Blacksburg is not exactly lacking in late-night food options, but what happens when there’s a new guy in town?
Between a smorgasbord of ethnic and fast food offerings, not to mention the university’s own DXpress, possibilities for afterhours feasts are limited only by students’ imaginations. Pizza is especially well covered — local favorites such as Firehouse, Gumby’s and DP Dough have the Italian food fix adequately met.
It’s a crowded market to say the least, yet a new pizza parlor has entered the fray.
For the Benny Marzano’s pizza restaurant, which is located on Draper Road, standing out means upping the ante. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps a different description will sound familiar — it’s the place with the giant pizza.
Benny Marzano’s claim to fame is its enormous, Godzilla-sized slices of New York style pizza. That’s not rhetorical flourish — these things are massive. Sbarro — no slouch itself in the size department — looks downright puny in comparison.
My first experience came as part of a closing time mass exodus from Top of the Stairs. The crowd, which normally follows College Avenue up to Main Street, veered off onto Draper Road for what one person in the procession described as, “the biggest pizza I’ve ever seen.”
My curiosity thoroughly piqued, I followed the hungry mob into the nondescript shop where this treasure supposedly rests. When it comes to Marzano’s giant slabs of bread, tomato sauce and cheese, seeing really is believing. I placed my order for a $3.60 slice of cheese — pricier than the $1 slices at TOTS but not outrageous — and watched in awe as a 14-inch behemoth was spread out across two plates.
Bar patrons aren’t always the most trustworthy sources of information, but in this case, the hype was true — and then some. The caloric monster on the counter was easily the biggest slice of pizza I’d had the pleasure of encountering in four years at Virginia Tech. The sight and taste are familiar to anyone who has spent significant periods of time on Long Island, N.Y. The slice — light on the tomato sauce and heavy on the grease — offered a hot explosion of thin crust and gooey cheese.
Local shops are supposed to pack more punch than bland national chains, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Benny Marzano’s blows Sbarro out of the water. The new kid on the block provides a fresher and more satisfying taste. Its pizza also has a more appetizing appearance than Sbarro’s trademark “skin-on-a-cadaver” look. The competition between the two New York style parlors is a non-starter.
The real question is how Benny Marzano’s holds up compared to the legion of other local competitors. Verdicts on taste are largely dependent on personal preference, but I feel that PK’s, The Cellar and Backstreets still come ahead by a nose. Value is a whole different matter — $3.60 and $4.50 for a gargantuan slice of cheese and pepperoni, respectively, are hard to beat. It’s obviously not the right place for large orders or delivery, but Benny Marzano’s stands head and shoulders above the pack as a place to buy a slice or two.
In many ways, however, this is like comparing apples and oranges. Benny Marzano’s seems to be targeting a different market than its competitors and for good reason. Only a fresh take on the college staple could infiltrate such a crowded market.
The new shop on Draper Road, which is open from 11 a.m. until 3 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday through Saturday, is perfectly situated to capitalize on the seemingly limitless late-night dining needs of students. On all other days, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to midnight.
The uniqueness factor alone should keep crowds steady, as people pour in after hours to see Benny Marzano’s creations for themselves. And really, if you’re going to set a business apart with a novelty, you could do a lot worse than colossal, diet-destroying slices of New York style pizza.