The theme music from The Godfather was playing not so subtly in the background as I dug into my veal Parmesan laden with marinara sauce and molten mozzarella, and the walls were adorned with black-and-white photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Statue of Liberty.
It's the kind of ambience I might expect from a touristy pizzeria in North Beach. But looking around the newly opened Marley G's Pizzeria, this is unmistakably my hometown of Alameda, where you'll find a much different clientele: young, gamer-type guys devouring stromboli and subs, retirees splitting eggplant Parms and salads, and high schoolers stopping in for slices to go.
Like North Beach, there's no shortage of pizzerias on Park Street — I can count at least five others. But if anyone could be a worthy competitor in Park Street's already-saturated pizza scene, it would be Mike Boyd, Dan Nichols, and Andie Bortner, who also are the owners of Scolari's Good Eats, the Alameda hotspot that has been featured on Check Please! Bay Area and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives — on the latter, Guy Fieri sampled Scolari's famous blueberry blue cheese bacon burger, and brought along East Bay icon E-40 to try the Nashville fried chicken sandwich.
Marley G's Pizzeria fills a different niche than Scolari's, though. The pizzeria, which is named after Boyd's twin daughter and son, Marley and Gordon, is more family-oriented than either of the two Scolari's locations, which have limited seating for those under 21. But at Marley G's, there's plenty of space for people of all ages to dine in at its old-school booth tables. "We love it when families come in and enjoy a meal together but more importantly, enjoy time as a family over a great meal in the backdrop," said Boyd.
The dishes you'll find at Marley G's are similar to what Boyd ate growing up in Booton, N.J., where pizza, Parms, and stromboli were a key part of his diet. Nostalgia for those dishes, Boyd said, inspired him to open Marley G's Pizzeria when he heard that the location formerly occupied by Bowzer's Pizza was available. "It was a chance for me to serve food as a cure for my homesickness," Boyd told the Express via email. "It's represented in all dishes, from the salads to the pizzas." While there's some menu crossover between Scolari's and Marley G's, East Coast Italian-American dishes are at the heart of the menu at Marley G's.
I started with the stromboli, one of the items that Scolari's became famous for when it first opened but has since disappeared from the permanent menu. The classic version consisted of pizza dough wrapped around a filling of ham, salami, pepperoni, and gooey mozzarella cheese, with marinara sauce for dipping. The dough was crisp, airy, and light — the ideal backdrop for the delightfully greasy meat and cheese filling inside, while the marinara added notes of sweetness and tang. The guatso stromboli, stuffed with meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella, was equally good on its own, though the pesto sauce served on the side in place of the marinara made the stromboli a little too oily.
But the winner was the "whitey" stromboli, stuffed with goat cheese, spinach, olives, and red pepper flakes. The sharp yet creamy goat cheese, combined with the kick of red pepper and a touch of bitterness from the spinach, made for a complex yet satisfying combination of flavors, especially when dipped into the marinara sauce.
As for the pizza, I started with a fairly classic combo: the fennel sausage and peppers pie. What arrived atop the pizza looked more like slices of salami than the crumbled sausage I was expecting, and the fennel was undetectable. I appreciated that the onions and bell peppers on top were sauteéd beforehand, which brought out their sweetness and helped balance out the salty sausage. But the crust, while pleasantly crisp and chewy around the outer edges, was greasy and soggy in the middle.
I had to try the banana chicken curry pie, topped with curry sauce, mozzarella, slices of banana, shreds of chicken, red onion, and cilantro. It's become a common sight on the menu at Scolari's Good Eats at the Point, and is now a permanent fixture at Marley G's. Boyd said it's actually a popular pizza combination in Sweden, brought to Scolari's by a Lucky 13 bartender. "One of the bartenders from Lucky 13 brought in a few bananas one night and asked me to make him a banana curry pizza," Boyd explained. "I was appalled. A couple of weeks went by, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I threw something together. It just took off from there."
I liked the surprisingly assertive spice of the curry sauce, while the red onions added crunch, and the cilantro added bright freshness to the creamy mozzarella. Although the sweetness of the bananas was intriguing, the chewy texture of the sliced banana was slightly unsettling, though I could see how one might grow to like it. But the crust on this pizza was much improved, with crunchy edges throughout.
There's also a selection of Parms to choose from, served on a sandwich or a plate. I went with the veal Parm served plated, which came with garlic bread and a choice of pasta or salad. The generous portion of veal had a delicate thin, crisp breading that held up nicely to the tomato sauce and cheese, though the veal wasn't as tender as I expected. The garlic bread was satisfyingly crunchy, oily, and of course, garlicky. But what I enjoyed the most from the Parm plate, surprisingly, was the Jersey Girl salad I chose as a side, composed of arugula, radicchio, endive, red onion, fennel, lemon juice, olive oil, and shaved ricotta salata. The tart lemon juice brightened the entire salad, while the fennel and red onion added crunchy texture, and the ricotta salata added nutty, salty, and complex flavors.
For dessert, the pistachio mini cannoli was made with cannoli shells that tasted freshly fried and shattered with every bite, while the ricotta filling was creamy, smooth, and perfumed with vanilla. Generous amounts of crushed pistachios added rich floral notes.
Aside from the excellent stromboli and cannoli, Marley G's doesn't hit the same high notes as some of the signature dishes at Scolari's Good Eats, like the impeccable blueberry blue cheese burger. But for the right occasion — whether you've got kids in tow or just need to satisfy a craving for (relatively) straightforward East Coast Italian-American food — Marley G's just might be an offer you can't refuse.
Features: Lunch, dinner, beer/wine, patio/sidewalk dining, takeout, kid friendly, vegetarian friendly, reservations not accepted
Price Code: $$$