For 45 years, Janesville pizzeria has delighted city tastebuds

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Monday, November 28, 2011
— In the last 45 years, more than 1 million pizzas have gone out the door of the tiny brick building at 1503 Milton Ave.

The million—and counting—pizzas baked at Tony & Maria’s Italian Pizzeria are assembled in a narrow galley kitchen less than 25 feet long.

Owner Sam Pulizzi knows the dimensions because he paces its length every day, rolling the homemade dough and spreading the homemade sauce, plopping down homemade Italian sausage and topping it with just-ground mozzarella cheese—more than 150 pounds of cheese on the average night.

The pizzeria has become a Janesville institution. Josie and Sam Pulizzi have deliberately kept the menu small—pizza and cheese bread only—and offer no inside dining.

The Pulizzis opened the restaurant in 1966 in a former gas station that was then at the edge of town. The number of pizzas baked in the years since is a guess based on an average of 100 pizzas a day.

The restaurant has developed a loyal base over the years. Some former residents put Tony & Maria’s pizza at the top of their lists of things to do when they visit.

People call for pizzas from the airport, with Tony & Maria’s being their first stop back in town. They also pick pizzas up half-baked and then freeze them, finishing them off when they get to campgrounds, cottages or hunting lodges.

Loyal customers have had their pizzas shipped all over the world, including to place scuh as Minnesota, Colorado, Mexico and Afghanistan.

“A lot of GM people who moved, when they come back, the first thing they have is a pizza,” Josie said.

Mary Doerr, 2413 W. Juniper Ridge, says Tony & Maria’s pizza has been her family’s comfort food for the last 20 years. Doerr orders it at least once a week or risks going into withdrawal.

The flavors are excellent, she said. “They just put so much stuff on it.

“I know when they take the pizzas out of the oven, she (Josie) sprinkles something on it from this little bowl mixed up on the counter,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. I think it just adds that extra-little something to it.”

Said Josie: “We put our advertising on our pizza. It’s good stuff, good cheese.”

Josie advises customers to hold the pizzas flat: more than one tells the story of the heavy layer of molten cheese sliding off the pie.

When someone orders the couple’s 21-inch pizza—their drivers call it the “manhole cover”—with triple cheese and the works, you can’t even lift it, employee Chris Rabuck joked.

“It weighs about 15 pounds,” he said. “You can’t get a pizza like this anywhere else.”

Except maybe at Jim’s Pizzeria across town, which Josie’s brother Jim owns. Josie and her eight siblings all have opened restaurants in Janesville, Beloit and Sun Prairie, using their father’s recipe as a base. Her brothers all have worked at Tony & Maria’s.

Tony & Maria’s is named for Josie’s parents, Tony and Maria Piccione. The two emigrated from Italy to Beloit in 1956. Several years later they started baking Italian bread. They later opened a bakery and, eventually, four restaurants.

Tony, 94, still makes pizza in Beloit, Josie said.

Josie grew up working in her parents’ restaurants. She met Sam in Italy while visiting her grandparents.

After the couple married, they opted to operate something smaller and with fewer headaches than sit-down restaurants. They offer carryouts and free deliveries of pizzas adorned with classic toppings, including shrimp and artichokes.

Josie and Sam are partial to anchovies.

They live by the motto, “Keep it simple.” For instance, you can’t buy taco pizza at Tony & Maria’s because that would mean keeping lettuce and tomatoes on hand.

“That’s another ballgame,” Josie said.

The couple used to work seven days a week but now take off Monday—unless a holiday falls on that day. The pizzeria is open 4 p.m. to midnight except on weekends, when it closes at 12:30 a.m.

The number of pizzas that Tony & Maria’s has turned out over the years is nothing Josie really wants to hear.

“To be honest, that’s scary,” she said.

Last updated: 6:50 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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