Riding High

HighToppsWhite

My choices of pizza places are intended to be in line with where I’ve been recently, the flavor I’m in the mood for, or the season.  And everything in between.  Sometimes it’s not always met with consistency.  More beach pizzerias and the like are coming.  But we’re officially into Summer and an outdoor bar or two seems right.

We ate at Hightopps Backstage Grille recently, and have to say we were pleasantly surprised by their pizza.   They make it hand tossed style as per the menu.   And a credit to them, it’s served for lunch, dinner, and late night. Late night is when this place can get nuts.  Especially when the weather gets glorious as it is now, it gets really crowded in the patio and deck areas, as well as the bars on the inside.

So what’s the appeal?  I really don’t know.  It’s in Baltimore County and it’s an outdoor bar.  People like myself tend to flock here for their happy hours and random nights out when the weather is nice.  The crowd isn’t always the best and the food hasn’t always been a positive. But we ordered the white pizza and it came out on a beautiful white service plate with spatula in tow.  I love how it was presented.  It’s the little things.

We were there on a Sunday afternoon, after a wine festival, so it wasn’t overly crowded as if we had been there the previous night.  The bartender was friendly and everything came out to us real fast. The white pizza was simple yet very good.  We had nothing added to it and didn’t order anything else.

A good friend of mine suggested that I focus more on how a restaurant’s cheese or white pizza is, as it’s a strong barometer for how the rest of their pies will most likely turn out. Well if that’s the case, I may have to try a Hightopps pizza again.  In all the times I’ve been there I’m surprised it was my first.  Or maybe I’ve had a few libations, and not recalled, or the pizza just never stood out for me.

In this instance, I really enjoyed it..  I wish I had snapped a picture of all the cheese stretching out from the spatula when we got our individual slices.  It was a thing of beauty.

HighToppsSlice

The crust had the right amount of soft crunch that I appreciated each bite immensely.  And if you look at the bottom of the pie or the slice, you can see just the right amount of burnt crust.   It might be through experience, but I love when it’s cooked just right.

I don’t know what else to say.   I’ve said enough.

HighTopps

See you sometime at Hightopps.

Best,

Ideen

Bartenders Please

BartendersFrontBartendersSide2

I have wanted to write about Bartenders, since I began this blog.   This, among a select few other spots, were the inspiration for me to write about pizza.  And there’s so much fun that goes with pizza, besides eating some amazing pies.  It’s the joy of each others company, the drinks you have with your meal, and the memories that come with it.   If that’s a little too cheesy and overly sentimental for you, then good.

I first ate here nearly four years ago, through recommendations of regulars and good friends that have said their pies are the best in town.   And the atmosphere is one that is still incomparable.  Their are local bars and then there’s local bars.   I have found myself very comfortable eating and drinking a glass of wine their solo, on many an occasion.  The head bartenders (who are also the owners) are very personable and people I’m glad to call my friends.

Now I’ve dragged this as far as I can.   I love their pies.   I always have and always will.  The first time I ate there, I was taken for a ride on culinary excellence.  I don’t know where the dough, the cheese, the topping, and most of all the soul came from, but this is one of the best pizzas I’ve had period. And I would go here maybe once or twice a week from 2012-2013, and gained quite a bit of weight in the process.  I didn’t care.  I loved every second of it.

But if there is a down side, it’s that you get so spoiled from eating amazing creations like theirs, that other pizzas start not to taste as good.  I’ve learned to be educated about that and realize that not all pies are created equal.  And I should only judge based on taste and the energy behind it.

Here is where it gets funny.  I knew full well I was going to write about this spot, lauding and touting it to kingdom come.   But the last few times I’ve been the pizza hasn’t been up to the level I’m used to. It’s been good but the excitement and thrill I would get wasn’t there.   At first, I thought it might have been me.  But it was on three separate occasions.  It was still really good but not on the inspirational level I’ve become accustomed too.

But luckily a dear friend had been cooking the za’s there, but we rarely crossed paths at said establishment itself.  So I mentioned to her that I don’t think they’ve been as good as I remember.  She suggested I come in during one of her final shifts, and she’d make it for me personally.

And I’m glad I did. She made a masterpiece.   I’ve had The Spence before, but not like this.  Our friends who have been here repeatedly know the pie and know the man behind it.

BartendersSpence

This is a work of art.  I think it’s worthy of multiple photos. So here’s another.

BartendersSpence2

The combination of the homemade sauce, cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella, and andouille sausage alone is enough to make this grown man act like a little kid at his first pizza parlor!  Oh my goodness this was made to perfection.  I’ve had it before but not like this.   The red peppers, onions, and fresh basil complete and complement this pie perfectly.  This is up there with some of the best ever.

Now I’ve had their cheese, white, and garden (vegetarian) as well, and loved those too. But this blows them all away. The crust, the way it was cooked, and the way everything melted and blended together is genius. And I mean this with all sincerity, this was one for the ages.  It was the perfect send off for her and the perfect early birthday present to myself.  I don’t think it could have been done any better.  And I’m glad I waited this long to write about this.  Faith has been rewarded.

I love that they give you paper plates with your meal. It’s a little detail that I don’t want to go unnoticed.  I prefer it versus a regular dish.

BartendersSpenceWithWine

But maybe my last few purchases of various pies such as the Barbecue Chicken, Peyton, and Tarlek just didn’t move me like the others.  It’s meant as a compliment.  The expectations of this place are extremely high and they will continue to be.

If you’re curious as to their menu and the selections I mentioned above, click here.

As my friend moves on to bigger and better, I will always remember Bartenders for their amazing pizza and good atmosphere.  I have many great memories but this might have been one of the best.  I look forward to more momentous occasions and many more delicious pies in the near future.

BartendersSide

Rock and Roll.

Best,

Ideen

To Serve, with Love

UncleMaddios

I recently took a nice drive down to Dulles, VA and the great things always find you when you aren’t looking. Well, maybe I looked a little.  While I was here, I investigated any nearby places in the area and to my pleasure, I found a gift from the universe.

UncleMaddiosCollage

Everything about Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint is done right.   The food, the staff, the images on the walls, and the overall energy of this place, make this a can’t miss.  I can’t say enough good things about the overall presentation.

But most importantly, how is the pizza?  Well what I ordered will go down as one of my favorites.

The set up here is of the assembly line variety.  You can order a custom pizza or create your own!   The concept is simple, but for a pizza, could be hit or miss. This is a certifiable hit.

UncleMaddiosMenu

With their plethora of menu options, I opted for the Portobello Pesto.  And I’m so happy I did.  This is a masterpiece.   I ordered this with the Whole Wheat Dough, and that was a call I’m grateful for.  What a wonderful tasting pita style flat bread. It really complemented the pizza well.

UncleMaddiosPie

Maybe there’s a bias, but this pie is a culmination of some of my favorite toppings.  The pesto, feta, portabella and white mushrooms, tomatoes, and basil all come together for something so simple, yet so wonderful.  I was happy to read that their dough is made in-house and that their vegetables are local and delivered every morning.  No wonder everything tasted so fresh! And the energy and love behind the making of this was obvious.

UncleMaddiosZa

I say love, because that’s what’s promoted throughout the shoppe.  Since I was a newbie, that staff was happy to help with suggestions and explain how the whole process works.  They were patient and never seemed in a rush, as on this day, there was a bit of a line.  But they kept it moving, while all the while grateful to help every customer the same.

Sometimes the pizza is enhanced by how great the customer service was.  And this is near the top, on both levels.  The positive vibrations put it over the top. The theme is love and love is a good thing.

I’d never heard of this place until last week.  I see it’s a chain that is growing in popularity.  If you’re every in the Dulles area, I strongly recommend eating here!

I wish them all the success and I can’t wait to try another inspiring item!

UncleMaddiosLotsOfLove

UncleMaddiosLove

All The Best,

Ideen

Road Trip To Annapolis

Mangias

I love Annapolis.  As the weather gets warmer, there will be more visits to this wonderful town.  And that means more pizza recaps.  This post will be dedicated to one of the more popular destinations downtown.

Charlie’s Bar at Mangia’s is in the heart of the city.  It has a great view of the nearby sailboats, tourists walking about, and other pleasures of the town.

Too bad the pizza leaves a lot to be desired.   I’ve been going sporadically over the past 10 years or so. And even though I never felt it was the best pizza, I don’t remember it tasting this poor.  Or maybe my tastes have changed.    They’re open until 2 am on Friday and Saturday nights. With that information in hand, we know the pizza is made to fit the later night crowd.   Unfortunately, that same pizza is also served to the daytime crowd.

Sometimes even bad pizza is good pizza.  And maybe that works in some instances.  However, this was abysmal.  I don’t want to reiterate this fact over and over.  So let’s get to my slices.

MangiasSlices

First up, was the cheese.  The crust was too crunchy and it didn’t taste like real cheese.    I could barely taste the sauce either.   I don’t think these were the freshest ingredients    I wish I could find some positives.

Second, was the white slice.   This did not taste like any white I’m used to.  But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be good. Just like the cheese, not all good whites taste the same.   If I didn’t know this was a white slice, I would have just assumed this was garlic toast.  And bad toast at that.

Finally, was the Spinach Ricotta.  Like the previous two, I’m not sure what I was eating.  The spinach tasted ok, but the ricotta didn’t taste as good as other places.

The gentleman who heated up my slices was very nice.  Otherwise, the other staff seemed very idle.  But this was during lunch hour, so not much else was going on.   But, I did say lunch hour.  I expect pizza to be a little higher in quality during the day as opposed to near closing time at the bar.   This was disheartening on so many levels.

I don’t go into these blogs looking to disparage anything or anyone.  I want them all to succeed, especially if their intentions are to serve good pizza and to benefit the community.

Fortunately, I will be reviewing more pizzerias in Naptown, in the very near future.   And I know the best is yet to come.

Take good care.

Best,

Ideen

Isabella’s – Inspirational, Incredible, & Iconic

IsabellasStoreFront

It took me a while to get to Little Italy, didn’t it?   When I first thought of doing this blog, Isabella’s Brick Oven, was one of the catalysts.  I’ve eaten here a few times and have always had a positive experience. Simply put, their pizza is awesome.

And I adore Little Italy.  I don’t come here as often as I should.

Not all brick ovens are created equal.  I’ve had many a pie this way and some have tasted exquisite. Other have tasted atrocious.  This falls in the former category.

It’s been so long, I forgot what I’ve ordered here previously.   To make up for that and to support our awesome local establishments, I ordered three amazing pizza pies!

IsabellasCheese

First, was their Traditional Cheese.  This was a joy to eat.  Their homemade dough really shines through here.  The crust is heated to perfection.  And the way the mozzarella is baked into the bread is impressive. This is one of the best cheese pizzas in all of downtown Baltimore.

IsabellasBlanca

My second order was the Pizza Bianca.   Their take on the white pizza included feta.  And what a fantastic addition this is. How beautiful does that look?   The ricotta, mozzarella, and feta really come together here.  My taste buds were blown away.  Again, the crust is dynamite.  And feta is one of my favorite cheeses.  This is the kind of white pizza one can only dream of.  But then it comes true.

IsabellasLombdardi

Last and nowhere close to least, is the Lombardi.  We wanted to change it up this time.  So we got a specialty pie.   And special is an understatement. Putting a pie like this together is a stroke of genius. We have pancetta, gorgonzola, and walnuts.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  This was a lesson in Pizza 101 and all other courses combined.  I really wanted to take my time eating this and appreciate every bite. My last helping of it came together perfectly.  It’s as if the cheese, meat, and walnuts all hit each other symmetrically and with unison.  That was one of the best bites I can recall in sometime.

IsabellasAllThree

I can’t pick a favorite as I loved all three.  But Isabella’s is one of my favorites in all of the Baltimore area.  I can’t recommend this place enough.   They have many other pies I look forward to trying.  Their slices may seem smaller than what we’re used to. But I find it all the more charming.

The girl that was working yesterday was very kind and courteous. She seemed truly appreciative that I stopped in.  That always leaves a great impression.

And for being open less than 10 years, they’ve already made their mark in the neighborhood and the city.   I can’t wait to go back.

Take good care.

Best,

Ideen

The Original

Doms

I’ve only been to Dominick’s of Parkville a handful of times.  But, each time keeps feeling like the first.   It’s that good, novel, and wonderful.

The first time, only a few months ago, I ordered the Buffalo Chicken and White Vegetable, and they were both out of this world.  Especially the latter.  I can say that it’s one of the best veggie pies/slices I’ve ever had the privilege of eating.

And the smells.  There’s a smell that comes from their store and from the carry out boxes that’s to die for.  To me, it’s a combination of basil, cheese, sauce, and something else I can’t quite put my finger on.  Maybe I’m not meant to know?

DomsPies

For this visit, I ordered a Cheese and a Bacon Cheeseburger.   That smell was back and better than ever.   How the cheese overpowered bacon and burger meat, I don’t know.  But that’s really saying something.  I was hoping the scents would stay in my car longer.

How beautiful do those pies look?

Even more importantly, how do they taste?

Well the cheese tastes exactly how a cheese pie should. It brings me back to the types of pizza I was eating when I was a kid.  It’s more than comfort food. It’s just comforting.  It makes me feel good.  And the crust is the perfect combination of soft, with a little crunch to it.   And the smell helps!

The Bacon Cheeseburger had a lot to live up to after the cheese, but it delivered.  The meats tasted fresh.  And they poured a lot on top of the mozzarella and cheddar cheese.   This was a wonderful combination all around.  I find cheddar to be an underrated topping on pizzas.

Besides the taste and smell, most important of all, is their customer service.  They knocked it out of the park again.  I’ve always had the inkling to order a large and a medium to go.  I keep forgetting that if I ordered two mediums, that I’m getting a savings of over $10. Now I don’t always remember this fact, but they do! And they’ve been quick to remind me of this detail.  Ladies and gentleman, that’s serving your customers at its finest.   They’re not obligated to remind me of this fact, but they choose to anyway.   That will make me keep coming back and supporting their amazing local business.  Thanks so much guys.   And it makes the pizza taste better too!  They’ve been doing this for over 50 years and that’s one of the reasons why. Class.

DomsLocations

Now, I haven’t been to their Perry Hall or Lutherville locations, and that will come in time.  I can only assume I’ll get the same world class treatment there.

Take good care and enjoy the weekend.

Best,

Ideen

Iggie Pop

Iggies

The first time I visitied Iggies in Mt. Vernon, a few years ago, I didn’t fully appreciate my time there. I was just looking for a pie to go and to most likely eat in my car.   For a spot like this, it’s almost an insult to the establishment and to me.   Last night was a wonderful dining experience.

When I read the menu in advance, the immediate stand out was the Anatra Arrosta, which is the Roasted Duck.    I was looking for a different type of pie, and this was it.

Woof

I walked in and forgot how cool this place looked on the inside.  There were plenty of photos of Italian Greyhounds, that made this animal lover very happy.    I didn’t fully notice or appreciate the first time, if at all.    For this detail alone, this immediately becomes one of my favorite places.

menu

The menu options were abundant, which nearly led me to stray from my original choice.  But I’m glad I went with my first instinct.

pizza!

So how was the pizza?  Well it was amazing.  The whole ordering process at the counter, to when it was brought to me, took less than 10 minutes.

The simplistic recipe of mozzarella, tomatoes, olives, and shredded duck was absolute perfection.  The personal size I purchased filled me up, and I had about half my pie left.   One of my favorite things is seeing how the cheese is baked into the dough.  And how great does that look here?   The crust is thin and baked perfectly.  I enjoyed eating and savoring each bite.

yum

There’s so much additional charm here.  It’s a BYOB spot, so folks were bringing in bottles of wine and their favorite case of cold ones.   My pairing of choice was the complimentary water in a dixie cup!  This is stuff for the ages folks.

I wish I could say more to give this place justice.  They have a Pizza Of The Moment, which rotates periodically.

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My favorite part of all is that they help support local charities, and any that help animals, I am always  a fan of.

The amount of creations I want to try here are plentiful.  Iggies could have a blog dedicated to them all its own.   I will be back.  And soon.

entrance

Thanks so much.

Best,

Ideen