Veggie Girl: Pizza By Marco

By popular demand, I headed to Pizza By Marco last week to check out the legendary vegan pizzas. The little North Dallas chain (three locations) bills itself as Dallas' oldest true "pizzeria"--whatever that means...although keeping a restaurant open in Dallas since 1956 is saying something.

On weeknights, Marco's oldest location, tucked into a tiny storefront at the Preston-Royal shopping center, runs a busy, no-frills takeout business. It's popular with the college crowd--and with perfectly manicured Mylfs (that's mom's you'd like to...) in yoga pants and T-shirts. Pizza By Marco is what any pizza place should be: where you go if you're in a hurry or in the mood for comfort food or just too chilled-out to put on real clothes. The service is quick and friendly, and there's a distinct down-home, neighborhoody vibe.

None of that simplicity, however, prevents Pizza By Marco from offering vegan alternatives to the usual pizza toppings: soy mozzarella, sausage, pepperoni and hamburger. (In light of my past vegan cheese adventures , I inquired which kind: Follow Your Heart, which doesn't have casein.) There's even a heart-healthy whole wheat crust, but the girls on staff when we went confirmed that the normal crust is egg- and dairy-free. Yeast-Kingdom Fungi-is fair game, in my book. I couldn't live without baguettes and mushrooms.

Mushrooms. That was the whole problem. I love mushrooms of all kinds, from the slimiest oyster to the tiniest chanterelle--except that I harbor no love for a canned mushroom. Whoever canned the first mushroom belongs in the same high-security prison cell as those two mirthless German guys who stripped coffee of its raison d'être and created decaf. Another thing about me: I'm not much of a cheese hound. In fact, my boyfriend loves to recount embarrassing stories about the massive Cheese Piles I'd leave on my plate after systematically stripping burritos and pizza of the stuff in my pre-vegan days--so my usual pizza order is "no cheese, all the veggies."

(And yes, it is fun to date me. It is like starring in the movie When Harry Met Sally.)

To make things easy, I ordered the Veggie pizza from Marco's main menu, because it had onions (love 'em), black and green olives (meh), green peppers and mushrooms (hooray!). I was starving, which usually bodes well for my opinion of a restaurant. But even my hunger couldn't temper my disappointment when what arrived was not a veggie pizza, but a canned veggie pizza. Pre-sliced, overly briny olives dominated; the canned mushrooms had the same sterile, tinny taste; the green peppers and onions were nearly impossible to locate; the pizza sauce was overly sweet. The crust was good, but not sufficient to redeem the rest of the pizza.

Granted, if I'd designed my own pizza--I'm thinking Roma tomatoes, basil, spinach, red onions (hopefully fresh ones) and garlic--it might have been a lot better. But one of my companions ordered a couple of slices of "Meathead" (it's what it sounds like) that he said were wholly unremarkable, and my other companion pointed out that by having the Veggie on their main menu, Marco's is pitching it as one of their signature pizzas. So, quite honestly, it should be better. I've eaten my share of pizza in Italy, and I don't remember a single canned olive or--worse--canned mushroom.

After that disappointing experience, in which the soy cheese offering seemed the restaurant's only real asset, I did a little digging. Here's a surprise: As far back as 2002, a string of Pizza Hut franchises in Fort Wayne, Indiana, started offering Galaxy soy cheese! No evidence that the Dallas stores have followed through, but that's evidence that anyone can do the soy cheese thing. Happily, though, I found a promising possibility in the San Francisco-based Extreme Pizza (at Preston Center), which offers soy cheese as well as some significantly weirder stuff, like hummus or black beans in lieu of pizza sauce.

In the end, I won't rule out Pizza By Marco; if I'd ordered more carefully, I might have liked it a lot better. But I can't say I won't be trying out Extreme Pizza first...

Pizza By Marco
10720 Preston, Suite 1014 (and other locations in North Dallas)
Pizza By Marco on Urbanspoon

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