Life Changing and Amazing

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Baltimore is going through rapid changes.  Whether those are good or otherwise is anyone’s guess.  But change can be a good thing.  And with change means an upswing in great restaurants, retail, attractions, and everything in between.  Does that mean good pizza?   The answer is a resounding yes.

I’ve deliberately spaced out the heavy hitters and sexy names in the world of pizza in Baltimore and Washington, DC.  Since I live closest to these two cities, I’ve left other cities out, for now.   I intend to go through all the places I can in both metropolitan areas, and other locations, if and when I can.

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With that introduction out of the way, I’m so happy to have finally eaten at one of the most anticipated and widely regarded pizza restaurants to come to the area, Paulie Gee’s of Hampden.

For whatever reason, circumstances prevented me from dining here at any point in time, until earlier this week.   Close friends of mine went around the time of opening to large crowds, long waits, and long faces because some were turned away.   My friends that did get the opportunity to eat have nearly unanimously said it’s fantastic and it has become a great addition to the Hampden neighborhood.

I am now a believer.  I never really had any doubts other than when I hear everyone else rave about it, does that cloud my judgement?  Do I let the opinions and noise of the outside world unfairly influence my opinion, one way or the other?  Yes there’s the sad truth that we can get tired of hearing how great a place is that we’ll cut off our nose to spite our face.  Just to spite it.  I think that’s the phrase.  Anyways, I want to get this out of the way before I start reviewing,  I loved this pizza.  And I’m only getting started.

Let’s begin what might become a regular staple in my life.  No, I take that back.  This is now a part of my life.  Speaking of life, this was life changing.   I don’t want to throw that term ‘life changing’ around too much or it will lose its luster.

Thank goodness I had the perfect person to join me in my debut feast at this sublime and divine restaurant.   My dear friend is a resident of the neighborhood and is a regular of this fair establishment.  It made this experience all the more surreal.   For what I thought would be an hour to an hour-a-half meal turned nearly three hours.  Yes, that’s when you know things are going swimmingly.   No, that’s when you know things are beautiful.

I’ve always thought the entrance and signage had an aura about it and taken on a life of its own.  I almost got scared to walk in.  The times in the past when I drove by I put this place on quite the pedestal and built this up into something I hope would lead to this day. Success.

The dining room is monumental and has another energy about it I don’t need to put into words.  It just is, and it’s spiritual and it’s special.

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First up,  the salad to get our appetites churning.  The Grape To Meet You (Ah I love these names) was such a joy and a treat.  The arugula on its own was worth the price of admission, or salad.   No, there is no cover to enter.  But the tomatoes and shaved parmesan cheese made this simple salad taste larger-than-life.  So good.

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Our wines paired perfectly with everything by the way.  We each had a couple of glasses. I just want to tie up those loose ends before we get to the main event.

My friend guided and coached me into ordering ideas.   She had something in mind already for her pie, and starting simple and working forward made sense for me.

Once again, a good cheese pizza is a good judge of how the rest of the pies will fare.  It’s just something that makes sense.  If the original pie is going to be amazing then it’s going to make folks think outside of their comfort zones and order more ambitiously from there.  That also means people will keep coming back.

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So I went with the Beatrix Kiddo.  Yes, that title is awesome.  Perhaps you recall where the name came from.  This is their cheese pizza.  I had fennel sausage added to mine, so if I wanted to pick off the pieces and enjoy a cheese or enjoy a Beatrix with fennel I could. Ah this is so fun I know.

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My friend got a White Pizza, the ‘Ricotta Be Kiddin’ Me’ with bacon, basil, post heated ricotta dollops (which were a gem), and wait, fennel sausage again?

I didn’t see double dose of fennel until both are pies were out.  Is there something to this? Hmm..  Yes we did share and both were astoundingly awesome.

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I’m not sure which one I loved more but I’m kind of leaning towards the Beatrix.  Maybe I’was and still am in a purist mood.  But the amount of cheese and tomatoes placed on this pie was measured to perfection.  I’m not kidding you.  The sausage was a beautiful touch but I almost think any topping would have added just the perfect hint of something else.  Yes I did pick my toppings off for a slice and enjoyed my plain Neapolitan slice in all its glory and solitude.

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The Ricotta Be Kiddin’ Me was the perfect dichotomy to the Kiddo.  The bacon and fennel sausage (which is becoming a new favorite of mine) was a powerful meaty combination. But the basil and dollops were the stand-outs for me.  So much yum.

The crust was charred and heated perfectly.  I like that dough was lighter than I expected.  I was told from previous visitors that it may have been a bit heavy for their liking.  That was one of the few minor critiques I heard.  I thought it was just right, so maybe those complaints were unwarranted.

I used the term ‘life changing” again over the course of the meal.  I had genuine reactions of happiness, jubilation, and then a calming over me.  I felt so comfortable during this meal.

This lends itself to the ambiance, the environment, the energy, and the company being just as important as the food itself.  I felt so happy and felt so overjoyed in such a welcoming and inspiring vibe.

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I loved how everything was being prepared in the center of the restaurant.  Yes, their kitchen was hiding in plain sight.   The staff was visible but unassuming.   I want to thank our server Jenn who was helpful with our wine and pizza suggestions, and was extremely prompt and attentive in waiting on us.   Thanks so much.

Since this was my inaugural visit, I’m not sure where to go from here.  I can’t leave this to one post.  It would not be right.   There are so many pizzas with charming and over-the-top names to write about that I must come back.  This will need to be revisited and when I do it will make sense and connect with this post.

There are other points-of-view and pieces of information to expound about with Paulie Gee’s but I shall save that for next time.

To click on more info for a location near you, go here.

For the Baltimore menu, hours, and frequently asked questions click here.

My friend did tell me that they are good in supporting and promoting local businesses, and being involved in the community.   In addition, the general manager was visible and did have a presence about him that commanded the room. I wish I got a chance to thank for him all our awesome food, and an evening that will be imprinted into my memory forever.

But like I said, this will be done again and done again soon.

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Thanks so much Paulie Gee’s and thanks so much for reading.

Feeling fortunate,

Ideen

 

A Lovely Cheese Pizza Just For…

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…for anyone!   Harris Teeter is one of those friends you shouldn’t take for granted.  By me saying that I almost sound derogatory or patronizing.  Well I do like patronizing their stores.  I think you know what I mean.  Well I hope so.

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I only realized a few minutes ago that the first time I visited one of their stores was in North Carolina, which is where they’re originally based out of.   Now they’re everywhere. And if you live in a city or a suburb chances are there’s more than one store right up the street and walking distance from you.

This isn’t going to be a history lesson or discussion of their groceries and free samples. Even though the latter is readily available and always appreciated.   I knew in time I was going to be discussing their pizza.

I’ve saved a few pictures of slices over the past few months knowing I would be sharing my thoughts with the world.

The results were a mix bag.  The prices are fantastic and they always have some exciting specials going on.  Sometimes on a monthly basis.

I’m judging these pizzas on the premise that this a grocery store, and not a pizzeria.  This is not meant as a slight or insult to their store.  It’s more along the lines of how I rate pizza. I don’t ask for much. I just want it to taste good, be reasonable priced, and makes feel happy when its over.

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Over 4 different stores (at least) I tried 4 different slices, and maybe a little more. Perhaps the title gave it away.  I’ll get to the slices first.

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First, the chicken pesto.  This is one I thought I would be in love with.  It was fine but within the context of good pizza and pesto this was only ok.  The crust was fine but noting special.  Fortunately with this slice, the crust didn’t dominate as you may see in another pizza shortly.   I didn’t taste much chicken, onion, or pesto.  I didn’t taste much of anything.  The toppings all seem to get lost in the shuffle.  And that’s never what you want.

Next, is two I’ll blend together.  The Steak and Cheese, and then the Deluxe actually both tasted the same to me.  And you can see with these two, the crust sort of envelops the actual pizza itself.   I know the sign says the pizza is made fresh every two hours but these slices felt like they were out longer than that.  And that’s fine.  If they’re reheated they should taste adequate enough.  Again, these were ok but I would’t go out of my way to try them over others.   And speaking of which…

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The Greek was a pleasant surprise.   I love feta cheese, olives, onions, and tomatoes.  And they do it all here perfectly.    It looks like a lot and it is.  But that’s the fun of this.  The toppings seem to a bit more over-the-top than the previous three slices I mentioned.  You can tell such a difference in this slice versus the others.  And the visual is so different.  They throw on a lot and it pays dividends.  I absolutely adore this slice.  And the crust was fantastic as well.  This is a great slice.

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But finally, the reason for this post, is the April Four Cheese pie special, at only $8.   You can always tell how good a place really is based on the cheese.  And the cheese was fabulous. This is along the lines of the Greek with loads of toppings but instead loads of cheese. And I mean loads of cheese.  You can see how high they stack this thing.

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To be fair, this was fresh out of the oven, placed in a charming to go box, and it felt so good on my hands.   The difference in having it right out of the oven, after 15 minutes, going against slices being heated up is significant, but I didn’t know it would be this significant.

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This is cheese that makes you feel like a kid.  It reminds me of a cheese pie I shared with my family many times over, when I was a kid.  The pizza sauce is tangy, yet it works perfectly with this pie.  And the golden brown and slightly burnt ends of the crust makes this pizza worth going out of your way for.  Actually wait.  You don’t have to go out of your way for it.   Wow I’m cheesy.  Oops!

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And at only $7.99 for the rest of the month of April, it’s a bargain.  This is usually $12.   I got four meals out of this.  And it just kept tasting as awesome, if not better, every time. I’m craving some now as I write about this for you guys.

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This pizza isn’t going to win any awards and I don’t think Harris Teeter is looking for any. But they do cheese pizza right.   I will be back again.  Maybe I’ll review some more slices or another to-go special.   Any way you slice it, I look forward to sampling (not those free samples, but I love those too) more of their creative slices and pies in the near future.

To find the nearest Harris Teeter near you, click here.

There’s still a lot of April left so I highly recommend getting this pizza, at this price, while you can.

Thanks so much,

Ideen

The Cheese Stands

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I wanted to love everything Anthony’s N.Y. Pizza & Pasta House.  It wasn’t quite everything I hoped it would be.  But after thinking about it I don’t know what I was hoping for exactly then and now.   I wanted good pizza and there was some of that.  But that little extra oomph wasn’t there.  And I really thought it would happen.

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The beautiful thing is pizza is everywhere and it will always be everywhere.  In every town, every city, and every neighborhood there’s going to be some semblance of a pizza parlor, pizzeria, or a restaurant.    It makes my day discover a new one in a town I don’t always frequent, Bowie, MD.

What I’ve found fascinating is in talking to close friends who live in proximity have never heard of this place.   In doing further research there is a similar sentiment.  Maybe the location isn’t ideal or noticeable immediately.  To me it’s perfect.

However, I wouldn’t say this is in the most folksy or most approachable part of town. Where that is in Bowie I don’t know, but when I see a pizza place, in particular, one with slices to go, the small town and romanticizing of a happy place and folksy folks (while a more-than-welcomed bonus) is not always going to be there.  And that’s ok.  I  think.

I had come to find out that owner of this and the Clarksville (I’ll get to that later) locations are from New York, which means the N.Y. Style is actually more authentic and since than many of these places that say N.Y. Style as a cliche and the slices are bland and taste worse because they portray themselves as something they’re not.

So expectations were set a little higher.   I didn’t expect this to be just like New York Pizza.  To be honest, I could barely count on two hands how many times I’ve had N.Y. Style and it’s different.  But you don’t have to be an expert to know the difference.  There is an aura about it.  There’s so many elements that make a pizza a pizza.  And for with New York like any city, there is an aura about it.

Just like any other food, it’s going to be best served in the city or country of origin.

It could be the water, the universe, or just being there in that moment that makes it what it is.

And just because the location is different means the pizza will be a cheap imitation.  It doesn’t necessarily have to match the authenticity of said location, but it can be great and it can even be a masterpiece.

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I wanted to love the three slices I ordered.  I don’t always feel like that about places.  But this one had something else going for it I can’t put into words.  That could be once again romanticizing the situation and only hoping for the best.    Luckily, one slice really stood above all else.  Maybe the title gave it away.  I’ll save that for that.

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First up was the Chicken and Spinach White with balsamic glaze.   I’ve said it before that certain pizzas have that whole doesn’t equal the sum of its parts situation.  This one also fits that bill.

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This white pizza looked spectacular.  And you’re going to get a theme from this and the next slice.  It’s not a case of judging a book by its cover.  But in the reverse sense.  This had all the makings of an amazing pizza but something didn’t completely work.

I think there was too much going on.  I never got a taste of the balsamic.  And the cheese also seemed to vanish.  The spinach was great.  I enjoyed picking pieces of spinach off my slice and enjoyed them on their own.  But that chicken was phenomenal.  I would gladly eat pile of these blackened pieces of chicken on their own, or with a spinach salad.  I mean it.  The chicken was spectacular.  I think the main take from this was the pizza crust didn’t work here.  I think if the crust had more of that crunch you’d expect I might be telling a different story.   But it didn’t necessarily need to be NY Style.  Something was just off.  This was ordered right at lunch time so the pizza was fresh.  But something fell short.

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The same goes for the Buffalo Chicken.   It looked so beautiful.  The celery was fantastic as was the breaded buffalo chicken.   What went wrong for me was the blue cheese. It was bit too heavy for me.  And equally as rough was the buffalo sauce.   This is something that can easily be remedied.  I’ve personally made foods with buffalo sauce and sometimes add a little too much.  It happens.   I think others will love it but this wasn’t as good as I hoped.   Again that crust was the issue.

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But…

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The cheese.  It may look like a standard cheese slice, which is everything right.   I don’t know if I planned it that way, but I did eat this one last.  And I’ll tell you, you can always judge a place by how good their cheese is.  This was fantastic.  This is not the best cheese slice I’ve ever hard.  And honestly, I don’t remember where that was.  But this was tremendous.  There is no special reason why this was.  And I wouldn’t say this because it’s authentic N.Y. Style.  I think there’s a bigger spirit and soulful element here.  What that is I don’t know.  And maybe I’m not supposed to.  Not yet at least.

I don’t often do repeats.  And if I do it may be a different location.  It makes it exciting to do a compare and contrast.

I’m sentimental to the small town of Clarksville, MD and had no idea there was a second location there.   Small business is a beautiful thing and I’m happy to support it.   So when I get a chance to visit this will be revisited again.

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And I look forward to sharing it with you.

Have a happy holiday weekend.

Ideen

 

Halal’s It Going?

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Happy April.  That got here quick didn’t it?  I felt like I was making the same statements for the same months last year or even this year.   Happy Spring to you too.

You can call this the Iranian New Year Special.

Columbia, MD is a town I’ve written about before and about this chain too, but it also does have its local businesses, and local is what I always strive to write about first.

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Upper Crust Pizzeria has been a staple of the town and nearby neighborhoods for a number of years.  In the vicinity there’s two other strip malls with all the chains you need (or don’t), for your convenience, that you could easily pass by this local pizza place and not even know it.

I’ve done the same the thing many times and I’ve also hesitated ever ordering from here to the point of grabbing food from a place next door or nearby.  That’s over and done with now.

The establishment is unassuming.  And you know the places with little decor, limited seating, and no website (that I know of), could turn our to be some of the better pizza and food experiences.  It’s the hidden gems, the hole-in-the-walls, and the off the beaten paths that are truly special.  At least for this go around, this was all that.

That sentiment doesn’t always ring true.  I’ve been to some mom and pops that have turned disastrous, but they usually come through and show why local is the way to go, as much as possible.

I was all set to order a standard or maybe a slightly unique pizza on this day.  But then after scanning the dry erase board (I love that) menu, at the very bottom I see the Halal Meat Pizza.   This would be a historic first for me.

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I had no idea what the pizza would entail.   I didn’t know if there would be a different crust, cheese, or sauces.   None of the above.

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It was a cheese pizza, with tomato sauce, and that crust.  Wow this crust.  Let me say some more about this.  I ordered a personal pie and I did the smaller triangle slices.  As the weather gets nicer this is the kind of consumption I’ll be looking for more.  It’s not necessarily a thin slice.  It’s their slice.  And that golden brown color is a sight for happy eyes.   This was beautiful.

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Now let me get to the Halal meat.    What a pleasant surprise that is also included chicken and they didn’t half-heartedly throw on these toppings.    There’s a lot but not too much that the pizza takes a back seat.

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The beef was seasoned similar to gyro meat and it was magnificent. If it was gyro meat then I’m happy with that too.  The diced chicken was a nice touch.  And in my usual ways I pulled plenty of the toppings off and enjoyed them on my own.  But in this instance it’s not necessary.  Everything complements itself perfectly.

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I’m dreaming about this crust right now.

Now I’m really wondering how other Halal meat pizzas would fare.  It’s not a frequent occurrence on pizzeria menus.

There’s no website but this page can look to the menu and all other necessary information.

I don’t know when I’ll be back.  That sounded a bit too dramatic.  I’m in the Columbia area at least once a month.  And I’m always seeking out hidden gems of all kinds to write about.  So maybe I will try another one of their hopefully awesome pizzas.  I’m overstating this but the crust on this one was just so special.

And speaking of special I’ve contemplated going to ratings system for pizza and maybe the other universes I speak of, here and here.   It would likely be a 5 star system with half and quarter stars when necessary.    If I do institute this, I will go back and rate previous postings I’ve made.  It’s just a thought I’m contemplating and appreciate any feedback.

So far I’ve liked my reviews to speak for themselves.

 

Blessed,

Ideen