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MJ’s Pizza
**
Out of a possible five
$

Unique pies at buffet in dingy room

Pizza is like politics.

People have their own beliefs as to what is right, and you can argue with them about it until you are blue in the face, but you are not going to change their minds.

And if we were to hold a pizza version of a political rally, a lot of readers would be holding signs declaring their love for a rather nondescript place on North Anthony Boulevard – MJ’s Pizza.

MJ’s began making pizza at 3311 E. State Blvd. in 2002 and expanded to the former Wendy’s building on North Anthony a year ago. The shop on East State closed in January.

Not much was done to spruce up the restaurant, which also once housed Iggy’s Subs and Buddy’s Pizza. The stain-covered ceiling tiles look as if they are ready to fall on top of you, the furniture and carpet are old and have a sort of dingy look to them, and the whole place looks pretty worn out.

A pizza buffet sits along the back wall, and it is draped by an amateurish sneeze-guard setup that also looks like it, too, could collapse at any moment.

The one decent-looking dining room feature was the salad bar, which was filled with an array of fresh toppings that sort of surprised me.

Owner Matt Davis has put a lot of work into the building, including a new cooling system and roof repairs to stop the leaking that stained those ceiling tiles, and hopes to give the dining room a facelift in the future.

Davis said he put in the buffet because Buddy’s had a bit of a following there with its $5 buffet. MJ’s buffet is $6, and it is a great way to sample a little bit of everything, including specialty pies like the restaurant’s most famous, the chicken-bacon-ranch.

Ranch dressing is used in place of sauce, and bits of chicken and bacon are the only toppings other than mozzarella cheese. The flavor combination is a winner, but the pie I sampled was a bit heavy on the ranch and needed more toppings to balance it.

The best specialty pie was the cheeseburger, which had nicely seasoned ground beef, regular red sauce and mozzarella, then, after baking, was topped off with fresh lettuce and tomato and drizzled with mayonnaise.

My kids liked the macaroni and cheese pizza, which was too odd for me – pizza crust topped with mostaccioli enrobed in a bright orange cheese sauce. The taco pizza seemed promising with nacho-style cheese as its sauce with seasoned taco meat, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato, but the somewhat grainy texture of the meat was not to my liking.

MJ’s makes its dough and sauce from scratch. The dough shined when made into MJ Sticks, a sauceless appetizer topped with mozzarella cheese and brushed with garlic butter. It is normally served with either marinara or nacho cheese for dipping, but ask for extra melted garlic butter instead to give yourself a cheesy, drippy, unctuous treat.

A regular e-mailer suggested I try MJ’s sausage roll, proclaiming it one of the best she has ever had. It is certainly one of the biggest – a huge square about the size of a small pillow. The supreme roll was filled with sausage, pepperoni, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, cheese and just the right smear of sauce to give it all a little tangy sweetness. The dough was rolled super thin, almost like phyllo, and became rather soggy under the weight of the ingredients. It wasn’t one of my favorite rolls and really needed denser dough and at least some crunch to even be in the conversation.

The stromboli, served open-faced, was nearly the same size as the sausage roll, and it was much better.

Remembering how good the MJ Sticks were, there was no way I could pass on trying MJ’s dessert sticks, which were drenched in butter and dusted with cinnamon-sugar and then drizzled with icing.

Despite its not-so-shiny setting, I can see why fans of MJ’s are so loyal. The food was favorable when compared to similar reasonably priced pizza chains, and the service was impeccable. Both times I visited, I was greeted warmly, was given opinions on what to and, more importantly, what not to order, and I was thanked for my business when I left.

Restaurant: MJ’s Pizza

Address: 3225 N. Anthony Blvd.

Phone: 496-9991

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Pizza

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: MJ Sticks ($4.50 small; $5.50; $6.50), supreme sausage roll ($9.67), stromboli ($6.25), chicken bacon ranch pizza ($6.65; $8.65; $11.15)

Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the website, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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