Lovely Lena

LenasPizza3

Any chance I get back to Alexandria, VA, I’m all about it.   I live closer to Baltimore now.  And even though Alexandria is 90 minutes away it still feels like a road trip or vacation.

I was born here.  It’s not something I always bring up to the world or make it a focal point of conversation.   None of us have any control over where we’re born.  It’s just one of those things that happens, literally.   But even though I didn’t grow up here, it’s something I’m happy here and believe there’s a reason it happened.

LenasSign

More of those reasons will be presented to me over time and when the time is right.   One was made available to me earlier this week with a visit to Lena’s Wood-fired Pizza & Tap.

Now this isn’t in Old Town like my one previous pizza dining experience around Christmas (link can be found here), but the location, on the outskirts of Old Town, near had a charm and aura all its own.

Braddock Road may not sound glamorous but the area where this new pizza restaurant sits still feels has the older feeling of Northern Virginia houses built decades ago, and while more development is coming, the neighborhoods nearby look like they won’t be going anywhere for a while.

LenasPatio

Why do I mention this? Because on first glimpse the newness of the building that houses Lena’s may look like the sign of the times.   More things starting to look the same and a lessening of the character of what made these small towns so charming in the first place.  Lena’s is part of a bigger restaurant group called Alexandria Restaurant Partners that extends outside the state.

LenasFront

Now just because a restaurant is a part of a growing chain or restaurant conglomerate doesn’t mean I will alter my opinion.  My goal is always to support local business and give all the love to mom and pops, independents, and stand alone pizzerias, restaurants, and similar establishments.    With that being said, how was the pizza?

LenasPizza

Well there was more than pizza.  I want to first give a huge thanks to my server, Francesca, who was absolutely first class in every sense of the word.   She was helpful with all aspects of my meal.    I almost ordered a glass of wine or a similar libation, but this was not the day for that.

 

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I usually just have water with my meal.  But what a pleasant surprise to hear that they had fresh and hot apple cider on tap.  I mean, how often is this available in a restaurant?  And it’s Spring.  Is this the season for it?  I said the heck with it.  I want some hot apple cider.  It was presented to me with a cinnamon stick and all around good vibes.  It was delicious.  I already liked where this was going.

LenasCider

Now Francesca had to steer me right when it comes to a pie.  I was presented the option of getting a half and half as long as the sauces were the same.

LenasMenu

LenasPizza2

She recommended the Diavola and the Meatball.  The latter is made in-house and thinly sliced to look appropriate on the pizza.  The former is somewhat of an anomaly for me.  First of all, I love kale and it’s one of those en vogue vegetables that we’re going to hear about till the end times.   I’ve had it on pizza before and it just didn’t work for me.  This time it did.  But first…

The meatball was just kind of standard.  It was just kind of there.  It wasn’t that it was bad.  It was just a lot less than what I was expecting.    The ricotta cheese was fine but I really didn’t get a lot of flavor from this pizza at all.   But with the both, the pizza crust was cooked perfectly.   I like a good wood-fired dough.

LenasSlice2

The Diavola was tremendous.   Like last week, honey on a pizza is a tricky thing.  But when it works it really works.  And that salami was absolutely terrific.  I had to sneak a couple of pieces of it on its lonesome just to see how good it truly tasted.  And it was wonderful.   Yet with all that goodness, the kale really was the stand-out.  And they really piled it on to perfection.

I’m a big fan of kale and now an even bigger fan of kale on pizza.  Delicious.

And just when I thought it was over, I was convinced to order their house made donuts to go. By the way, this pizza lasted me 2 1/2 meals.  It was an individual pizza but quite filling.

LenasDonuts

I was told the donuts would be good for a day or two, so I savored them.  I did sneak in a couple of bites before and they tasted like the holidays.  Just like that cider.  This entire meal was all over the place.  Kind of like this experience.   I’m getting a kick out of this by the way.

I’ll be back.  I just don’t know when.  This was an even more endearing experience than I remember.  And to be all nostalgic just a few days post-meal is the point of all this.  It’s corny, overly sentimental, and happy-go-lucky but that’s the point of all this.

LenasBar

For more about Lena’s, read this.  This is interesting.   And here is their contact information.

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I love Alexandria and I really enjoyed this visit.  This makes it two for two.

This is what I hope most of my visits during this Spring and beyond will be like.  I like the unpredictability of the locations, pizzas, other foods, drinks, service, and all the other details. They’re all significant.

I can’t wait to see where I end up next.

 

Ideen

 

Do Go Back To Rockville

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Rockville, MD, like most of Montgomery County, and like most of the Washington, DC area (I could go further) has expanded to the point where congestion and overcrowded is just a a part of the norm.

I have plenty of family in the area, so I will always have a reason to go back.  And I’m so grateful for that.    There’s other places I like to eat and like to visit.  And once in a while I get nostalgic, but it’s not really like that anymore.

However, along with all my amazing family, and the few friends that are still in town or nearby, I now have another reason to come back and visit.

ModernSign

I had most likely never heard of Modern Market until yesterday.  I say most likely because maybe I’ve passed by the one in D.C. or Bethesda and didn’t even realize it.

With 29 locations, and growing, this will be one of the larger franchises I’ve ever reviewed since the inception of this blog.

Yesterday I was on Rockville Pike with what seemed like the rest of the world, and just wanted to find something new to eat.  It didn’t necessarily have to be pizza.  But at the Congressional Plaza shopping center, so much has evolved and new businesses have opened up.

ModernSeats

This is nowhere close to the landscape that I recall as a kid.  I’m not saying that’s good or bad.  It’s really just evolution and the world we live in now.  It’s more of a business and more higher end stores than ever before.  It caters to the clientele and the people that live and work in the area.

So what used to house something else (which I honestly don’t remember) is now the space for Modern Market.  And I’m happy to say I’m a fan and will be happy to go back.  That’s it everybody thank you.   Haha no…

When I first walked in I felt a stuffy vibe. I can’t lie about that.  Rockville and the surrounding area takes pride in this and many feel it’s a term of endearment, or just a part of how it’s supposed to be.  That’s not something I identify with and never will.   It’s a huge reason why I don’t come back here as much as I probably should.  But I digress…

Those feelings alleviated quickly because they’re just feelings.  They’re temporary.  And I can live in my own universe at any time, and all the time, and not worry about anyone else. But I’ll still have to pay DC area prices and that’s a whole different conversation.

Spring is here and the intent is always to eat healthier.  Actually that’s always the intent.

ModernMenu

As a first timer, I wanted a half and half type of meal, which would include pizza.  Here is their menu, which is not as intimidating as I originally thought.

ModernPizzas

ModernPizza

Whenever there is a chance to get a seasonal or limited time pizza, I’m all about it.   The seasonal pizza is the Hot Honey and it’s fabulous.    Served on stone-ground wheat flour bread it has ingredients I don’t pretend to all know but there’s no pretending on the taste. It’s fantastic and kind to your belly, especially if you get the half.  The ingredients include creminelli salami piccante, goat cheese, arugula, organic red sauce, and Mike’s hot honey.

ModernSlice

I don’t know Mike personally but the honey really hit the spot.  And the little drips of honey on the plate made for a great presentation.  But everything shone through.  And I can never get enough goat cheese and arugula.

ModernSalads

 

ModernSalad

I got a half of that and a half (which looked more like a full, no complaints here) Farmer Salad.   Another winner. It was easy to eat and I may have liked it more than the pie.  Anything with almonds is almost certainly going to be awesome.  And yes.

ModernKombucha

The real treat was the Cherry Blossom Kombucha they had on tap.  Yes they have kombucha on tap!  I may get this is another universe and at another time.  But that alone, even if its seasonal, is worth the visit.  And how beautiful does that look?

ModernCalorie

What’s a real hoot is that they give you all the nutritional info on your receipt.  It’s a little thing that’s a big thing.  And it makes them stand out from the crowd just a little more than other places.  It’s not so easy to do but then it’s even easier than we even realize.

ModernCater

The counter service is exactly what I needed on this day.  After just a few minutes my  food was ready.  And it was busy for lunch so the rapid-fire place my food was made may concern some, but it all came out splendidly.

And as for all the rest of the world. I wasn’t worried about them.  I sat in my own corner and in my own bubble, and felt content and felt happy.  I literally was in my own universe of peace and of harmony.

After taking a few photos, I enjoyed my meal for a good 20-30 minutes.  I lost track of time because for reasons that need no explanation I felt at peace.  No need for nostalgia or going down memory lane.  Because it’s the present tense and we’re in more a modern way of life.  Well it’s always been modern at whatever tine it is.  But it’s expansion of horizons, ideas, food, life, and everything in between and on the peripheral.

I wanted to save my favorite part about Modern for the end.  Their story says it all.

ModernFront

Anyone who takes a chance, quits their jobs, and decides to follow a passion should always be lauded and celebrated, especially if they succeed.  This place has succeeded.  And the goal to use natural ingredients and appeal to everyone’s fancy and dietary restrictions, is a wonderful thing and a perpetual goal that is always going to be there.

Now I realize why they’re changing their menus every season.  It’s for us, but as just as much for them.  So it’s for everybody.

This is a place for everybody.  And I can’t wait to come back to Rockville or maybe another location.

I hope every Spring outing can turn out like this.  It easily can.

Ideen

 

After All, It’s Just Pizza

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I mean it really is.  You, me, or anybody else can rant and rave about a place, rip it to shreds, and/or seek all the good and bad in the details of any pizzeria or restaurant.  It’s the experience, the ambiance, the hopefully good company you were with, and those hidden gems of information that only you might notice, and either keep to yourself or want to share with the world.  Which I like to do sometimes.

But at the end of the day, sometimes it’s just pizza.

JustPizzaFront

After not doing a single post from the beaches last year, I’m already getting it in going in March, with the appropriately titled, Just Pizza, of Bethany Beach, DE.

If you’ve been to Bethany Beach you know how quite and cozy this town is.   It’s the antithesis of the chaotic nature of the nearby beaches in Maryland and Delaware.

Bethany is sentimental to me.  Many beaches might mean something to you too.  I have fond memories of a kid taking family trips here.  It was a superb getaway for our family go to away, if even just for a few days, from the familiarity of home.  I mean that’s why we take vacations right?  But I don’t remember a pizzeria being so close by.

Where my family usually stayed was right across the street in one of the condominiums or hotels.  But I remember the charming and approachable shopping center where Just Pizza currently stands.  In a town like this, the more things change, nothing changes.  And in a way I love that so much.

So this pizza is not amazing.   I wouldn’t even call it great.  But they’re not a place that claims to be world class and a five star restaurant.  If they did, I would judge them differently.

Literally, it’s a carry-out place that’s one of the more smaller spaces you’re going to come across.  With just a few chairs in the waiting area, it resembles an doctor’s office more than a place to grab some eats, if you will.

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In the honor of how simplistic this place is, I went simple  I got half cheese and half pepperoni for the road.  I was the only one waiting and I felt my pie took quite a while.  It felt about 20-25 minutes when I was promised 15.  It’s a minor detail but it’s worth noting. Perhaps it adds to the easy-going nature of the town, or maybe it really took that long.

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I’m not going to say it was worth the wait. The pizza was ok but like I said, it’s not going to win any awards.  But I will say, it did remind me of the beach.  That might not make sense initially, but something about it just tasted like it’s from the beach.   I can’t put my finger on it.  Maybe it’s a thing where my mind is telling me what to sense and what to taste, and predictably (or not) it’s evoking feelings of the beach and sand, and who knows what else I remember from growing up, and maybe now.

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The crust is a bit rougher than usual but it had a buttery taste to it that I liked.   The cheese and pepperoni were just what I thought it would be, good and greasy.  But it may be too greasy for some.

Nevertheless, I’ve talked to a couple of friends that know what they’re getting when they order and it gets the job done.  And for most of us, when it comes to pizza, that’s all we need.  All the other details don’t always matter.

Folks for are at the beach looking for a quick (well I hope so, order ahead of time of course) pie or other standard fare to go, this is going to make most people happy.  If and when I’m staying or visiting here again, I will likely eat here again if it was an option presented to myself or from a friend, or family member.

Speaking of which, it’s so funny that I used to not appreciate the peace and quiet of this town like I do now.   It’s the top reason where I feel partial to small towns and small businesses like this.  They’re depend on support from locals and tourists in season a like. And I’m always happy to support any local business, because they’re still the soul and conscience of small towns likes this and even bigger cities.

JustPizzaMenu

Next time I’m back  I will absolutely give them another try.   For my friends who want somewhere quiet and would like to avoid the commotion of the bookending resort towns of Ocean City and Dewey Beach then this is perfection. They don’t have a website but more information can be found here and here.  At the time I was there, it was perfection.   But as the weather gets nicer this is a place that’s a safe house and an ally when one isn’t always around.

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I’m not sure if this mean the beach posts will resume.  I did many back in the Summer of 2015 (those posts can be found here), and that feels so long ago.  We shall see.

But for now I will enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and wish you a happy and safe one as well.

Ideen

 

Fame and Fortunatos

FortunatoSlices

I know right.  That’s the title I came up with and I’m sticking to it.  Actually I could change it at any time but I don’t see that happening.

For as long as this blog has been going, and we’re past two years now, I always knew I would get to writing about Fortunato Brothers of Towson.

FortunatoFront

Dating back to 2000, I’ve been a semi-regular visitor of this pizzeria.  And it’s a pizzeria alright.  There’s nothing cute about the inside.  There’s pies on display for slice ordering, a standard soda machine, and a few tables for indoor dining.   First and foremost, it’s all about getting food to go.

I’ve seen it cramped at times with patrons waiting for their orders.  I haven’t seen it quite to the point of being uncomfortable, but it’s been close.

But to tell you the truth their pizza has never done it for me.  It’s not like it’s bad.  Most pizza isn’t truly bad, it’s just that for an establishment that has been around over 40 years I would hope their pizza would be on par with some of the best, if not the good ones, in the area.

I don’t think it’s ever come close.   It’s good enough that I come to get a quick slice from time-to-time, but I’ve always felt it to be averages.  It’s a decent slice and a solid price. And usually two slice with a soda will cost around $7.  No complaints with that.

The main issue to me is the quality.

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This go around I went with a chicken parmesan and a white spinach slice.

FortunatoChickenParm

First, the chicken parmesan was adequate but something was missing.  The pieces of chicken were missing that taste and texture that would complement a pizza.  It doesn’t have to be award winning but I’d like a little more flavor.  Something just felt off. The cheese and sauce were fine.  It made for a decent slice but nothing more.  I will say that the crust was fantastic.  It’s enough to eat if you’re in a pinch for a slice but nothing out-of-this-world.

FortunatoSpinach

Next up is the white spinach.  Again, the crust was good but not quite on par with the chicken parm.   I don’t know what happened but the spinach and tomatoes didn’t work here.  They didn’t taste fresh.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the cheese either.  This one surprised me even more.

It almost seemed that the veggies have gone through multiple heating and then re-freezing.  That means the pizza itself has been heated and then cooled again overnight.  I have no evidence of that other than a feeling and based on past experience of similar issues with similar pizza pies.   That doesn’t explain why the crust was still good, or maybe the crust being just a tad below the first slice might explain enough.

I’m not against saving food but for the sake of making money and reusing slices that seemed have sat out too long, that’s disappointing.

You know me.  I look for the positives in all instances of pizza.  But the negatives outweigh anything else.  And this how it’s been for me for quite some time.

I know people who love their pizza and sing the praises of how this is the original Fortunato’s and it’s the best.  I don’t see if that way. Yes this is an interesting local chain. It’s branched off with other locations but they’re not all connected, if any of them are to begin with.  This version has always been just there to me  It’ll be a place I’ll get something to eat in a rush and that’s about it.    The staff over time has always seem to be laid back.  Maybe they’re too laid back?

This is the beginning of something.  Or maybe not.  I don’t make posts with the intent of not following up or referring to later.  There is significance with all of this.   I will be exploring the  various Fortunato locations in the area to see if there is a connection even when there isn’t.    This could make for some interesting discoveries.  I still don’t know all the details so that’s where the discovering will come in.

Here is their menu and online ordering info for our friends in the Towson area, or the county/city line.

My hunch tells me I got something good for next week.

Ideen

 

A Breath of Fresh Air

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And I mean that.  Ceriello Fine Foods of Brewers Hill and Belvedere Square has that cozy Italian Market feel that resembles a throwback to markets you might have gone to when stores like this were more prevalent, and a lovely meeting place in your neighborhood to talk about anything.   Or if you’re lucky there’s one close to you that still keeps all the traditions and goodness of why you came in the first place.

ceriellostorefront

I can’t place my finger on why places like this draw me and so many others exactly.  At least for it’s the hope I’m supporting local businesses and that my support is going to a place with good intentions that mirrors the customers intentions.  I hope that makes sense.  I also think my overly sentimental nature wants to believe that these business come more from the heart than more larger and national chains that are strictly business and don’t always bring the personable aspect to how they run their operations, versus say a local one.

And Ceriello is a growing company.  They’re originally in New York and now have added a few more in the state, as well as expanding into New Jersey, and now Maryland. The local flavor is still there.

The feeling I’ve been getting from Ceriello is that they do things the right way.  And they’re making it effortless.

I’ve always had a good feeling and food service every time I’ve visited.  Whether it’s ordering a sandwich, wine (click here to read about the wines pictured throughout this blog) prepared foods, pasta, other various groceries, and of course pizza.

And in the less than one year they’ve been open, they seem to have made a positive impact on the local community in Southeast Baltimore.

This is the first time I’ve tried their pizza.  Luckily, in Baltimore they do have a strong sandwich and pizza menu that seems to have expanded greatly from the link here.

I’m glad I took a picture of their choices here that were in front of the oven.  Oh wait, I got a picture of this beautiful oven too!   So after debating on which pie to get and agonizing over a couple, I went with both.  Yes, when all things are undecided, go with both.  And I’m so glad I did.

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First up is the one I originally wanted and almost hedged on, the Quattro Stagioni aka The Four Seasons.  For our pals in Maryland this is for us.  We’ve experienced all four season the past few weeks weather wise, this made perfect sense.  Little did I know that the pie would actually be divided by the four toppings on separate parts of the pizza.  This looks genius, crafty, creative, and most of all beautiful.   What I did notice that even though peppers were on the menu, I’m guessing onions were the substitute.  And believe me, whether or not that was a honest mistake or meant to be in place of the peppers, I’m happy with that.

ceriellofourseasons

The toppings tasted fresh and I mean fresh.  Maybe even farm fresh.  But I’m no expert on what’s farmed or not.  But the mushrooms, caramelized onions, and zucchini tasted like they were from another universe. Maybe that’s how they’re truly supposed taste, just plain natural. And in my usual true-to-form I took plenty of liberties into picking piece of off my pie and enjoying them on their own.   The prosciutto, or cotta, was also really tasty, and a nice dichotomy to all the vegetables that dominated the pie.

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The mozzarella cheese worked perfectly as a backdrop but was not lost in the shuffle. Cheese is always the heart and soul of any pizza. Without good cheese everything else goes down the tubes.

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I did want to mention the crust.  The way this was heated made the dough soft and chewy which in many instances works perfectly.  Some people aren’t going to like that.  It’s not your New York or crunchy thin crust style.  But it’s a style that is the perfect comfort food for any time of comfort.  And it’s still cold, but by the time you read this it could feel like close to Summer in the Maryland area, but the point is still there.  This is a pizza you can fold in half, or appreciate it for what it is, with the perfect charring and tasty crust.

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It paired with an interesting white wine (more on the wine will be updated this Wednesday here).  As you can see above I got all four seasons in these two slices.  So exciting I know!

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Next up was the pizza maker’s suggestion and favorite, the Pizza Polpetta, which was the Meatball.  And man they did meatballs much differently than I expected.  I’ve had meatballs on top of pies which can sometimes cause a mess, fall off, and be too much to eat in one bite.  Not that it wasn’t tasty or created in their vision, but sometimes less is more.  This was more.  The meatballs were baked into the cheese. and they were sliced in the most precisely cut small pieces.  I did not expect that but was pleasantly surprised.   The caramelized onions which seemed to be familiar, oh wait haha, and the provolone really made this pie.  The red sauce and mozzarella once again played second fiddle but in a good way.

I wanted to show you the inside of one of these slices, so without sounding gross, this literally is a dissection of the sliced meatballs and onions with slices of provlone baked under the mozzarella.   I know, so cool right?

This paired with a standard Chianti.  And pizza with meat and red sauce screams an Italian red.

For more on the wines, go here.

The list of their pies is boundless so if I get the opportunity, like I’ve said about many places before, I would love to come back again.  But regardless of that, this place has so much to offer.

And you don’t have to live in the area to get all the  good products and good energy they have to offer.

Here are some links to help you in that direction.

Here’s their list of stores and contact info.

To order by phone, click here.   And here’s where you can order gift baskets and their catering info.

And for our friends in Baltimore, here is their food menu, that I know has grown immensely.

What a treat this was. Seriously, this was two fantastic pizzas.  And I look forward to having more again, in times of comfort or any season I care to celebrate, or all four!

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Oh by the way, they do a pizza and wine night.  For our friends in Baltimore you have may experienced this.  I have yet to have the pleasure.   I hope I get the opportunity.  Oh and…

Happy Early Spring,

Ideen