The Best Stories Come From…

BellaItalia1

I often equate a pizza or pizzeria as something bigger than just that.  If there’s a personal attachment or immediately nostalgia, the posts will be easier to right.  Otherwise, it’s an even more intent of focus on the actual pizza itself, and nothing else.  It makes the story all to simplistic and lacking much character.   I do my best not to do that but some experiences can’t be helped.  Not everything is going to be a winner.  And even if the pie is good, that might be all a place or myself had to offer.

BellaItaliaDoor

I’m grateful to say that my experience at Bella Italia of Arnold, MD was one I’ll remember, for the simplest of things.

I was the only one in there.

Well that’s the short story.  After I get to the slices I’ll resume why this truly stands out.

And it’s not like the slices don’t stand out.  In fact they do, and it’s because of the mood and the place I was in.

Summer is winding down and I always have mixed feelings about it.  The weather is still stellar but there’s days where the warmth is not as profound.  And we notice the the shortening the days with the sun setting a minute earlier (give or take) each day.  The hints of fall tend to make me embrace the more folksy and community places.   In actuality, I want local all the time, and during any season. I can’t articulate why.  It’s what I’m drawn to.  Local is my heart, and I would safely assume many would feel the same.

Over the past several days I found myself in the Annapolis area, which includes Edgewater, Pasadena, and Arnold, among many other charming towns.   And while I had a list of pizzas and places I could talk about, nothing felt right for this week.  The universe was giving me another sign.  And like a magnet I was drawn to Bella.

BellaItaliaFront

Nestled and snuggled in a the cozy Arnold Station Shopping Center, that has a more authentic and old time feeling area than the newness of a lot of these strip malls, Bella Italia sits in the corner, unassuming, approachable, and inviting.

Ok so about these slices.

I got the cheese, white with spinach and mushroom, and the Mariposa which is a white pizza with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, and the freshest of mozzarella.  And it tasted fresh alright.

BellaItaliaCheese

There’s a lot of good to focus on.  The cheese was fantastic.  I often think how we can compare the plain slice, or any slice for that matter, against all the pizza joints in the world.  You can’t.  Our tastes are unique, and all over the place.   Some people may not care for this cheese.  But this had a distinct taste that I can’t put my finger on.  And for now, I don’t want to know.  This is great but not the best slice I’ve ever had.  And again, it’s all subjective.  It was wonderful and in the upper crust (hehe) of the great plain slices I’ve enjoyed.  The crust on all three of these was consistently awesome.

BellaItaliaWhite

The white with spinach and mushroom is a step above the white slices I’ve had recently. It’s been a struggle to find a great one lately, and this is closer to what I prefer.  It wasn’t as oily, greasy, or overly cheesy was other whites I’ve been down about.  I’d put it in the decent category.  It’s a little more than just there.

BellaItaliaMariposo

Which leads me to the Mariposo.  This was a slice.  Now I’ve had eggplants on pizza before and it’s been a disaster.  This was great.   I definitely enjoyed my veggies individually as I plucked away, and noticed so much layered below.  The greens, the tomatoes, and the eggplants tasted just as fresh against other pizzerias that I’ve had something similar.   And after a while, I forgot it was just a white at its base.

But the difference was the greens and olive oil flavor really merged to make this white pizza that much better.  The lighter yet salad like taste made this a winner.  This place is a winner.

And the people behind it are what make it a winner.

When I got there the entire staff was relaxing against the wall like they didn’t have a care in the world.  It was after lunch and before dinner, so I felt like I was the only person on Earth (not true in the slightest but its fun to embellish) and the crew had some down time.  And after I got my slices, they went back to their place of peace.  The gentleman who served up my slices could not have been nicer.

I hope I don’t get anyone in trouble by giving that visual.

It’s this little detail that’s a big one.  It’ll make me want to come back, and not only say thank you.  But to try some other stand out pies.   I’m not sure when that’ll be but the universe will give me another sign.

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These are the places that make this blog worth doing.   I’ll get to more of the Baltimore, DC, and major city stuff.  But this felt a little more real and a little more necessary.

I look forward to more authentic, organic, and beautiful experiences such as this one.

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Oh and did you notice that some of the toppings from the Mariposo spilled onto the other two?  Just a cool little detail, that’s not so little.

Thanks so much.

Ideen

 

When In Pass-a-Grille…

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Yes, I love saying Pass-a-Grille (the southern most point of St. Pete Beach) and will try to slip it into every conversation even if it makes no sense.

When I first touched ground in the Gulf Coast of Florida two months ago, I don’t recall what my first stop in St. Petersburg was, or what my first stop was to begin with.   My host friend, who is a dear friend, helped me get so much in that it looks like one long story, as opposed to a bunch of places that were just there and now are forgettable.

While some might be easy to forget, this trip is loaded with positive memories, and stories that I can take with me forever, wherever I go.

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One that really resonates, and gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling, is when my friend took me to The Brass Monkey.

BrassMonkeySign

Now she had told me weeks prior that she visited a place that is owned and operated by folks who have ties to the Maryland area. That can only mean their love for Baltimore and Maryland area sports.  And that’s exactly what we’re talking about.   It took me a few minutes to realize I was in the presence of so much local sports posters and memorabilia. Not only sports, but symbols of what makes Maryland great also display proudly.

BrassMonkeySide

What’s not to like?

I recall my excitement as my friend and I were deciding on what to eat for lunch and said she had a place in mind.  In hindsight I should’ve put everything together.  But what would be the fun in that?

As we drove down towards beautiful St. Pete Beach my excitement levels were reaching heights I haven’t felt in a while.  I’m on vacation, to an extent we’re on vacation, and just being in a new place, with beautiful weather, and friendly people is going to amp up the enthusiasm.

BrassMonkeyMenuOut

I realized as we got closer down the beach where we were headed.   I’m grateful for the ride, this experience, and we have yet to sit down.

BrassMonkeyMenu

Since it was lunchtime, it was the perfect time to grab a seat anywhere (we chose the bar) and to appreciate our surroundings.  And each other of course.  We were in great moods and felt like we ran the place.  Of course we didn’t but we got a kick out of entertaining ourselves each other.  That’s as important as the wining (or in this insance, boozing) and dining.

BrassMonkeyPizzaMenu

Now I’ll cut to the chase.  I did order a pizza, we also ordered wings & fries, and then Fancy Fries which are friend green beans.  It’s bar food with a little twist.  The fried green beans were the true highlight of this meal.

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I didn’t get a pizza expecting it to be world class or this earth shattering experience.  I got a vegetable pie just hoping it would be something to enjoy in the space and time that we were in.

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While it was loaded with more mozzarella cheese than some may prefer.  I didn’t mind. I’d say the more, the merrier, which can also mean even more leftovers.  The cheese, veggies, and crust are simple for a bar, and good enough.   And maybe the quality could have been up there a little more, it’s more than worthwhile to share with friends or to heat up and serve for the next few days after.  Which is exactly what happened.

 

The wings and fries were decent, but I’m telling you these fancy fries are what did it for me.  When I look back in pictures I honestly forgot that’s what we had.  We had a lot of appetizers before the main event.   And the main event might just be any meal you have on vacation.

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If you’re expecting healthy eats with diet friendly portions, this won’t work in your favor. But hearty portions is right in lines with what you’ll get.

BrassMonkeyDrinkMenu

Our frozen drinks were stellar too.  The menu is above, I’ll let you figure out what is what, with the beverages listed below.

 

But the true draw of this place is location, atmosphere, and the local flavor for those of us in Maryland.  It’s the quintessential home away from home.

 

While it was great to be away, it was a charming reminder of where I come from and what I’ll be going back to.

 

And I will be coming back to Brass Monkey (to order something different, maybe those crab cakes!) upon my return to beautiful St. Pete and beautiful St. Pete Beach, and that Pass-a-Grille, which I can never get enough of saying.

BrassMonkeyPromo

For more on the Brass Monkey, here is their story, their menu,  football info,  beach apparel for sale, and contact info.

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Here’s the now growing list of Florida pizza spots I’ve visited.

Thanks so much and I hope you’re summer has been beautiful.

Ideen

 

South River Situations

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A dear friend, who has helped me with this blog over the past couple of years, always suggests to change up the city or town of pizzerias and pizza parlors, whenever I can.  If I end up in a place I’ve never written about, you know for sure I’ll be looking and hoping I discover something of a gem.

BellaSeraFront

Bella Sera of Edgewater, MD is a not-so-hidden gem in a strip mall loaded with chain restaurants and box stores that so many towns are loaded with, and make an otherwise charming town look well, just like every other.

So you could look at it and say, thankfully there is a local pizzeria, restaurant, in a sea of chains, and think to yourself, that it’s good that local business is still there and still thriving.  The other school of thought is well, you have a local operation that’s there and allowed to exist, in spite of everything around it.  I hope that makes sense.  And I’m not talking about this restaurant in particular.  It’s more of how I’m observing things.

Last year I had passed through Edgewater several times and literally just kept on going.  I didn’t stop and appreciate what was around me.  These things and moments are important to me.  It’s not a big thing, but the little things lead to big things.  And they’re all significant.   I had seen Bella Sera in pizzeria searches and then driving through, but I kept moving along.  I can tell myself that it wasn’t meant to be.  But at the time, it wasn’t…

Now it’s over a year later, and I’m back again under the most unusual, yet entertaining of circumstances.  That’s more of inside joke to me, but that’s how the universe works.  The currents and the energies led me here and I finally need to make the most of it.

Snuggled (or nestled) in one of the more approachable looking shopping centers, this pizzeria looks like a castle from the outside.   I had high hopes and sometimes those hopes based on nothing but how the exterior looks can lead to unrealistic expectations.

It was right before dinner time, so it was just starting to get busy, but thankfully they still had a lavish display of pizza slices on the counter.  I’m grateful for this because many establishments will nix slices in favor of whole pies for dinner time.  It’s a concept I completely understand, yet I find it refreshing when slices are available open to close. It’s so beautiful.

The exchange when I ordered was awkward to say the least.  And I’ll put most of this on me.   For inspired reasons, I went from wanting to order two slices to four.   Realizing that I would actually be saving money if I ordered a whole pie, I still went with the slices. I didn’t get the sense that mentioning my blog would be rejected, but nor was I feeling like explaining myself.  I stand by that decision.

And now I figured out why I might have been better off ordering a pie… I’ll get to that in a few moments.

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I ordered (here is the menu) the cheese, buffalo chicken, the spring white, and the inspired call was the spaghetti slice.   I’ve reviewed a similar slice here, to great results.

First off, I did not eat all of this right away,  I saved a lot for later.  Eating too much of this would be crazy.  I got three meals out of this, and that’s me trying to make myself feel better about this.

BellaSeraCheese2

The cheese was the best.  It’s simple.  The thin crust was great, and the cheese and sauce are exactly what you would want from a plain slice.  How does it stack up again others I’ve had?  I can’t say.  They’re all similar yet unique in their own essence.  I know there’s a real soul and a real emotion behind the making of these particular slices, and that counts for a lot.

BellaSeraBuffaloChicken

The buffalo chicken, again had a great crust.  The crusts on all of these stood out in a good way.  I see that the buffalo chicken is homemade.  That’s always a plus.  This wasn’t my favorite.  Something about the blue cheese, and maybe the mozzarella cheese didn’t work this time. It was a style clash that may work more times than not. But this didn’t click for me.

BellaSeraChicken

The spring white looked gorgeous.  The grilled chicken strips were so great. I could’ve had a plate or bowl of those on their own.  So in my traditional fashion I had a few on their own.   Maybe my tastes for white pizzas have changed or I’m having higher expectations because this didn’t gel like I hoped either.  The tomatoes tasted fresh, as did the boat loads of spinach (which I appreciate), but the actual white pizza by itself felt like it was lacking something.  It didn’t wow me.  I really wanted it too.

The spaghetti slice was $7.  That’s why I was told an actual pie of anything else would be better.  This was not worth $7.  This will fill you up.  And while it was good, the reminder of what I paid for did bring this down some.   This is something you could get multiple meals out of if you wanted.   But I wasn’t loving it.

If you look at their menu, their prices are on the higher end of what you may see elsewhere.  But that comes with a local business, and being in proximity (20-30 minutes Southwest) the state capitol of Annapolis will do that.

With that understanding I can understand the prices.  The other slices were $3-$4 which is reasonable and justifiable.

I will absolutely come back.   I’ll put a lot of this on me.  Maybe I forced this experience and it didn’t feel as organic as I hoped.  That’s going to make any food taste a bit differently.   Our minds are funny like that.

But I’m all for local and always want these businesses to succeed.  So if I’m in the area (which happens more times than I realize), I will absolutely get some more pizza, and maybe try some of their other entrees once again.

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Here is more of their story, their menu, their contact info and location, and online ordering for our pals that are local.

Thanks so much and have a blessed weekend.

Ideen

Happy Feta Fridee!

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Any time I go a bit out of the area, I’m going to seek out a pizzeria.  No matter how fancy or simple it might be, it’s good to leave home (that’s a relative term) and get to trying new pizzas and having new experiences somewhere else, even if it’s only an hour or so away.

So last Sunday I had the opportunity to be in Chantilly, VA.  I’ve mentioned before that I have ties to the area, so any opportunity to be in or around the vicinity makes me happy and feels like home (see) and feels so real to me.

Chantilly like most of Fairfax County, like most of Northern Virginia, and like many flourishing suburbs in the Mid-Atlantic, and then around the country, is loaded with neighborhoods with fancy houses, pricey houses, lots of trees, a good mixture of people, and lots of peace.  Well hopefully lots of peace.

With that also comes lots of chain restaurants, stores you see everywhere else, and entities that might be deemed too safe the the rest of the world.  Sometimes that’s just what people want, and I don’t see a right or wrong to that.

As I leave one of the these gorgeous neighborhoods, I do a quick search for pizza in the area.  There’s always pizza nearby, you have to believe and trust the universe on this one.

BuonAppetito

And thankfully Buon Appetito’s was minutes up the road waiting for me, and waiting for my patronage.  Well I’d like to believe that.

There’s a lot of offices nearby so I had an idea of how the whole vicinity would look, and it was what I was expected.  And that’s not the most complimentary of well, compliments.

The shopping complex I entered is as bland and generic as it gets.  It’s loaded with stores I’d never want to set foot in, unless I’d really have to, and even that is a stretch.  I as hoping the pizzeria would be an oasis of hope within all the box stores that bookend (and elsewhere) dominate the place.

Fortunately, that would be a yes.

The owner is originally from Naples, so that lends to credibility and authenticity that you’re not going to get everywhere.

The inside is massive, it’s spacious, yet it’s so welcoming.

And I had this idea in my head that I was going to discover a different kind of slice.  I asked politely, and I received.

BuonAppetitoCheese

The cheese slice was reasonably good, but nowhere near the best I’ve ever had.  It’s a solid slice with good cheese and the sauce is what didn’t wow me as I’ve grown accustomed to.  The thin crust was fantastic.  If it’s a simple cheese pizza you’re seeking this will do the job and then some.   Many will love it, and do.

BuonAppetitoFeta

But here comes the slice that’ll keep me coming back.  The white pizza with spinach, and feta cheese cubes planted on top, is what pizza is all about.  Lately I’ve had some white slices that have disappointed.  As simple as it is to make it can also be botched and lose the taste, or either become too cheesy and too oily, or both.  This succeeds on all levels, the cheese, the crust, the spinach, and that feta oh my goodness. I write this in the morning and I’m craving one right now.  It’s absolutely off the charts stunning.

BuonAppetitoSlices

The bonus is that both slices came to under $5.  Yes you read that right.   For that and the feta, and likely so much other goodness, I highly recommend a visit to one of their two locations (Chantilly and Dulles), and I believe you’ll be dazzled as well.

For those who are local, you can order online.  For Chantilly click here, and for Dulles, here you go pal.

BuonAppetitoMenu

Here’s their menu and catering info, and their awesome story.

If I’m back (and I will be), I’d like to to this again.   This was fun.

Thank you so much.

Ideen