BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
There are deep (not to be confused with deep dish) divides in the pizza lovers’ world. Some people love the rich-as-a-slice-of-cake Chicago-style pizza; others prefer the Midwestern version—what some call the “Hoosier Pie”—thick on dough and heavy on cheese with a sweet tomato sauce.
And then there is New York pizza—hand-tossed, thin, chewy crust blistered in a hot, hot oven; good mozzarella cheese; light on the sauce. New York-style pizza is probably closest to what you find in Italy, except in New York they make them bigger and sell them by the slice as well as by the pie.
Max’s Place, on the downtown Square, serves New York-style pizza, and as transplanted New Yorkers informally surveyed attest, it is pretty darn close to the real thing. Although Max’s doesn’t typically serve pizza by the slice (except at lunch when a slice and a house salad will set you back $5.99 and be ready super quick), their pies practically have a Brooklyn accent.
Once upon a time, Max’s Place was a pizza joint (named for the then-owners’ Rottweiler, who used to roam the premises) on Fairfax Road out near Monroe Lake. Travers Marks, the current longtime co-owner, was a young dad whose daughter, then five, was crazy about Max’s pizza. The Marks family lived in Brown County. That was a long drive for pizza.
So Marks did what any devoted dad would do. He bought the business and moved to Bloomington. Max’s Place, from its days on West 7th Street to its current location on the north side of the downtown Square, has been the home of seriously good New York-style pizza (and a haven for local musicians) ever since. (Marks now co-owns it with developer Paul Pruitt.)
Max’s pizzas come with all the usual toppings—pepperoni, sausage, and veggies galore—but Marks says the number one combination pie is “The Crossroads”—a vegetarian pizza with red sauce, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta cheese, roasted garlic, and pine nuts. Another favorite is the “Burn Your House Down,” named after a calzone Marks made for one of his best friends, who took it home, ate it, and fell into a satisfied sleep, during which his house burned down. The namesake pizza has chicken breast, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, and parmesan, asiago, and ricotta cheeses.
Of course, pizza is not all that’s on offer at Max’s. The salads are lovely—full of fresh, crispy ingredients (including local, organic produce in the summer) and topped with house-made dressings. Calzones and paninis are savory treats and the sandwiches are all on house-made bread. Try the sloppy Joe made with local buffalo—a “Buffa Joe,” naturally—and the portabella sandwich, with spinach, red onion, goat cheese, and sun-dried-tomato vinaigrette. Quesadillas are made crisp and cheesy on the pizza stone.
Max’s serves lunch and dinner and has an eclectic schedule of local musicians (check their website for dates and times). With the soon-to-be-finished large upstairs room, Max’s will be able to host private events, like graduation parties and rehearsal dinners, for up to 100 people. And while the TV in the bar shows Hoosiers, Colts, and Pacers games, Marks is quick to point out that “We are not a sports bar. We just happen to like the Hoosiers, Colts, and Pacers.” What Max’s is, is a pizza place, and that’s why you should go.