Paradise By The…

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A lot of good pizza was had in 2016.  It seems to me that the focus has been on only finding the better slices, the better pies, and the better experiences.  If something is really horrific and worth talking about it will be talked about here.  But the emphasis will always be talking about quality za and giving you a valid reason for you to visit.  If not then this defeats the whole purpose.

Of course I’m just one person with an opinion.  Not everything I like will be agreed with and vice-versa.  And the pizzas I’m a little critical of might be one of your favorites.

For me it’s traditionally based on what I’m feeling at the time, not necessarily what I’m thinking.  It could be an idea about a place, or yes, a preconceived notion that may skew an opinion a little more towards one way or another than it otherwise wouldn’t.  This is why today’s pizza I discuss is so fascinating.

Before this past day after Christmas, my one and only ever visit to Pizzeria Paradiso was back in 2000.  Yes 16 years ago.  And this was at the Georgetown location.  Needless to say, being much younger the pizza was fine but I didn’t see what the big deal was.  I can get pizza anywhere I said.  Now whether this was my actual reaction is merely a reflection of my past self.  I can only speculate but it’s something similar to what I would have said.

It was a lifetime ago so I don’t know exactly what I ordered, but I remember the company I was with.  That’s one I’ll leave for myself.  But it wasn’t the best experience.  I remember paying a lot more for pizza than I may have ever had before.   Because of that I wonder if that’s the main reason of why I never went back.

Many times and many years over I’ve found myself walking past the Georgetown and Dupont Circle locations and not thinking much of it.  And that’s neither a good or bad statement.  There’s so many options to eat, let alone ones specific to pizza.

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But something about the Old Town Alexandria location seemed so much more welcoming and approachable.  There is a heavy bias here. I was born in this beautiful town, just minutes away from Old Town.  So I have loads of attachment and love for this place.

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Even still things would come up for the universe had other plans for me when I visited Alexandria.  I’ve been to many restaurants and many places along King Street and the surrounding areas, but never here.

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Well the wait and fate finally crossed paths.  All it took was a little Christmas Cheer and a peaceful drive to one of the great towns of America.

So how was the pizza this time?

It was busy.  Christmas was observed on a Monday this year and the town was buzzing. People had off and made the most of their post Christmas time.  Well that sounded like safe yet dramatic thing to say.  The restaurant was packed and the staff was busy. Did that affect the pizza in any way?  That I don’t know.

Even in a frenetic setting my pie turned out really good.  I ordered the Genovese which consisted of parmesan, pesto, and potato.  How about that combination?

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Now I wasn’t sure how this was going to look but I loved it.  These were real slices of potato.  If you’re thinking that I ordered this in light of a Christmas hangover and hoping for mashed potatoes, you might be right.

And that pesto tasted fresh, authentic, and from somewhere magnificent.  Where that is I don’t know.  But I like to think there was a lot of care and soul put into creating that pesto.

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That wood fired crust was tremendous as well.  I’ve heard friends say it’s the best pizza they’ve had in all of DC.  That’s a tough one to decide on.  It’s all relative.  I will say the crust was fantastic and I’m craving it now as I right about it.  It just had the perfect burnt and charred taste to it.  And that thin crust was shaped perfectly.  And a thinner crust was needed on this day.

The overall experience, ambiance, and service definitely made it even better.

For how busy the restaurant was, I was still able to get diner style seating and enjoy my meal in solitude.  I got to sample a couple of red wines before deciding on a favorite.  I was pleased with my decision.

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I was pleased with the pie.  I was only able to have half, which was fine by me.  I got to enjoy the rest later.  For a personal pizza this was a hearty sized meal.  You could easily get two meals out of this without question.  Or maybe my stomach has been feeling the effects of all the holiday eating that it was a reminder to slow down and take it easy.   And to enjoy the peace and spirit of the holidays.  They’re not technically over yet.

So I enjoyed my time in Old Town like I always do.  I took some pictures of the nearby historic streets and even one by Pizzeria Paradiso.  I hope you enjoy just like I enjoyed my pizza.

They’re one of the major players in the Washington, DC area when it comes to pizza.  And I’m glad to have ended the year with one of the more soothing and peaceful dining experiences I’ve had in a while.

I promise it won’t be another 16 years till the next visit.  How about I revisit this again in 2017.  That’s a promise.

Here is their story, their beer menu and online ordering info for those nearby.

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I look forward to what 2017 brings.  That feels weird just typing that.

Happy What’s Left of the Holidays,

Ideen

 

 

In The Spirit Of The Season

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Actually that title might be misleading, but I just felt like writing another holiday themed title for this blog.  We’re kind of in the home stretch here so I want to enjoy all the moments I can.  I want to look back on posts like this, knowing that I did my part to spread Christmas, or in this instance pizza, Cheer.

I’ve gone on in the past about how much Annapolis feels like Christmas.  And the downtown area always looks and feels magical.  Well this weeks pizza takes us back to Annapolis, but not in the downtown area.  And the pizza I’m about to review from Squisito, wasn’t from a recent visit.  So I may have this during a holiday, but not those ‘happy holiday’, we love to say in limitless doses.  I think this goes back to September, but I did take notes (actually no not really) and am happy to recap this experience to you.

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Now this wasn’t like the other Squisito’s I’ve visited before.  The front signage was fancier than others.   This is a local chain but this one, aside from the logo, had a different look and vibe about it.  Again it’s maybe the Annapolis thing. There’s a bit of favoritism I show towards our state capital.

I’ve been eating slices, among other standard lunch and Italian fare  here for a couple of years, and have always considered it to be good to great food and service on every occasion.

And when it came to pizza slices, I always got the standard cheese, veggie, and various mat and veggie combinations.   But on this day I felt inspired.  I wanted something different.  It also seemed the Annapolis location had more slices to choose from than I’ve seen at their other stores.  Here I go again with the favoritism.

I went with the Philly Cheesesteak and the White Pizza with grilled chicken, tomatoes, and arugula.

Can you guess which one I preferred over the other

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The cheesesteak was ambitious.  Now I’m not judging it versus how a cheesesteak from Philadelphia should taste. But it should still have that amazing melding of steak, cheese, peppers, on top of this crust.  So how did  this Philly Style cheeseteak taste on top of the New York Style crust?  I see an oxymoron here.   The pizza was wine but it seemed like it had been out for a while and may have been slightly compromised over time.  I envision this pizza would be so much better if fresher and right out of the oven.

It’s easy and hard to make a good cheeseteak regardless of the city.   And as a personal side, it may have just been a bit too heavy for me.  That’s a personal preference for me tat has nothing to do with the quality itself.

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The chicken slice was the show stealer. Those are real, fresh, and genuine looking piece of chicken   I think I just used the same synonym or superlative three times over.  But this was a fantastic slice.  I love how basically the toppings were put on cold.  Literally they were cold.  The  chicken was heated somewhat but didn’t need to be.  The dichotomy of the heated slice with the chilled toppings was creative, unique, and endearing.  There I go with the three word narrative again.

Squisito is a model of consistency. They have great pizza and great service, that is approachable and welcoming.  And what’s the moral to this story?   Keeping it simple always works but going outside the norm of what goes on a pizza can be exciting and something I look forward to when seeing unique slices at the counter.

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I look forward to being back again and enjoying another genuine and sincere experience. That’s what we should all strive for during the holidays and the rest of the calendar year as well.

Here’s their menu, growing list of locations, and contact information.

My Annapolis History Lesson can be found here. There’s lots of great places!

We’re this close to Christmas.  And I want to wish you a happy and festive celebration with the ones you love, and maybe have some great pizza along the way.  Squisito would certainly quality as that.

Happy Holidays,

Ideen

Lotsa To Love

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If I had only said only ‘Lotsa To Like’ that would imply that I really enjoyed it, but there was that little extra missing.  So I said I love it.  And indeed I do.  No embellishment of the truth is necessary.

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Lotsa (which now has several locations and growing) of Towson, MD is simple, effective, and to the point pizza.  It’s stone fried and even though it’s the equivalent of fast food, it tastes anything but.  This tastes like a real pizza.  Nothing about this is done halfway, even though the heating times ranges from three to five minutes.  And in those few minutes is where magic and wonder happens.

I know many folks are purists.  They wouldn’t even consider going into a pizza shoppe like this one.  I’m passionate about pizza but at the same time I like to give new places a chance.  And even though this is an expanding chain, it’s still the first time for me, and I’ve wanted to eat here since the Summer.

And to me pizza is pizza.  If it’s good than it’s good, no matter how it was created.  I respect the original forms but can appreciate what’s going on today.   I’m a traditionalist myself , but I would like to think there’s room for everyone.

Yes, I only heard about Lotsa going back to June, when it was on the verge of opening.  I had promised myself I would eat here before the year would be over.  I was cutting it close but I’m a man of my word.

I did no research on this place beforehand.  I wanted to go in with as little knowledge or biases as possible.  It’s good to know a few things ahead of time, such as the menu, and whether it’s casual or higher end dining, but unless absolutely necessary I’d like to have an unexpected and organic experience.   Calling it one or the other would be an understatement.

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I had avoided as much as I could to have any preconceived notions.  But the way friends talked about this place made it seem like it was a fancier dining establishment.   To my pleasant surprise, it wasn’t.   Everything I mentioned earlier, about how it was quick and seamless I only found out about upon walking in.  I find that so cool.  Expect the unexpected, and don’t expect anything at all  For me at least, it’s more enjoyable that way.

So this is a recap of two separate visits.

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With visit number one, it was lunchtime, but I went with their Breakfast Pizza.  In the two years plus of doing this blog, this would be my first breakfast pie, and what a way to start. I adore this thing.   I was afraid it was going to be too heavy with the sausage and bacon, but it was just right.  The cheddar jack is the perfect cheese for this type of pie.  The spices from everything all come together so nicely.

But the standout is this dough.  It’s that comfort food style crisp and chewy bread that fits perfectly with this time of year.   This is the kind of bread I want when it’s freezing cold and I want to indulge in some bread in the comfort of my own home, with friends of in solitude.  It represents winter weather perfectly.  That’s not to say you should only have it around this time of year.  But I can’t say enough good things about their dough.

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Second, is the Bianca.  And doesn’t this just look like Christmas?  Look at these colors.   And again that dough.  Oh my goodness this is so good.  It’s charred to masterpiece like levels.  And that stone fired oven is a thing of beauty.    This bread tasted as good, if not better for round two.  Additionally, the provolone cheese truly makes this pizza something special and one I would get again.

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Actually I would get either of these again.   The garlic, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and all the other cheese with the aforementioned provolone make this a hit.  And it serves an audience seeking something lighter than the breakfast pie.  Did I mention it looks so Christmasy?   Yay!  I love Christmas!

As I mentioned, there’s currently just a few locations.  Local to our friends in Maryland, would be Towson and Annapolis.  So if you’re in the area I highly recommend checking them out.  And at about $8 for a personal pie, you can’t go wrong.

Oh and they were playing nothing but 90’s pop music throughout both my visits.  If that doesn’t sell you than I don’t know what will.

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Here’s their menu and more about Lotsa itself.

And here’s my previous visits to Towson in the form of pizza.

There’s a lot of holidays left and I hope you’ve been enjoying them with the people you love and maybe eating some good za!

I love the holidays!

Ideen

 

 

That’s The Jingle Bell Bar

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That everything happens for a reason cliche is a legitimate thing.   I was all set to do a review of an experience at Red Red Wine Bar back in the spring.   As luck would have it, my phone died as I was getting pictures of our pizzas and vino, while enjoying a casual outdoor setting in Downtown Annapolis.  I took it as a couple things, 1) this is not the way this wine bar was meant to be portrayed, and 2) the universe had grander plans for me.  And is that an understatement if there ever was one.

No matter what goes on in life, one thing I know for sure, the holidays bring out the best in us.  We go through a million emotions all year, and all of a sudden it’s Thanksgiving, and then it’s December.  What the heck happened here?   That time to reflect, to appreciate, and spread love magically appears this time of year.   Wouldn’t be great it you felt that all of the time?

Downtown Annapolis always feels like Christmas to me.  It has the old world, small town, welcoming feel that radiates an aura of holiday spirit 365 days a year.  That might be an exaggeration, but it’s the feeling I get.  And that’s no accident.  Different neighborhoods bring different feelings.  It’s up to us to choose to embrace it or move along.    Well I’m embracing and moving forward.

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So we move along nearly eight months later, and this was meant to be.  However, this time, it wasn’t the Red Red Wine Bar.  They transformed themselves into a winter wonderland and holiday spectacle, happily titled, the Jingle Bell Bar.

This bar is something else.  The set-up with all the lavish decorations screams holiday cheer.  If this didn’t get you in the spirit than I’m not sure what else might.

Actually, it was my dear friend’s event that brought us here tonight.   The Anne Arundel County, Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, for short, has done so much good for the community of Annapolis and nearby.  I’m proud to have volunteered and been associated with some wonderful and unique parties and events.  I’m grateful for that.  And I was grateful for this one.

They had a guest bartender on hand, and part of everyone’s check and tips went to CASA. It’s a win win for everyone.

I  could just sense going in that this was going to be an awesome time.  Sometimes you just know.  When you’re connected with a good community, it’s only going to bring about more of that community.  The folks in attendance were there for the same reason, to celebrate this fantastic organization and the holidays.   I felt so at home.  I think everyone else did too.

After all that, how was the pizza?  To make up for last time, I went with two pies, and was happy to share them with friends, old and new.

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I went with the two that I feel most represented this season, with their flavors, ingredients, and overall presentation.

First up, was the White Chicken on Roasted Garlic Flat Bread.   The look of this was fantastic.   For the simple fact that one of the toppings was garlic puree  is why I went with the garlic flat bread.  It did make me wonder how it would taste with the wheat.  That chicken tasted fresh and organic.   I love brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and butternut squash.  Tell me another trio that spells out the holidays more than that?  This was a really good pie, but I almost felt like I didn’t get a taste of the squash or onions in every bite.  That could be me trying too hard to find them or some flavors overpowering the other.  Hence why I wonder how the wheat flat bread would turn out.  Nevertheless, my new friends and I finished this wonderful arrangement in mere minutes.  And I would definitely order this pizza again.

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But the quintessential pie of the holiday season might just be the Pear Prosciutto.  You’ve got to be kidding me.   I confirmed with one of the manager’s, Bethany (who was world class by the way), on which pizza to go with.  I’m glad we were on the same page.

Oh my and Christmas was this one of the best things I’ve eaten in sometime.  This is a must with wheat bread.   This is a throwback to my childhood.  And isn’t what Christmas and the holidays does to us sometimes?  The combination of honey, feta, and wheat on a piece of warm and toasty pita bread (usually wheat) alone is something I share with my family, especially my dad, and continue to this way.  So I felt warm inside before even noshing.  And when I finally noshed, everything was confirmed. This is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.  The pears, prosciutto, and arugula are what you see immediately.  But to me, the heart is the honey, feta, olive oil, and minced garlic.  Again, that’s a family thing.   I’m getting emotional as I expound on this.  I’m getting goose bumps.  I’m not kidding you.

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And combining these pizzas with good people, good wine (click here to read more about the wines), a festive vibe, and a great cause, this is a win-win and then some.

I love this place.  Let me reiterate.  I LOVE this place.  Nestled in the heart of Downtown Annapolis automatically makes a place welcoming.  But there was something special about this night.

Once again, a huge thank you to Bethany for helping me with everything when it came to pizza and wine suggestions.

I’m ecstatic to have been a part of something so special.  I look forward to my next visit to Red Red Wine Bar.   And if you’re in the area I strongly recommend you do the same.

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Here is their story and their contact info.

For my Annapolis Pizza History, click here.

For more on Anne Arundel County CASA and all the good that they do, click here.

And for the last inspiring CASA experience, click here.

This was a holiday party for the books.  I’m so thankful and appreciative to have been a part of this.  All many of us want for the holidays, and out of life, is to feel good.  This event and this bar checks of all the boxes.

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To a safe and happy holiday season,

Ideen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down To The River To…

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This is a Small Business Saturday special.   But for me, supporting small business, when it comes to pizza, or other ventures, is what I’m proud to support the most.   However, there are mom and pops, brick and mortar, or whatever you want to call it, that strike a nerve just a little more.

All of a sudden it’s December.  How did this happen?   Last Saturday felt like it was minutes ago.  But in the spirit of that, I take it to a town that has meant so much to so many of us, Ellicott City, MD.

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I was going to write about River House Pizza Co last summer, but things didn’t work out that way.  I stumbled upon their courtyard right smack dab in the heart of Old EC, where I had been many times before.  But this one felt special.  The weather was glorious, the live band (yes there was a band) was rocking, the crowd was enjoying themselves, and eating some great pizza to boot.  I say great, but am I getting ahead of myself?   The wait times were upwards of 20 minutes for a pie, and I didn’t have time to wait.  At least that’s how I try to rationalize it.

But the planets aligned and this was meant to be a special for the holidays.  And how special are these pies?   In a chestnut shell, these pizzas taste like perfection for this time of year.  They taste like Christmas, or they taste like anything you might celebrate.  It’s one of the most comforting and endearing pizzas you’re ever going to have.

To mark the importance of this, there will be two pizzas reviewed over two visits.  How cool is that?  Yes the pizza is hot and cool, at the same time.  That’s enough of the cheesy puns.  Wait I’m not even sure if that’s a pun.

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The first stop was a fortunate visit to the local library’s farmers’ market.  And what do you do know, this would be their last day here, for a while.   Funny how that works out.

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In the tradition of my play on words and then my love of pesto, I went with the Market Special.   This pizza is so simple yet so extraordinary.  That dough is so chewy and gooey and as I alluded to, tastes like the holidays.  It’s on the level of that cheesy bread you may find at your national chain pizza.  But this blows it all away.  I can’t rave enough about how amazing this soft dough is.  And the balsamic glaze really shines through.  It may be the highlight in a sea of highlights.  The chicken tasted fresh, the pesto homemade, and that cheese is a pure delight.  At only $12 this pie is a bargain.

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I saved half of this for lunch the next day, and tasted equally as good.   I’m salivating at the thought of having one right now.  It’s inspiring.

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So that was two weeks ago.  We move along to that Saturday after Thanksgiving.  After that remarkable display of wood fired fierceness, how do we top this?  I’m not sure but the Namaste I got at their Courtyard is on par.  And if you look closely, both pizzas complement each other in the spirit of Christmas.  I love that so much.  I didn’t even plan for that.

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I’ll admit, I ordered the Namaste for the name alone.  The spiritual connotation was enough for me.  And once again, that dough was insanely good.  You’ve got to be kidding me.    The marinara and red peppers add to the holiday visual.  And those caramelized onions, mmm mmm mmm I’m in love.  Was that even a sentence?  But mmm….This was tremendous.  And I continue to find that portabella mushrooms add to most meals and of course that means to most pizza pies.

Needless to say this pizza didn’t stand a chance.  I finished it in one sitting.  Yes, I was hungry but it was more than that.  This was spiritual experience at the courtyard.  I was alone, but I wasn’t.  There were a few other tables occupied but that wasn’t it.  It was just cold enough that being inside was feasible, but the warm energy around me was enough to let me know I was surrounded by spirits.

And with positive spirits comes positive vibrations.  And the vibes that radiated from all the shoppers in downtown Ellicott City made me feel so good.  I had no problem waiting a few extra minutes to find parking and appreciate all the people going over the crosswalks.

This is what the holidays are all about.  Well maybe not all about.  This is just a small sample size within one story.  We all have those stories that tug at our heartstrings and creative a memory that will resonate with us forever.  As time goes on, I’ll appreciate this experience even more.

At the end of this post I’ll share with you some of the images I took in downtown EC. Some were taken from my car, so they may look a bit awkward, but it almost seems fitting.

Pizzas like this only come ever-so-often.  And supporting local is the way to go.  For those in the area, their winter weekend hours are posted here.  Their intent to stay open the entire time.   Here is their courtyard menu.   Finally, if I haven’t sold you on their pizza yet, here is the chef’s bio.

As an added bonus, Midnight Madness is tonight! 

Here are my two previous visits to Ellicott City gift wrapped to you, in door #1 and door #2! 🙂

I want to review all their pizzas, so this may just be the beginning.  And I’m going to safely assume they will all bring joy and make great memories for you and your loved ones.  I hope this is just the beginning, and I would like to say I’ll be back soon.  This will be a cherished part of my holiday memories and I hope the same happens for you.

Namaste,

Ideen