The term "Mediterranean cuisine" can mean many things, typically including dishes that have their roots in such countries as France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and a number of other places. And this term could indeed be used to describe Maria's in East Braintree, as it is basically a Greek-owned Italian restaurant that has a few Greek items scattered among its mostly Italian menu. But this homey spot feels more like an Italian eatery than anything else, and for good reason; the dining spot was first established more than 60 years ago by a woman who came from a town near Florence and Bologna, and it remained Italian-owned until the late 1970s, when it was sold to a Greek family who have since kept the menu focused mainly on Italian food. And Maria's remains a popular local spot today, known for the most part as a family-friendly place that is completely unpretentious, friendly, and reasonably priced.
Located between Weymouth Landing and the Quincy border in a brick and wood building that looks like it had once been someone's home, Maria's Restaurant sits along a busy thoroughfare yet is easily overlooked due to the fact that this stretch of Route 53 is mainly industrial and residential, with relatively few retail/commercial businesses. The interior of the dining spot is quite a bit larger than it appears to be from the outside, with a tiny bar area by the entrance and two spacious dining rooms that extend toward the back. Italian touches seem to be everywhere, from arches, wall murals, and knickknacks to romantic-looking sconces and rustic lanterns. Most of the seating consists of vinyl booths, though there are some tables and chairs as well (including large tables for bigger groups of diners).
Because Maria's tends to cater more to families, retirees, and neighborhood regulars, don't expect much in the way of upscale Italian (or Greek) items here; instead, the menu offers a number of familiar Italian-American dishes, with an emphasis on red sauce. The food, however, is better than your basic Italian-American spot, perhaps due in part to their decades-old existence. One appetizer that is a real standout is a huge portion of tender fried calamari that comes with a side of minced banana peppers mixed with hot red peppers, while garlic bread, shrimp cocktail, shrimp scampi, baked clams, and a towering antipasto with tuna are other popular choices here. The appetizer list has quite a bit of seafood, and this extends to the main part of the menu, with some of the best items at Maria's being dishes that contain fresh scrod, haddock, clams, etc. (the baked seafood here is particularly good). For landlubbers, the pasta and meat dishes are hearty and substantial, with the former including an excellent lasagna with lots of cheese, a similarly cheesy manicotti which isn't seen on too many menus anymore, a baked ziti with lots of cheese, and a warm and comforting stuffed shells dish, and the latter including a plate of house-made meatballs and a few sausage dishes such as a sausage cacciatore with sweet Italian sausage, onions, peppers, and mushrooms, all in a mix of wine and red sauce. A large New York sirloin can also be ordered here--and it is well under $20--as well as pork chops that are also a steal. All the familiar chicken and veal dishes are available at Maria's, including a gut-busting chicken parmigiana that is covered in golden-brown cheese and red sauce, an unusual steak marsala that is good enough to make you forget about the more common chicken marsala, and a hearty veal saltimbocca that is loaded with prosciutto and mushrooms, while a Neapolitan-style pizza is also offered, though it's a bit thicker than what you might expect and the dough has a nice chew to it, almost like a deep-dish pizza without actually being that style of pie. Among the Greek items are a terrific Greek salad with plenty of feta cheese, a lamb shish-kabob plate marinated in savory herbs, a chicken and scallop dish with feta and veggies in a white wine sauce, and large shrimp stuffed with feta and baked in a light red sauce. For those who aren't looking for a full meal, Maria's has several types of grinders, and for those with kids, a children's menu is available. The beer list here is limited, though there are a decent number of wines on hand and several Italian liqueur, including Campari, Sambuca, and Frangelico. Desserts are a mix of Italian and Greek, with spumoni, tiramisu, and cannoli sharing the menu with baklava.
Maria's is one of those restaurants that gets very little coverage by the local media, yet is a pretty popular spot, at least among the locals from East Braintree, Quincy, and Weymouth. And it seems as though this is just fine with the folks who run it, as they get to see familiar faces week in and week out--and are every bit as friendly with newcomers as they are with long-timers. If you are a fan of old-fashioned Italian restaurants (or old fashioned Greek restaurants), you might want to give this pleasant South Shore eatery a shot.
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