By Request

tikkamasalapie

These tend to be my favorites.   I love the obscure, I love the gems, and I love local business.

As this blog continues to grow, and I gain more followers (which I’m so grateful for), I do get requests to review pizza places and certain types of pizza; whether it’s at a restaurant, a bar, a pizzeria, or in the frozen section of our friendly local supermarket.

Sometimes my blog comes up naturally in conversations and one with a complete stranger led to a fascinating request.   I had promised to honor this request in time.  Little did I know that it would be in the same week.

charlesbarstorefront

So with that I’m excited to write about Charle’s Bar & Grille, in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore.

With a name like that you might expect the most straight-forward, no bells and whistles, and no ambiance.  And that’s exactly what I expected and what I wanted.  The pizza eating experience can be glamorous but for many of us it’s also just food.  It’s just simple eating. We order a pie, we order a slice, and we go about our business.  Sometimes that’s all we want and it becomes a part of our daily routine.

But even before this blog, I’ve always been very observant of how fun pizza can be.  I love the preparation, the choices, all the slices displayed on their respective trays at yours and my local pizzerias, and just overall eating that slice that makes you feel something.  And I just don’t mean feeling full.

charlesbarmenu

So of all places, why was I suggested to eat here?  It’s one of those restaurants that’s near a college campus, and serves multiples types of food, which includes Italian, American, and Indian.  Yes this is a phenomenon that is sweeping the whole country.  Maybe it’s been going on forever and that part of the my observations went over my head.

Let me get on with it.  My new acquaintance told me to order the Chicken Tikka Masala Pizza.  And give a genuine opinion of it.   I was already intrigued.  And I was also surprised I’d never thought to order it or eat anything similar to it anywhere.  Maybe the opportunity never presented itself.  But with all the combinations of pizza, how can that be?

That’s also one of my favorite parts of a pizza pie.  You can experiment with a wide array of crusts, meats, vegetables, cheeses, sauces, and everything in between.  This would qualify as experimenting and thinking outside the (pizza) box.  Even if my to go order came in one of those generic ‘fresh pizza mmm goood’ to go boxes.  I’m not knocking it.  It suits the place.

piestogether

I ordered two individual pies.  I’ll get to the Tikka Masala shotrly.

cheesepie

First, the standard cheese.  Yes this is standard.  But with a place like this you shouldn’t expect anything better or worse.  For how this establishment presents itself, the cheese pie is mediocre at best.  I didn’t think it would be anything life changing so I’m not disappointed.   I simply ordered this as a comparison for what was to come.  And for only $5.50, I can’t complain too much.

tikkamasalapie

Now the Tikka… This is something.  It’s literally pieces of grilled chicken and the tikka masala sauce placed on top of a cheese pizza.   You might be thing the tomato sauce may clash with the Tikka Masala sauce.  Not the case.

I honestly don’t know what to compare this too.   I read reviews on sites saying this pizza was earth shattering.  And for a first time trying something so unique, it resonated with them, and they keep coming back.

I didn’t love it that much.  And again I’m saying this with the understanding of where I ordered my pies, and knowing this is not meant to be world class pizza.   I just thought it was fine, and maybe a bit sweeter for my taste than the usual Tikka sauce I’ve grown accustomed too.

chickentikkamasalaslice

There has to be some accountability.  I’ve had better Tikka Masala at various Indian restaurants and buffets, so I do have that to go on.

The dough was fine.  If this were on actual Naan Bread, this would be so much better.  But I didn’t expect that either.

If I were to return, I will give this pie another go.  It’s worth another try.  And I’m intrigued by a few of their other pies;  the Veggie Korma, the Palak Paneer, and the Chana Masala. Including the aforementioned pie I reviewed, these are traditional Indian dishes that many of us have become huge fans of.   I must try these.   And a price of individual pie starts at $10.50, so the investment isn’t too big.

I don’t know when I’ll be back.  This is one of those rare occurrences that needs to happen organically.  I literally found myself blocks away from this restaurant today, so fate and destiny told me to come here this week.

I suspect a similar experience will lead me back here.

charlesbarthebar

Maybe I’ll even walk into the bar that’s within the restaurant.  But for now I looked it at from afar (or maybe a few feet away), and wonder what was going on inside.  It seemed sketchy, it seemed real Baltimore, and it seemed like a place I should only romanticize about.  Because if I ever walk in, that mystery will go away and I’ll be left disappointed.

But I think people will be enamored with the Chicken Tikka Masala pizza.  I didn’t love it but I sense that many will, just for the fact that it’s so different.

If you’re in the area, give it a shot.  It’s right in the heart of what separates the older part of Baltimore that has a little more character, and what is further South which is busy, like most major cities are, and/or continue to grow into.

Here’s their menu.

And here’s to creativity.

Ideen

 

 

 

 

Love & Pizza

wethepizzasquash1

I just had to get back to one of of my favorite Washington, DC area pizza places, We The Pizza.  The charm, the energy, the charisma, the positive energy, and most of all, the pizza has stuck with me since my inaugural visit to their Crystal City location back in November of 2015.  You can read about that surreal experience here.

I had said I would be back here sooner rather than later.  How does nearly 14 month sound? And how surreal again is it, one the eve of one of the biggest events in the area, and in our nation in a long time.   Life is funny that way.  It presents us scenarios.  It naturally plants us in situations where we either take it or throw it back to the universe for reorganizing.

wethepizzaside

For many, a situation might be too much too handle and we withdrawal, we have reservations, and we overthink.  Heck what am I talking about?  I was footsteps away from where there was so much commotion, and the DC version of We The Pizza was in my sights.  Maybe that’s all there is too it.   Maybe.  I didn’t have any reservations.  Speaking of which, this is what they call, casual digs, no need to call ahead and reserve a table. I I suspect some of the folks in line might be paying a hefty tab for a dinner later on this weekend if you catch what I’m saying.

wethepizzafront2

The strip of bars, shoppes, and restaurants around Capitol Hill does have some charm to it. As much as DC has become so homogenized with bloated new apartment and condo units, it still has loads of charm.  You don’t have too look too hard to find it.  I forgot one of my new favorite pizzerias was nestled right in the heart of it.  It’s been here for  over six years. I don’t think I’ve been away that long.

wethepizzafront1

The vibe was much different than it’s Virginia Counterpart.  Yes there were plenty of “What Do You Do?” types mulling about.  But there seemed to be an overall intensity of joy all around.  The sun was out and you could almost get away without wearing a jacket.  It was that nice out.  That always helps.   On first glimpse, I didn’t sense as much as dining space as in Crystal City, but then I walked around and realized wow.  There’s outdoor seating, front seating, side seating, and more upstairs.  This is the combination of cozy and widespread.   I think this has always been the norm (if plausible) in restaurants within rowhomes, but I still like to point it out

To say there was a sense of community around is a statement.  Maybe you thought I would say understatement but now.  But not an overstatement either.  People seemed happy.  I saw people saying hi to one another.  There’s good everywhere and we don’t have to look hard to find it.  I bet sharing pizza has a lot do with that.  More on that shortly.  But speaking of which…

I wanted to keep it simple this time around.  But when you see their whole assortment of pies, it’s hard to just stick with cheese and pepperoni.   I’ll get to the meats in good time. But I did go with three slices, one was one of the magnificently crafted slices I’ve had.  You may see it hiding behind the other two, in the picture on the right above.  That overused artisanal word can be applied to that one.  The unveiling is coming.  I’ll get to that in pizza three.

wethepizzawhite

I went with with the White Pizza first.   I’m going with this one initially because this shocked me how disappointing this was.  White is usually hard to make poorly but something went awry here.  All the standards are there, but was it the fontina that gave this a strange taste?  Was is the ricotta?  How about the white sauce?  Maybe the whole not equalling the sum?  Maybe it was an off day. I’m really confused.  But look how beautiful this is?  Yet, I couldn’t finish it.

wethepizzawhite2

I will say the crust on all the pies is tremendous, cooked to perfection, and with the perfect charring all over the place.

wethepizzacheese

Now we move on to simple cheese.  This was fantastic.  And the cheese is just like someone’s mom used to make, and hopefully still does.   It reminds me of pizza I had when I was a kid and still luckily find periodically.  I know in the past I’ve used that similarity before, but it applies here as well.  This was so damn good.  But the fresh oregano is the key ingredient that makes this magical.

That would have been enough to make it a 2 for 2 in visits.  But this just needed a little something else didn’t it?

I’m big on dramatics, even when it comes to something simple as pizza, but I noticed one pie on the counter that didn’t have an identifier.  I asked one of the pizza makers what this was and he asked me to look at the sign up ahead.  I keep making it so hard on myself. But it also makes it exciting no?  Well someone out there will agree with me.

wethepizzasquashsign

Anyways, what I thought looked like a dessert pie on first glimpse was actually the Roasted Butternut Squash.  I jumped like a little kid and said “me me, I want one!”   No that didn’t actually happen but my enthusiasm level went to a brand new level.  I’m building this thing up in anticipation of eating.  I deliberately saved this one for last and to call this a masterpiece would not be enough.   I just wish I noticed this sooner.  The squash by itself tasted fresh out of the garden. And as individual pieces they were perfect.  I pulled a few off for safe eating.

wethepizzasquash2

Everything that was incorporated brought all the other flavors and textures to life.  From the goat cheese, to the caramelized onions, the thyme, the balsamic glaze, and the bechamel?

wethepizzasquash3

I would be lying if I just threw bechamel acting like I use that word regularly.  But after reading about it, I see that it has just as much importance to this pie as everything else.  And I will now be on the lookout for other meals and foods that use bechamel.  But I really know what it is, I swear!  How many times can I say that without looking like a complete goof. Bechamel bechamel bechamel! Yum!

I need more of that squash pie.   I should have just ordered one to go and did what I could to preserve it to enjoy over the next few days.  That just means I’ll need to come back.  And it won’t be another year plus for the next recap.  This place is too good not to be applauded for all their fantastic za.

All three slices came out to $12 and change.  For the location, that’s more than reasonable.   Cheese is $3 and most other slices are $4.

And for all the good they do too.  Here are some links on that, being in the community and helping the environment.

If you’ve never been or are traveling to the area this weekend or anytime, here is their contact information, locations, and news feed.

This is what I alluded to earlier.  Pizza, almost 100% of the time, makes people feel good, it brings people together.  At that moment you’re enjoying a marvelous pizza pie, with good friends, good family, or whatever awesome company you may have, and just loving life. This is the whole point of  why I write about pizza and why We The Pizza does what they do.

The “We” and the “Us” is paramount here.

The charming pictures on their restroom wall help too!

Like I said earlier, they have too many slices not do be revisited again.  So I hope WE do.

WE’ll do it again soon!

Ideen

 

 

 

Fifty Shades of Great

vin909pizzapie3

Actually it’s more than 50.  You can’t put a number on this but the Fifty Shades of Red from Vin 909 is a scrumptious and scintillating pie.   I could throw all the other superlatives that start with the letter ‘S’and any other letter, but this is one of those overall experiences that will resonate with me for a long time.

You know when you have those Grade A (not I won’t be using a bunch of happy words that start with ‘A’ unless it also happens organically) nights out with awesome food, drinks, company, conversation, and service that it tends to come up often in conversation?

Restaurants are more competitive than ever and many are attempting to stand out and differentiate themselves from the crowd.  Vin 909 has done it by the having a welcoming entrance, an approachable and folksy feeling front porch (which is used for outdoor dining when it’s a warmer climate), a cozy waiting area, and even more cozy bar and dining area on the inside.

vin909pizzaeaten3

All this without any food being sampled.   One more thing, the many times I’ve driven by I’ve felt an energy emanating from the building and the surrounding area.  I equate the visual of the outside as somewhere we go could if we’re checking into Heaven.  There’s no religious connotation with what I just said.  It’s just meant an an expression, and as an experience.

vin909pizzaeaten2

But I’ll tell you this Eastport Style Pizza was the equivalent of a religious or more I’d say a spiritual experience.

Now I don’t often seek out loads of meat on my pizza.  I like grilled chicken as my preferred protein and lots of vegetables.  Actually I really like to keep it simple.  I like cheese, I like white, I like spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, mushroom, and of course pesto.

However, I wasn’t alone for this meal, so a mutually enjoyable pie was needed for this occasion.  And I’m all for expanding my horizons and getting out of the comfort zone.  But as you can see the pizza menu is loaded with all kinds of creativity and excitement.

I wish I could tell you the best part of this pizza.  I truly don’t know.  But that crust was jaw droppingly magnificent.  Maybe that was the best part.  But these toppings are all fresh. No matter how I phrase it words will not do it any justice.

vin909pizzapie

I adore how the cheese melted all over this pie.  It gives it a true authenticity that you don’t always see.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that other pizzas are any worse.  This was just the good stuff.

vin909pizzapie2

Even the way the prosciutto, pepperoni, and sopressata is layered on top is art.  That’s a lot of red meat.  And it may not be for the faint of heart or more of the discriminatory taste, but this was a gem.   That basil and paprika is the perfect counter balance with all that heavy meat.   I’m glad I got to share this pizza for I only had a few slices.

Did you see those slices?  Some were in the standard form and others were more square shaped.  I love how that worked out.   The presentation right before on the pizza stand makes this all come full circle and completes this mastery of a pie.  It’s not just the food and drinks, it’s everything leading up to it.  The anticipation, the build, and the payoff are all part of this enjoyable process.  And when it’s actually enjoyable, which this was, we’re talking a world class meal of epic proportions.

The wine (more on the wine pictured here) made the pizza that much better and the pizza did the same for the vino.   The tea helped settle the stomach, and helped with that full feeling I had when departing.

vin909pizzaslice3

How else can I say how great this was?  I can’t say enough.  I’m so partial to Vin 909 and my romance with the restaurant predate me ever setting foot inside.  All that’s left is to keep the love affair going.

vin909pizzaslice4

That means a return engagement when the weather breaks.  Actually my intention is to make many visits.  And not all will be for the blog.  Some memories are meant to be kept internal and some should be shared.  But I think this is a place that I want to appreciate without the pressure of writing and taking pictures.  Same goes for many others but Vin 909 will always hold a special place in my heart.  Oh and being in Annapolis helps!

vin909front

It’s been a pleasure reminiscing about a meal in three installments (Here is Part 1 and Part 2), and about a place a I was reminiscing about before I even walked into Heavens Gates. Yes I did just say that again.

One thing I forgot to mention is they don’t take reservations.  Seating is first come, first serve.  Wait times can go past an hour.  And you know a place has got some cache if patrons are waiting that long.  Trust me, it’s worth the wait.

How do I follow-up next week?   Well I’ll do my best.  But for now this is one to savor.

vin909sign

If you’re in the area or visiting I highly recommend Vin 909.   Here is more about them, their philosophycontact info, and most of all one of my best friends’ organizations which they support, Anne Arundel County CASA.

I never got the chance to meet Alex Manfredonia, who is the owner and general manager. But in case he does read this, I just wanted to say thank you.

Ideen

 

 

Slice 2.0

slicetowsonslices

Not quite two years ago I did a write-up about Slice Pizza in in Nottingham, MD.  I was critical and constructive in my thoughts.  That review can be found here.

I thought the pizza wasn’t up to par with what they were charging, and the creative slices.

One look at their full menu will tell you all you need to know about how dynamic and daring some of their signature pies are.  But daring doesn’t always translate to good. Some of us want our simple cheese slices that are affordable, ready to go, and harmless

There’s the flip side.  Do you want it too much on the unique and chaotic side, or will a simple plain do?

slicetowsonstorefront

Well why am I rambling on about a place I already wrote about?  Well I have a reason.  And along with that, they’ve since opened a second location not far away in downtown Towson, MD.  They don’t have a website but hopefully this will help.

slicetowsonsign

I found myself at their new locaotion, like I always do when it comes to where  I choose to eat, rather serendipitously (no such thing as coincidence) and just in time for lunch.

They had an even wider array of slices that I wouldn’t think to make.  However, this some of these slices bordered on chaotic.  And chaos, no matter how organized and clean, may intimidate some.  Not me.  I say bring on the mayhem.

And I was hoping for a major upgrade from my original visit.  Now onto the pies…

I don’t know what it is, but I just tend  to be in the mood for mushrooms from time to time.  So with further adieu how did my slices turn out?

chickenmarsala

First up was the the Chicken Marsala.  I’ll tell you what, the pieces of chicken on top of this slice were fantastic.  I couldn’t tell if they were marinated or chicken cutlets.  But either way it was a good start.   This is more about the pie than the makers themselves.  This was a little too rich for me on the inside. I’m assuming they used marsala wine to add to the sauce.  And it just didn’t work for me.  The crust was heated maybe just a little too golden brown and burnt on some ends that it did lose some of its flavor on top of the pie Not the best slice I’ve ever had nor the worst.

tomatomushroompestocado

Now we go to the Tomato Mushroom Pestocado.  Now if I said anything wrong about the title of this slice, please correct me.  This was good.  The fresh uncooked tomatoes on top added so much to this pizza.  The lukewarm mushrooms added a little something else.  Whether it was meant to be cooked more doesn’t matter.  I dug it.  And I’m assuming this was an avacado based pesto as part of the well, base of the pie.  I may be wrong on that too but the main thing I felt took away from this was there was too much ricotta cheese and it wasn’t very good.  That’s when I realized this was a white pizza with all kinds good goodness piled on top.   Take out the ricotta, this is a really good slice.  The crust was heated better on this one too.

The two staff members working the counter could not have been nicer.  They made the experience so much better.

slicetowsoncard

What I did find troubling is the $10 total I paid for both of my slices.  I know these are on the gourmet end but $10 did feel a tad steep.  Luckily the do have lunch specials where two cheese slices and one drink do only cost $6 and change.  We’re only talking a few dollars here but I’m looking at this from all areas.

Since there’s so many unique slices to choose from, this is only the beginning.  I almost feel I could run a supplementary blog for all their outside the box slices.  I love that and I love when folks break tradition and go their own way.

slicetowsonbox

Another visit is in order and soon.

slicetowsonpizza

Here’s my ever growing history of the pizza of Towson.

Happy New Year,

Ideen