Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Pizza! Pizza!

I wouldn't call Baltimore a pizza town, but the city is currently more deserving of that title than it was in the past. Regular readers might remember me railing on about the "fresh dough" pizza craze in the 70s and 80s, the days of flabby, undercooked crusts, insipid sauce, and rubbery cheese. Papa John's and Pizza Hut continue that sad tradition to this day. 

I enjoyed Pappy's pizza as a child, and my favorite pizza during high school came from a little carry-out on Harford Road called the Hamilton Eatery. Their pizza had a crispy crust, flavorful sauce, and the perfect amount of stretchy cheese--and it was 100% a frozen product from some food service company. One day I watched them transfer a frigid disk from freezer to oven and was shocked that it hadn't been made in house. I remember their pies being delicious; perhaps they were, only in comparison with the other pizzas I so hated. The most loathsome pie came from a place called George's Beef and Beer, on Broadway in Fells Point. It was largely pale and flavorless, with the standard dull toppings scattered on a soggy, doughy, crust. On Saturdays, my Uncle Frank, who lived downstairs in the townhouse we occupied, bought lunch. He was no gourmet and offered only two choices: fried chicken from a stall in Broadway Market, or pizza from George's. I preferred the chicken, but good as it was, it was a chore to eat it even every-other week. On pizza weeks we experimented with toppings, hoping to find something worth eating, but nothing overcame the overall blandness of the pies. (Onion and black olive was probably the best of the bunch, but still not great.)

George's is long gone--thank the pizza gods!--and slowly but surely Baltimore has evolved a far more interesting pizza culture. One with quite a bit of variety, too. There are standard round thin crust pies that claim to be "New York-style," pies with super thin crusts, square pies, pies topped with stuff like figs and brie, and pies with crusts that don't fit into any particular genre. People still eat the crappy chain pizzas, too, which baffles me almost as much as why people prefer P.F. Chang's to actual Chinese food made by Chinese people. 

One pizza that I did enjoy in my youth and still eat today is Squire's. The crust is firm and sturdy, with a nice crunch, the sauce is herby and a tad sweet, and they are more than generous with toppings. Our go-to order is a large "everything" pizza, minus the green pepper. 

can you tell from my expression that I can't wait to take a bite of
 this "everything" (minus green pepper) pie from Squire's?
We get a pie from Squire's at least once a year, as a reward for getting our taxes done on time. (Our accountant is in Dundalk.) If we're lucky, we'll find an opportunity to visit again a few months later. If not, we usually bring home several slices to tuck into the freezer to enjoy on another occasion.

There are several Baltimore area restaurants serving Neapolitan-ish pies. Traditionally, a Neapolitan pie has a thin hand-formed crust and is baked for a brief time (up to 90 seconds) in a screaming hot wood-fired oven. In Italy, these pizzas must be made with very specific ingredients in a very specific way, but that goes out the window here in the states. A Neapolitan pie also tends to have a soggy middle, which doesn't really fly here. So while restaurants might use wood-fired ovens imported from Italy, and make the crust in the prescribed manner baked at the proper temperature, Neapolitan-style pies in the US play more fast and loose with the type of cheese and the crispness of the crust. Personally, I enjoy a thin and flexible crust that has some charring underneath and leopard spotting on the cornicione (the outer edge). 

everything at Hersh's is wonderful, but especially the pizza.
Among my favorite local pies that are made with the Neapolitan sensibility are those from Hersh's in South Baltimore and Paulie Gee's in Hampden. Both establishments are creative with their toppings-- the smoked mozzarella and fried eggplant on Hersh's Fumo e Fuoco, and the dried cherries and gorgonzola on Paulie Gee's Cherry Jones--but somehow everything seems to work perfectly.

there's nothing like a pizza from Ledo.
Then we have the "is it really pizza?" pizza: Ledo. The crust is buttery and flaky, as if a pizza and a croissant had a baby. The sauce is sweet, and there is a ton of cheese, but the combination of all of the above works to produce a delicious whole. I especially like their "cannonball" pizza, which has half a giant meatball perched on every slice. Oh yeah, the pizzas are square, too. Weird, maybe, but so am I.

Detroit pizza is all about the toasted cheese that forms around the border of the pie.
And then there's Detroit-style pizza. A relative of the Sicilian pie, the Detroit pizza has a thick crust with no cornicione. The cheese goes on first and is spread from edge to edge, which produces a caramelized crustiness where the cheese hits the hot metal pan in which the pie is baked. Toppings like pepperoni are next, followed by stripes of sauce. I've only ever had this style of pizza from one place, Underground Pizza Company in Towson, and I don't think I ever need to eat it elsewhere. I don't know if it's a perfect Detroit pizza, but I can't imagine a better crust. It's like the most fabulous artisan bread you can imagine, but with crispy cheese edges. My favorite pie there is topped with fancy roasted mushrooms, but their vodka sauce pies are also :::chef's kiss::::

I know there are lots more pizza restaurants in Baltimore that I haven't included here, so let me mention a few more that we visit: Earth, Wood, & Fire; Ribaldi's, Il Basilico; The Arthouse. We're also fans of the pizzas at Cosima. Even longer is the list of restaurants serving pizza that we need to visit are JBGB's, Verde, Johnny Rad's, Kneads Bakeshop, Gil's, Pizza John's, and Little Donna's. 

What's your favorite?

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Posted on Minxeats.com.

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