston Building brick, after seating us (but not greeting us), spent, literally, the duration of our meal hanging out with friends at the bar. That’s where she was when we departed, too busy socializing to spare us a “Thanks for coming in!” or “Enjoy your evening.” During my visits, I couldn’t detect any sign of a manager on duty, which probably accounts for the laissez-faire attitude toward service. Having said that, I did see one female server who really seemed to be on the ball. Too bad she wasn’t our server.

But, even sloppy service couldn’t destroy dessert. There’s a “cookizza” ($8) on the menu, which is a warm cookie “pizza”—chocolate chip or peanut butter—served with vanilla ice cream. What you really want, though, is the cannoli ($4). Fried, crispy tubes of pastry dough are stuffed with a sweet, custardy mascarpone and cream filling. Not everything at Maxwell’s is divine, but this was.

9 Exchange Place (350 South)

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