When I was a teenager in Chicago, there was a restaurant called Ed Debevic’s, which was a 50′s-themed burger diner with sock-hopping waitresses, jukeboxes and enough 50′s paraphernalia to outfit Grease III. As a kid, I got a subversive kick from indulging in another generation’s nostalgia. I imagine the teenagers who hang out at the second district pizzeria Marxim Pizzéria és Söröző feel the same way. Too young to feel the direct impact of Communism, they can partake in a little kitsch fun, underage drinking, and enjoy some pretty good pizza at the same time.
Marxim may not have the best pizza in the city, but it is reliable; the toppings generous, the crust ranging towards the thick-crust variety that is more typical of American pizza rather than the wafer-thin Italian style. The menu itself pays homage to Socialist iconography: the “Gorbi-Gorbi” (Ft 990/€3.85 for a 23-cm pie, pictured up top with a little sauce spilling onto the airbrushed head of an early official portrait of the Big G) comes with ham, bacon, sweet peppers and a fried egg on top. Other offerings include “Snow White and the Seven Small Proletars” (sic) made with ewe cheese and sour cream; a “Kremlin” with Bolognese sauce, and a “Gulag,” which, confoundingly, is topped with pineapple, something I doubt was ever seen in the prison archipelagos of Soviet yore. Much appreciated is the bottle of pizza sauce that arrives in place of the typical catsup Hungarians have become used to on their pizza. In this case, Marxim is redressing a longstanding crime against the pizza-eating classes. Beer prices are also kept cheap to satisfy its proto-proli customer base: Ft 390 for a large Dreher and Ft 490 for a Pilsner Urquell.
On my last occasion at Marxim I went with a party of ten (the tables are large, and designed to accommodate groups rather than solo diners or couples, who, in true prison-camp style, are often thrown together with strangers). The servers played good-cop, bad-cop with us, one waiter friendly and solicitous, the other grumpy and set-upon. But, in this case, grim service should be taken with a grain of salt; it is part of the throwback atmosphere of Marxim’s bunker-like dining area, which is decorated with old Communist propaganda banners and murals offering comic takes on social realism, as well as chicken-wire dividers between the tables. I don’t know what my favorite pizza in Budapest is, but I do know my favorite pizza parlor: Marxim, for its great prices and good humor. In my grade book, Marxim gets a big fat red star.