[NEW NEO] Unlike the horde of would-be baristas drawn here for cheap rent and free-flowing PBR, Pizza Maria's owner-chef Sean Coyne had a pretty good gig before moving. That was as the head baker at Thomas Keller's Per Se, which The New York Times pronounced the city's best restaurant during his tenure. But when Coyne's wife was hired as a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, he was drawn west, first landing as the head baker at Grand Central and now striking out with this masterfully simple pizza place on Division. Maria gets away with a menu smaller than at most food carts by doing what it does very well. Maria's plate-size pies—they'll serve two with salads, or one with a slice leftover—tend to emerge from the 750- to-900-degree Mugnaini oven dark and leopard-spotted on the bottom, with blackened air bubbles and just enough sauce to cover the dough. The simplest pie is the most impressive: the marinara is just crust, sauce, sliced garlic and a sprinkle of oregano, without mozz gobs to conceal imperfections. Also wonderful is the pesto pie ($14), which basically inverts the margherita with a pungent basil-based sauce and roasted cherry tomatoes, mozz and small chunks of guanciale, cured pork jowl so tender and sweet you might mistake it for caramelized onion. Two draft handles go to well-chosen locals, cocktails are well-made and the wine menu is interesting, especially as everything is available by the glass. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Pizza Maria takes reservations. Scholls now does too.