Marco Polo Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant, located on Crown Street in the heart of New Haven’s Ninth Square, is a quaint eatery noticeably removed from the bustle of Yale’s central campus. Average food is accentuated by a comfortable atmosphere, and although the restaurant is only a five-minute walk from Old Campus, the laid-back feel makes it seem worlds apart.
Marco Polo specializes in both pizza and more traditional Italian fare, and the atmosphere feels just right for the customer seeking either a bowl of pasta or a steaming pepperoni pie. A large glass case featuring slices and what appeared to be stromboli greet customers entering the restaurant, and the wonderful aroma of baking crust fills the air. The interior imagery is also welcoming, with large black and white photos of Italian families and food hanging atop the inlaid brick above the restaurant’s six or seven booths.
To accompany the warm atmosphere, Marco Polo offers solid food that is somewhat lacking in both character and originality. The dishes are large and satisfying, but seem to call out for some degree of boldness or uniqueness that simply isn’t present. And while pizzas and pastas are often best when at their simplest, the fare at Marco Polo seems too bland to excite most palates.
That aside, while no food jumps out because of its excellence, most of the dishes are in fact well-executed. It’s merely the fact that many other restaurants offer the same indistinguishable plates — while none are bad, neither are any exceptional.
At $4.99, Marco Polo’s bowl of minestrone soup seems a bit overpriced. Described on the menu as being “made fresh in house,” the minestrone in fact tastes like a bowl of Campbell’s Select. Not that it’s bad — diners will enjoy the textural interplay of penne pasta, carrots, green beans, peas, potatoes, celery, chick peas and kidney beans, but the taste itself lacks a certain “punch.” Much like its canned counterparts, every ingredient in the soup had the same soft-tomato taste of the broth, and each bite was only unique in its texture. The loaf of garlic bread with cheese ($3.99) as an appetizer is similarly unimpressive — you can find better elsewhere.
Again, the bowl of spaghetti with clams ($13.99) is decent but nothing special. Described as “red clam sauce with garlic and fresh clam broth” over pasta, this dish is a staple at Italian restaurants. And while Marco Polo’s take isn’t as great as those to be found on Wooster Street, it nonetheless is a pretty substantial bowl of Italian-American comfort food. Using canned clams, the sauce combines a few diced tomatoes with garlic, cheese, clam broth and the seafood itself, all of which melds together in a creamy, albeit disappointingly flavorless, mantle. Despite the presence of large pieces of garlic and noticeable herbs, diners can taste neither these nor the clams, and in general the sauce lacks the robust individual flavors common to the dish. The pepperoni pizza is also nothing exceptional, with a crust that’s more New York than New Haven-style, although slightly thicker and with slight chars underlying its puffy edges.
Marco Polo delivers to the Yale campus, and while not unique, the restaurant offers reliable food for reasonable prices. Not cheap but not expensive, and not incredible but not bad, Marco Polo fits easily among the many indistinguishable New Haven eateries where a hungry student can fill up on good pizza and pasta.