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Pizza in Baltimore

I had my first lackluster experience at Verde this past weekend. The experience exemplifies the challenges of using a high-temperature coal and (particularly) wood-fired oven. In addition, Verde was written up in the SE Baltimore Guide magazine and the pizza pictured in the magazine was indicative of an "off bake" as well.

Both the pizzas I had this weekend and the pizza pictured in the SE Baltimore guide displayed the more even, brown color on the outer crust (cornicione), as opposed to the normal crust pock marked/leopard spotted with small, black blisters. In addition, the mozzarella on the margherita was too melted into the sauce and had larger brown marks on the cheese indicating it had started to separate.

These are signs that there was not enough top heat in the oven to cook the pizzas in a fast enough time. I would venture to say there was minimal to no flame licking across the dome of the oven and the pies all cooked in beyond 3:00. Realize after my pies cooked the fornaio (oven man) could have added a log (or stoked the exsisting logs/embers in the oven) to bring the flame and top heat back to where it was needed...thus making subsequent bakes more like the normal high quality pizzas there.

This is part of the brutal exactness of these ovens. Keeping the oven at optimal temperature is a constant dance....when to just stoke the existing logs/embers...when to add a log...do you need to add a large or smaller log, etc.. And the high temperatures of thes ovens mean the window between a perfectly cooked pizza and one that is too burnt can be as short as 10 seconds. Add in a flour (Caputo 00 Pizzeria) that is specifically created for high-temperature sub 2:00 bakes....a flour which gets tough and chewy when not cooked quickly, and the possibility of having an off bake is a very realistic issue.

These types of issues will likely be minimized as time goes by and more experience is gained. I certainly can do no better than the folks at Verde. Even with my less than usual experience there, the pies I did receive were still decent. So two vists to dine in the joint, two visits to pick up pizza and immediately eat it while walking the dog (folded "a libretto") and four visits to pick up and eat at home and the tally at Verde is now 7-1, with the 7 visits (total of 14 pizzas) being arguably the best pizzas I have eaten in Baltimore and the one visit (total of 2 pies) being decent.

Not a bad running tally at all. Sorry for the rambling, just some thoughts on why a bake could be off at one moment or the next (and these are just some of the issues). I'll be back at Verde soon. --K

Dec 03, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

SouthBaltimoreGirl: Yes, I've eaten in Verede twice and picked up pies 4 times now. I think you will find it is a noticeable step or two up the Neopolitan-style ladder from someplace like Hersh's Pizza & Drinks in South Baltimore (which I also like).

Everything I have had is excellent. I would definitely try The Sorrentina.....lemons on pizza has been one of my favorite go-tos for a couple of years now. I would also try either the Marinara or the Buffalina....the simplicity of those pies are a great test of any pizzeria. Nothing to hide behind and you get to enjoy the elemental flavors of the basic ingredients when done well.

Enjoy! --K

Nov 22, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

I've had ten pizzas from Verde now and they are getting better each time I visit.

Again, time will tell if they are able to remain consistent with their quality, but at the time of this post, this is my favorite pizza in Baltimore. This is partly due to Neapolitan style being my favorite style of pizza. Hersh's Pizza & Drinks, the only other Neapolitan-style joint in Baltimore I can think of, is not in the same ballpark as Verde (from a pizza standpoint).

I'll always enjoy places like Iggies, Joe Squred, etc. But a really good Neapolitan-style pizza is what really gets my pizza motor buzzing. --K

Oct 22, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Based on my first visit, here is a quick first impressions post I did of Verde on Slice:

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives...

Oct 12, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

As mentioned above, I can confirm that there are now potentially three different parties that have looked or are actively looking into opening a new pizzeria in Hampden.

I was talking with a store owner in Hampden two weekends ago and she mentioned someone was recently asking her if she thought a "brick oven pizzeria" would work in Hampden. He further mentioned to her that it was a dream of his to open such a spot in either Hampden or Remington, but the space in Hampden he looked at (and was inquiring the shop owner about) was too large for his purpose. This is of particular interest to me because....

I have been looking at various spaces in Hampden for a wood-fired pizzeria for going on nine months now and that same space the other party mentioned as being too large is #1 on my list of spaces that I have looked at and liked in Hampden.

There was another party, one being somewhat well known, that was looking hard at Hampden as late as July 2012, but last contact I had with them they seemed to be leaning more towards Philadelphia.

To be continued.....

Sep 26, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

I have not tried the pizza at Verde yet, but will this weekend.

Just got back from Rodanthe (Outer Banks) and noticed they were open the night before I left while running errands. Took a quick peek inside just to see the space and ended up talking with the owner, Ed, for about ten minutes before having to leave.

The space itself is very well done in my opinion. A nice neighborhood pizza spot....not too fancy, but tastefully appointed. Nice tile work, reclaimed wood on the walls, beautiful wooden tables made from wood in a church Ed owned in Chicago and lighting.

The menu pricing appeared quite reasonable. Dittos for the selection...a few salads and several pizzas. Perfect IMO. Beer and wine only.

I noticed they chose to go with a Woodstone Mountain Series wood fired oven. Ed mentioned they employ an overnight fermentation....2 hours at room temperature after initial mixing, then refrigerated and finally brought out to room temperature a few hours before cooking. This may potentially be a little short of a time to develop the flavor inherent in high quality Neopolitan pizzas when considering the dough spends time refrigerated, but early reports are that the dough is good. And dough is a large aspect of what Neapolitan pizza is all about.

Ed was quite enthusiastic about opening and about pizza in general, which is always refreshing to see. We talked a little more about some of the pains involved with opening a pizzeria, which is of particular interest to me. I did not get to time a pizza in the oven (for this style pies should be cooked in 60 to 90 seconds ideally, with 120 seconds definitely acceptable), but a margherita was whisked by me to a waiting table while I was leaving.....and it looked pretty damned good to these eyes.

Excitied to try this place out this weekend! --K

Sep 26, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Thanks for the nice update kukubura!

Sep 25, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Italian Graffiti Update: After two very lackluster visits here in the last month and not seeing owners Vincenzo (Vincent) or Roberto on site, I wondered if the ownership had changed here.

I bumped into Vincent and he confirmed that he had moved on. He is currently involved with another Italian restaurant in Bel Air and he mentioned that he is spending some time at Giovanni's Tutti Gusti in Canton. I have not been there in some time now.

Unfortunately, Italian Graffiti has gone downill and based on those last two lackluster visits, I can no longer recommend it. The crust is more dried out now, lacks any flavor and the quality of the sauce has taken a turn for the worse. Unfortunate, but good luck to Vincent in his new endeavors. --K

Sep 25, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Top five Baltimore area pizza places?

Matthews serves Greek-style pizza, which is more commonly seen in the New England region. Matthews is about the farthest South I've seen or heard mention of Greek pizza being served.

The dough has lard added to it, which is a big part of the texture and particular flavor of their crust. --K

Aug 22, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Top five Baltimore area pizza places?

@armybaker when you say you don't like a crispy crust, how crispy do you mean? Are you referring to that kind of dried out crust that almost shatters like glass to the tooth?

You mentioned you liked classic NY-Style pizza. Classic/archetype NY-Style pizza does have a very thin veneer of "crispiness" to it, but it should not run deep into the crust. The classic "snap-chew". The soft, floppy crusts found on many chain pizzas are not NY-Style. Thanks --K

Aug 22, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Top five Baltimore area pizza places?

When I went to Gil's a couple of years ago I was talking to the owner about his pizzas while my pie was cooking (which ended up being for entirely too long I might add).

When asked about what kind of flours he uses and some fermentation questions, he told me "I don't know, they bring it to me and I make pizza with it". Who is "they". Nino's Pizza Dough, Alsham or some other purveyor of pre-made blanks?

The pizza was very par for the course at best. Granted, this was a couple of years ago (circa 2010), but there was nothing encouraging me to return for another try. --k

Aug 22, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Iggies ain't going anywhere. Staying in Mount Vernon.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertain...

Jul 26, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

There is currently an interest looking hard at the Hampden neighborhood for opening a wood-fired neighborhood pizza joint. To the hardcore pizza enthusiast, the people involved in this will likely raise an eyebrow. More details coming as they become available.....

Jul 23, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Yes, Iggies is indeed looking to move to Ruxton (Joppa & Bellona Ave) and it may very well come to pass.

It should be noted that it is not 100% certain this is going to happen yet. --k

Jul 17, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

The rumor mill has been churning about Iggies moving from its Calvert Street location to Towson. This was initially reported on by Richard Gorelick in The Sun.

There seems to be confusion with regards to whether Iggies is closing Mt. Vernon and moving to Towson or if they are keeping Charles Street open and adding Towson to the mix. I'll report back with some details if I can get them.

Jun 26, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

After being late to the Neapolitan-style pizza boom well under way in other cities, Baltimore is poised to get its second.

Verde Pizza Napoletana will be opening in the space occupied by the now closed Birch's on 641 S Montford Avenue (Canton). The sign is up and construction is well under way.l

Website: http://verdepizza.com/

Mention of the owner trying out a Marra Forni wood fired oven on the Euro Restaurant Solutions Blog from a year ago: http://eurorestaurantsolutions.com/bl...

And what looks to be a picture of the Verde Marra Forni oven on the front page of the Marra Forni website: http://marraforni.com/

Baltimore's first joint billing itself as Neapolitan with a WFO is Hersh's Pizza & Drinks, which I would argue is doing pizza inspired by Neapolitan pies rather than proper Napoletana, but that's another story (and not saying the pizza isn't good either).

There are two other Neapolitan pizzerias in various stages of planning at this moment. Last contact I had with one being pursued by an already noted Baltimore chef they were still looking for potential spaces for their "2Amys inspired concept". The other one already has a location selected and is aiming at a late 2012 to Spring 2013 open.

Jun 21, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

It depends on the style of pizza you are referring to.

The newer vanguard of Neapolitan-style and Neapolitan inspired wood-fired pizzerias typically cook a pizza in 60 to 90 seconds, with the ocassional 2 minute pie thrown in there.

The traditional coal-fired pizzerias (NY-Neapolitan style) vary in their cook times from pizzeria to pizzeria, but generally they cook most of their pies in 4 to 5 minutes. As I've mentioned previously, the times I have visited Patsy's EH I have never seen a sub 2 minute pizza cooked there, but have timed mid-3 minute pies cooked there.

Outside of the newer Neapolitan joints and the coal-fired pizzerias, the majority of remaining pizzerias are the NY-Style slice joints using gas fired deck ovens. These are the pizzerias most people associate with NY pizza. The cook times at such places are often well over 5 minutes....and sometimes 10. The handful of really noteworthy NY-Style shops still cook their pizzas at higher temperatures and at or under 5 minutes (as quick as 2:30 at New Park), but the majority of pizzerias in NYC are cooking post-5 minute pizzas. As far as the common NY-Style slice goes, it is sad and amusing that to get pies which are archetypes of the style, you pretty much have to leave Manhattan to do so. --K

Jun 06, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Interesting cupcake. Thanks for the info! --K

Jun 05, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Nice report Vespa.

I just went to EWF for the first time on Friday night (hellacious rain storm!).

The pizzas are not wood-fired....the oven is a multi-fuel source oven. It's a smaller version of the same Woodstone Fire Deck series oven being used at Coal Fire Pizza in Ellicott City(http://www.woodstone-corp.com/product...). The floor of the oven can be controlled via an infrared element , there is a gas fired flame to the right and in the leftmost end of the oven is a pile of coal. The pizzas spend most of their time closer to the gas fuel source than the coal pile, so I'm not certain how much of the heat the pizzas are cooked by is attributable to the coal itself. In reality, it doesn't matter.....pizza likes a lot of heat and as long as that requirement is met, it doesn't really matter how that heat is provided (coal, wood, gas, electric, etc).

I timed six pizzas on my stopwatch while watching the pizza making. All between 4:38 and 5:36, which is in the range consistent with coal fired pizzerias in NYC.

It was extremely busy and from looking at the surrounding tables and where they were in service, it appears many people came within a short-window of time. The staff handled it pretty well for the most part, but the food line showed the signs of a restaurant barely 2 1/2 weeks old still trying to find its sea legs, as to be expected.

Too early to comment on the pizza. The only thing I will say is I wish the margherita had sauce on it and used fior-di-latte as opposed to pre-shredded cheese. I'll have more to say after a couple more visits and they've had 8-10 weeks to hone their workflow.

I saw bags of both Caputo 00 Pizzeria Flour and All Trumps Hi-Gluten flour (I believe the unbromated/unbleached version) in the back, so I'd like to find out if the dough is a mix of the two flours. The texture of the crust and the browining properties after cooking lead me to believe this is the case.

More later.....

Jun 05, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Toss-Northeast Baltimore

I stopped by really quick back in March just to get a look at the place on a Friday night (was on the way somewhere else). First thing I noticed was the conveyor oven, which always gives me pause.

To be fair I still need to go back and try this place out. I never thought the pizza at Zellas was anything special. I like the space and friendly staff at Zella's very much, but the pizzas are nothing that makes me want to take the 10 or so minute drive to get over there. Hopefully Toss will fare better with their pizzas.

$18 for a 14" margherita is extremely expensive. I've paid $21 for a 12" margherita at the old Una Pizza Napoletana in Manhattan, but Anthony makes some of the very best pizzas I've ever had. An $18 14" margherita better deliver top of the top of the line quality ingredients (i.e. not all from a large food wholesaler) and the bake needs to be pegged. I don't see the latter happening in a conveyor oven, but the proof will be in the tasting.

All that aside, I am always excited to try a new place and am looking forward to a visit here soon.

May 02, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Good point Keith. The only old-school pizzeria I can think of off the top of my head that I've seen use sliced sausage is Totonno's (Coney Island, Brooklyn)...and even there it is thought of as kind of strange.

Crumbled sausage chunks are the most common at older, "traditional" pizzerias that I've seen.....not applied across the entire pizza, but put here and there across the pizza.

May 02, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

It's open.....as of April 16th. The blog City That Breeds already peeped it. Check out the canoe shaped pizza that is one of their offerings.

http://citythatbreeds.com/2012/04/hom...

Apr 27, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

New Pizzeria Alert: South Baltimore is heating up on Light Street. Just one block away from Hersh's Pizza & Drinks in the old The Lighthouse Inn space is Homeslyce Pizza Bar. The address is 1741 Light Street (Light & Barney Streets). I just drove by it and took a quick cell phone picture, but don't have any more information at this point. Not sure if it is open or not yet. --K

Apr 27, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

I haven't been to Patsy's in a while, but they have apparently sped up their cook times based on your sub two minute bake you reported above. I timed the bake on two pizzas on 7/3/2009 at 3:15 and 3:21 respectively and then on 10/7/2010 I timed my pie at 3:09.

The pies made famous by the coal fired joints in NYC (Lombardi's, Totonno's, John's, Patsy's, Grimaldi's, etc) are a slightly different style, NY-Neapolitan, than the NY-Style most people associate with the corner slice joint. But still, 3-5 minutes is the window a slice joint should aim for.

Keep pushing KWagle, you'll get your bake time at home where you want it eventually! :)

Mar 15, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

I hear you KWagle.

I'm not saying six minutes is the ideal number to shoot for at all, just that at around six minutes (if not five) a NY-Style pizza really accelerates downward towards Mediocre-ville. I've had a good pie from Joe's (Carmine St) that I timed at just under six minutes. It wasn't a great NY-Style pizza, but good.

Pizza enthusiasts will argue about cook times, but many will agree that true, archetype NY-Style pizza should ideally cook in a range of 3 to 5 minutes, regardless of oven type (the common gas deck oven is capable of these times). You just start driving out too much moisture from the crust after 5 minutes. This is why so many NY-Style pizzerias serve pizza with a crumb (inner crust) that has that really dried out, almost cotton-like texture. Not good.

I'm not a pizza expert and have not been everywhere in Maryland, but I have been to many places around Baltimore. I cannot ever recall seeing a pizza cooked in less than 6 minutes, with 10+ minute cook times very common. Even in and around NYC there is a very small number of places still cranking out sub 5 minute NY-Style pizzas. A real shame.

Cook times are not everything. If you put a turd in an oven and cook it in three minutes, you have something that is quickly cooked...but it's sill a turd. But the cook time is a vital part of the equation.

Mar 15, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Due to work concerns, I just visited Mamma Lucia's in Annapolis (Jennifer Road) for the second time. First visit I had re-heated slices which left a lot to be desired. so today I ordered two whole pizzas (one cheese, one pepperoni).

I felt like telling the owner that it was hotter outside than it was in his Baker's Pride oven. Heat and cooking time are two critical factors for nailing NY-Style pizza and this place struck out swinging.

My two pies were the only two in the bottom deck and the cook times were 10:17.44 and 10:41.59 respectively. That is literally *forever* for this style. When I am in a NY-Style joint and my stopwatch goes beyond six minutes, I know I'm getting a second rate pie. These pies lacked any real snap to the outer shell, the inner crust (crumb) was dry and cottony and the top of the end crust was very pale...all hallmarks of low temperature, long bake times.

Either repair your ovens if they are old and have lost heat output or turn the friggen' dial up on the thermostat already. Mamma Lucia does add a nice dusting of pecorino before adding the mozzarella, but too much mozzarella is added to the tired crust which spends an eternity in that oven.

Better than chain pizza, but not worth a special trip. Mediocre NY-Style pizza.

This ended a week of pizza eating that started with Little Italy Pizzeria in Fells Point (Baltimore) and included Totonno's in Coney Island, L&B Spumoni Gardens (Brooklyn), New Park Pizza (Queens), NY Pizza Suprema (Manhattan), Iggie's (Baltimore) and then Mamma Lucia today. Seeing 18" NY-Style pizzas being pulled from the oven in just under 3 minutes at New Park Pizza was a good sight....and tasty pizzas!

Mar 13, 2012
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

Aside from the obvious difference in form factor (that giant Angelo's slice is a lot bigger), there is not a huge difference between the two. The consistency at Casa Mia is all over the place....Angelo's is more consistent, at least based on my three visits to each location.

You're really comparing two middle of the road quality slice joints, so IMO the differences aren't too large. Casa Mia on my best visit there may be a tad more favorable than Angelo's, but again not a tremendous difference.

That being said, both are better Hampden area options than the wretched horse dung being served at King's Pizza and Philly Cheese on The Avenue or the lackluster pizza at Bella Roma. --K

Dec 23, 2011
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

The consistency at Pazani is an issue. The variability of pizza quality can and has been pretty wide at times. And the reheats are no good here....putting slices in the smaller, independent warmer (not back in the deck oven) can result in some bad reheats (too moist).

When it's firing on all cylinders, Pazani makes a relatively good pizza, but you have to catch it on a good day. Never tried the pasta dishes there.....will try next time. --K

Dec 21, 2011
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

There are two Neapolitan-style pizzerias in various phases right now.....one in the early construction process and one well known local chef is looking at spaces in Baltimore as I type this. Some other prospects, but I am not at liberty to say more.

Dec 21, 2011
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore

Pizza in Baltimore

I think Pizza John's is far enough away from downtown Baltimore that many people either forget about it or don't want to make a trek out to get pizza there.

Pizza John's was better than I expected when I first went there. I cringed at the dough being sent through a sheeter and the near assembly line mechanics of the pizza making operation, but the pies (I've been three times now) are not bad. And they are consistent.....consistency is the bane of many a pizzeria.

Pizza John's is a good local joint for sure. But I would not recommend it's a place worth driving more than 15 or so minutes to get to. Unless I am driving through the Essex area already, I wouldn't make the trek out there for it.......it doesn't take too much longer to make a much better product in your house!--K

Dec 21, 2011
pizzablogger in Washington DC & Baltimore