Return of the Mack’s

Mack'sPals

This week I’m back in the great city of Philadelphia.  An unlikely pizzeria search leads me to Mack’s Boardwalk Pizza. I just ate here a few hours ago so this is fresh in my mind.  And speaking of fresh, this was something else.

After doing some crack research I find out that this is a spin-off of this place.  It looks like I’ll be working backwards unintentionally.  It’s like that trend in cinemas with flashback scenes and the whole nine.

The storefront is so gritty and so Philadelphia.  At least that’s my interpretation of it.

When I walked in I almost though I wasn’t supposed to enter.  The owner, who is a well-known character and local celebrity, made it clear I was ok.  I swear I thought I had to order from the outside, like any old food stand.

My visit was entertaining and I had yet to get my pizza.   The owner had a direct and no-nonsense demeanor about him.  He was cursing at things on the news and was waving his hands all over the place.  I kept a straight face the entire time.  The energy was a bit funny but also may be due to me.   I was out of my comfort zone.

For that and other reasons, I was hesitant to take some photos.  But I got a couple in.  As you can see the slices are in cake stands.   That’s pretty hilarious if you ask me.    The ovens look simple and fits the mold of this entire place.

There’s photos of celebrities adorning walls and various posters depicting Italian television programs and films.    You know, the usual fun stuff.

As for the slices, they were different.  The crust had a soft crunch to it.  It felt like I was eating saltines or a similar cracker-type dough.  I may not be exact on that, but it’s in the same vein.

Mack'sCheese

How about that swirl of tomato sauce on top of the cheese?  That’s boardwalk style my friends.   The cheese was fine but not memorable.  It did it’s job and did it effectively.   The pepperoni is what you would expect, nothing amazing but adequate.

Mack'sPepp

I didn’t have huge aspirations of this being the greatest pizza ever.  If you expect that you will be sorely disappointed.  Not all pizza, or food in general , can be judged on the same criteria.   This was better than I thought but this will never be the best nor is it supposed to be.  I suspect some may rank it highly.  I’ll tell you I did like it more with each passing bite.

Perhaps it’s because it was the energy of it being in South Philly and in a not-so-cosmopolitan neighborhood. It’s authentic and incredibly affordable.

My 2 cheese, 1 pepperoni, and can of soda was only $5. Yes you read that correctly.  That surely made it taste better.   And that mitigates the critiques.

The owner made my brief visit entertaining.  I almost wanted to stay and eat inside but I was on the road, and the seating was quite limited.  Limited as in I’m not sure there was any organized seating.

You can’t judge a book by its cover or the interior.  If you do either, you may be put off. But the pizza is good for what it is and that’s sometimes all you want.

If I’m ever back in the area I’ll definitely try a whole pie with some new toppings.

I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Philadelphia culture and life, but I’m happy to get more of a glimpse than what I’m accustomed to.  It was a visit I’m not going to forget anytime soon.

If you’re in the area or visiting the City of Brother Love, I highly recommend a stop, if nothing else just for the entertainment value.  I rather someone be genuine than a fake and sappy nice.

For a link to my previous posts on the city of brotherly love, go here.

Take good care and talk soon.

Best,

Ideen

 

Springtime In Annapolis

Rocco'sBoth

It doesn’t get much better than that.   I’ve been sentimental to our state capitol for as long as I had any sense of to what a capitol was.   So it’s been at least a few weeks.    In all seriousness, I’ve had a love affair with Annapolis, dating back to family road trips and school outings.  Funny how I feel that a 45 minute drive is what constituted as a road trip to me during my childhood.  The little things.

There was just so much joy I found walking around and checking out all that charm there’s been to offer.  When I was a younger it was about eating something yummy, getting some ice cream, and getting some toys.  Now not much has changed aside that the food and sweet treat preferences have been altered ever-so-slightly.  And the toys are still toys but now are just souvenirs.   But otherwise  the love affair is still there.

For me I think it’s the small town feel that I  hope never goes away.  As other cities, towns, and suburbs expand and corporatize with time, I want to believe that cities such as this will remain and the same and stick to its roots.   I understand evolving but I also understand keeping the integrity of what made a place so appealing in the first place.

As I’ve said before, what does this have to do with pizza?  I’ll get to the point.  I asked folks who’ve lived in or around Annapolis about their favorite slices and pies, and the most common and endearing answer has been Rocco’s.  It’s been a mainstay for over 40 years and I’ve chatted with people who’ve been going there the entire time, that it also has always stuck to its roots and remained true to its customers and now their customers’ children.  I’m tickled with joy when hearing this.

Rocco'sFront

Now while they may not be in the heart of downtown,they are still nestled in an unassuming strip mall in Annapolis City.   Before a year ago I’d never heard of this place and shame on me.  All it took was a blog and a little research to lead me here.

The pizza is phenomenal.   If I was with a group we’d be talking pies, but in this instance, since it was just me, I will be talking about two of their slices.   They only have three on the menu, cheese, pepperoni, and the Godfather, which is in essence their supreme pizza.

I went with the bookends.  If I’m going to get pepperoni, I might as well go for the jugular.

Rocco'sCheese

The cheese is pure bliss.  It was greasy and just the right amount of sauce that the cheese gets top billing here and deservedly so.   The crust was thin but not too crunchy.  That’s just how I wanted it.  No matter what mood I’d be in, this slice would work to perfection. It never stood a chance and I devoured it in short order.

Rocco'sGodfather

And what can I say about the Godfather?  Oh my goodness those toppings were some of the freshest I’ve had in some time.  All the meats and veggies could be tasted and not with any disdain or preference of one over the other.  The melange worked perfectly.  And in my usual style I picked some off myself and enjoyed on my own.  A few fell off my slices and I was happy to oblige there too.

Two slices was just the right amount to leave me wanting more.  And I want more.

I must say the staff was so kind.   The locally owned and operated energy was felt as soon as I walked in.  There were a few families at respective tables as well as a few little league players enjoying some pie.  The visual makes it feel like its out of a tv show or cinema. Maybe.  But this is as real as it gets.   I want more of this in my general vicinity.

As you can see here, Rocco’s has gotten some deserved recognition.  And it’s easy to see why.

For me it’s not just about the food but also the feeling and soul behind an establishment. It’s just as paramount as the eats themselves.

More is coming as there’s so many events to come this Spring, that I’ll be back sooner than later.

I made my first ever Annapolis Cup last weekend, and it was another reminder of how genuine something can be.  It inspired me to write this post. I wish I had been there sooner.  But I was meant to be there at that time and place, and never before.

I wish I had been to Rocco’s sooner but that’s how it goes.  It was meant to be.  I’ll be back again soon.  Hey it’s only a 45 minute road trip away.

Here are my previous posts about this beautiful place – Neo, Bella, and Mangia.

Stay genuine,

Ideen

Something on the Somewhere

TavernChickenPizza2

When I first started writing this blog, my primary focus was in and around the Baltimore area.  It was suggested to me that I expand where I could.   Even if it’s just a suburb, a different town will add a different element to my posts.   Since then, I’ve expanded to other parts of the northeast and sometimes elsewhere.  I don’t know where this is going, but global domination would be nice.  Or at least an expansion.    But this week I take it back to the city  I first wrote about.

Don’t you just love how I post a photo and then not get around to discussing it, until the second paragraph?   When you think of good pizza in Charm City I doubt Tavern on the Square makes many peoples’ top 10 or even 20 lists.   Should I even go higher?  This is not an indictment of them.   I actually found some of their pizza enjoyable, if not just flat-out scrumptious.  But there’s more to this place.  It’s become a frequent happy hour spot for dear friends of mine.  I’ve been grateful to be a part of many of these convocations.

TavernFront

But if you know the location, you know this bar has seen many transformations.  It’s been at least four different establishments since I’ve been frequenting this area.  Did I mention that this is nestled in the sometimes chaotic Canton Square?  However, this is one of the more subdued and refreshing locations, depending on what time of day you’re there.  And even at night it’s a little more reserved than some of the other more fraternized locales. Pun not intended.

For many, it’s like any other bar.  For me, I wonder what the identity is.  I over-analyze and ask sometimes reaching questions.  Maybe the fact that it has no niche is just what their niche is .  There I go being deep again.

Like I always ask, how was the za?

This is going to be a recap of several pies over multiple visits and in sequential order.  And in general, the pals I mentioned earlier were around for all of them.  I’ll try to simplify this so as to not overlap.

It wasn’t until I saw a good friend eating a gargantuan meatball pizza, that I even knew it was on the menu.  The meatball on this day was heated to perfection.  Look at that immaculately heated crust.  And the burnt cheese on the side is always a nice touch.  You can tell the flatbread crust was heated with soul and the chef was enjoying himself.  The meatball tasted great as well.  I’m thankful my friend gave me a couple of slices to try.

The blackened chicken was at the top of the standings.  This was over a second visit a couple of months later.  The chicken just had a taste to it that worked.  And the accompanying vegetables complemented the protein.  Once again, that crust was heated in stellar fashion.  As you can see, this pie got decimated quickly.  I was happy to share with my friends as that’s what life is all about.

For the next visit, we all ordered a bunch of pies.  This is also where things fell apart.

I ordered the buffalo chicken.  This was the dichotomy of the first two pizzas. It wasn’t heated well.  And you can tell by the pictures.  The golden brown was missing.   The buffalo sauce was too spicy and the blue cheese tasted goofy. Yes I said goofy.  I don’t know what went wrong.  It was good enough to meat but their was nothing behind this.  It didn’t feel like the happy pie I’ve grown accustomed too. And that made me sad.

Some friends ordered the margherita. It just tasted like it was there.  The presentation was so-so, and this tasted like there was nothing behind it.  This looked and tasted undercooked.

TavernMeatballSliceDay2

Finally, a friend ordered the meatball and I just had to try again.  It was nowhere near the level of what I enthusiastically described earlier.  The meatball itself didn’t seem cooked and again the crust seemed boring.   Again, enough to eat, but nothing more.

So what happened?   I have my educated guesses and information. maybe it was an off night.  I was happy to share and swap slices with friend for the third visit.  I just wish the enjoyment level was on par with the first meatball and blackened chicken pizzas.

With that being said, that’s how I’ll remember the visits and the eats.  That blackened chicken was tremendous.  I would strongly recommend if you get the chance.  I look forward to getting another visit in and hoping for a repeat.

Nevertheless,  the positive experiences with good friends is most paramount.  And I’m thankful to have had many here, as either a happy hour, starting point, or ending point. And with that, to Tavern, one final thing needs to be said. Thank you.

All the best,

Ideen

Viva La Rosa

LaRosaTheSlices

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven through the streets of Philadelphia, and found myself on the gritty and more genuine feeling of Broad Street.

For the past 8 years I’ve been going to many a show, concert, and sporting event at the nearby South Philadelphia Sports Complex.   I know, what an imposing, yet inspirational name for it.  Well, maybe not inspirational, maybe just there.

My point is, I love Philadelphia, and I’m happy to now be embracing the pies that encompass this beautiful city.

Once again, I don’t know how many times I’ve gone past certain locales and thought nothing of them.  And now, over a year into this blog I actively look for pizzerias of all shapes and sizes.  One of those places is…

…a few blocks up the street from this sports and entertainment venue is La Rosa.

LaRosaFront

I wish I had come here sooner.  This is at about as palpable and authentic as it gets.

I had no idea what to expect when I walked in.  The outside may look imposing.  But here, as in life, never judge a book (or a pizzeria) by its cover.

I’m grateful that I did.  The lady behind the counter was randomly bringing slices out of the oven and placing them on trays.  It felt like cafeteria style.  And that could imply grade-school but I’m not making fun.  I found it refreshing.  There were no seats and the hallways were as narrow as a studio apartment or efficiency.  Oh I love Philadelphia.

The lady working could not have been nicer.   She was quick to explain what slices were which.  Did I mention that these were square-shaped?  I love ’em this way and it’s a pleasant deviation from the norm.

The slices looked buttery, thick, but not intimidating.  This isn’t a deep-dish or gargantuan concoction. This is a happy-medium that I think everyone, whether you’re a local or an outsider, is going to be appreciate.

There is a one source of frustration I will get to, after I go over the three slices I purchased.

I got the mushroom, the sausage, and the white spinach.  Can you guess the winner?

LaRosaMushroom

The mushroom was nothing spectacular.  I think they came from a can, which is alright.  But it didn’t really work here.  We know how bona fide mushrooms taste, and this wasn’t it.

The sausage was eons better than the former.  I was told that it actually comes from the city itself. I’m all for local and it shows.  It added a strong dimension to the slice.  It had the perfect blend of cheese, sauce, and the beef.

LaRosaWhiteSpinach

But the prize is the white spinach.   I could eat a hundred of these. Actually that’s a lot. How about just one for now?  This tasted like real spinach and the white cheese is on par with any of the best blanca slices I’ve had in some time.  May I have another?

The slight charring, mixed with the buttery and slightly crisp crust really won me over.

And the three slices didn’t even total $10.  That sounds like another win.

So why am I frustrated?   Before a planned visit to a place, I’ll do a little research. Sometimes I go in blind.  I prefer the latter but I wish this time I did a little preparation.

I found out later that their potato pie is their centerpiece and their big draw.  I wish I knew that ahead of time.   I don’t like to do repeat places too often but in this case I may make an exception.  I heard the sausage and potato pairing is what to go for.   Ah this is eating at me.  Oh wait…

I’ll have to come back.  Any excuse to return to Philadelphia is alright with me.

LaRosaBox

For my previous Philadelphia posts (alliteration is my addiction) you have your choice of here, there, and this one.  And here’s another.

Take care,

Ideen

 

My Kind of Town

LaCucinaPair

Honestly, I had no idea a place like Havre de Grace existed, until I moved to the area several years back.   What have I been missing?  Now I look forward with eagerness and anticipation each time I make the 20 minute drive.  Sometimes on the way back from Philadelphia or further up north, I’ll purposely make a stop just to look around and enjoy the view. It’s breathtaking.

The main streets and nearby neighborhoods are something out of a movie set.  It’s peaceful but then eerily quiet at times.  I may be understating this fact a bit.  I’ve been in the vicinity and have been the only one in the area.   It may sound creepy but I find solace in making this town all my own, for a few minutes.  Those moments are to be cherished and are so few and far between.  We all get them periodically whether we notice them or not.

LaCucinaFrontHolidays

What on Earth does this have to do with pizza?   Well you know every great neighborhood needs a great pizza place.  I only wish La Cucina would have delivered. No, I don’t mean actual food delivery, even though that van out there looks fun.  I mean on having great slices.

This is a review of two visits that I’ll combine into one.   The first was around the holidays and the most recent was last week.

I’m my own worst enemy.  I had such high expectations that only set me up for disappointment and heartbreak.  Maybe I’m getting carried away with the latter, but maybe you know what i mean.

First and foremost, its a sit-down restaurant that is quaint and cozy on the inside.  But they do have slices to go and that’s what we’re talking about here.  I just wish they had more variety.  That’s more my fault for setting expectations than anything else.  But isn’t that good to have lofty ones from time-to-time.

For my first, I got a cheese slice and a white broccoli, mainly because that’s all they had. There was no elaborate display of pizzas which I’m fine with.  But they only had those two. You could add toppings to the cheese but I felt like I wasn’t in a place of wonders like the town outside.  It looked pathetic.

That’s as harsh a criticism as I’ve given in sometime. The carry-out area seemed lifeless. The staff just seemed to be there.  I get it.  Not everyone can be happy-go-lucky all of the time.  The bottom line is…

The slices tasted alright and that’s being kind.  The NY Style Crust wasn’t cooked the best. It felt forced and rushed.  There as no feeling behind it.  It was good enough to eat but that’s not always enough.  The tomato sauce dominated too much of the cheese. The white broccoli tasted old and stale.

LaCucinaCalendar

I did get a free calendar, so that was fun!

LaCucinaFrontSpring

My second visit showed some improvements, but showed me that round one might not have been an aberration.

Luckily, white spinach was on the display case and I jumped right on it.   It was eons better than last time but still something was off kilter.  Same goes for the cheese.  Maybe it’s my professional camera but these photos seemed to display a shinier and more uplifting looking pizza. Maybe there was a little more effort and soul put into this one?  That’s just my observation.

I’m my own emotional roller-coaster.  I wanted this place to badly mirror the tranquility and beauty that the town outside projects.  And maybe it does to many of the locals and visitors.  I just didn’t get that experience.  Perhaps I was trying too hard.

I love family restaurants and only wish this place the best.   It looks like it’s going to be a staple of the town for years to come.

By no means am I giving up on La Cucina.  Next time I’ll grab a seat and see if things have turned the corner.  I’m overly-sentimental, I’m cheesy (whoops), and I romanticize the most simplest of things.  But that’s the fun of this.  I want this restaurant to match the charm of this beautiful city.  Maybe the third time’s the…

Best,

Ideen