By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jul 22, 2002 at 5:53 AM

"Welcome to Maria's," says a recorded voice when you walk into the bright, blinking pizza parlor. "Have a happy and safe Fourth."

It's two days before the 4th of July, so naturally, Maria's Pizza (5025 W. Forest Home Ave.) is decorated with dozens of American flags, mammoth red, white and blue bows and a posse of plastic Uncle Sam statues. Add these embellishments to the usual decor of paint-by-number religious paintings, a red Elvis Presley guitar that's also a clock, strands of colored lights and tables topped with classic red-checkered cloths and vases of fake roses, and suddenly you have an eatery that's half grandma's funhouse, half pizza heaven.

Sisters Mickey and Bonnie are the main waitresses, and the daughters of Maria, the original owner of the restaurant. They are quick to wink at you and wear red dresses that are sometimes dusted with flour if they are helping out in the kitchen that night.

Maria Traxel was a 4' 9" woman who loved to cook. In 1957, few people had heard of pizza, but Maria was certain that Milwaukeeans would love her thin crusted, bigger-than-the-tray pizza pie, so she scraped together enough money to open a small restaurant on 7th and Greenfield. Maria painted the walls red (her favorite color) and covered the cracks in the walls with family-made religious paint-by-number oils.

Sure enough, people pilgrimaged from the far corners of the city to sample Maria's saucy pies. A priest loved the pizza so much that he blessed each of the holy paintings.

In 1971 Maria moved the restaurant to her current location on Forest Home Ave. In honor of her first restaurant, she painted the ceiling red and hung all of the original paint-by-numbers.


Maria was denied a liquor license because there were already many bars and restaurants in the area, and she never reapplied. To this day, soda is the most potent beverage on the menu, but don't let this deter you. It's worth the trip just for a Styrofoam cup of blue raspberry pop, complete with big, square ice cubes clearly made in ice cube trays and not in a commercial ice machine.

Maria's pizza has a thin, soft crust and is served on square metal trays with the edges hanging over the sides. Most people tear off a large piece and roll it up or fold it in half. ("Like a taco," says Mickey.) Pasta, sandwiches and deliciously greasy garlic and cheese breads are also available.

Maria passed away in 1993, but her daughters are dedicated to keeping the family business alive. Lucky for all of us, because whereas restaurants like Buca di Beppo are kitchy and ironic, Maria's Pizza is truly a slice of life.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.