Joe To The Second

JoeSquaredLamb2

There’s quite a few instances where I could have done a pizzeria more justice.  There’s times where I either know was too harsh on a place, not hard enough, or too kind.  But more importantly is the overall energy levels that surround said pizza place.  And that also applies to me.  I have to be in the best mood possible.  Yet I must go in unbiased and treat everything with equal importance, equal respect, and equal praise and criticisms.

Of course I have favorites.  Some I’ve written about, and some that are yet to come.   And believe me, more is coming…

JoeSquaredFront

And with that I present to you, an oldie but a goodie, but not quite an oldie, Joe Squared in the Station North neighborhood in Baltimore.  This is the Artscape special for this year,2017 edition, which is becoming a fun little tradition (here’s the last two years of posts related to this awesome festival) that I’ve grown to become fond of.   And Joe Squared will be right in the vicinity of all the activity this weekend.

They moved locations not too long ago.   Their original location footsteps away from their new locale had a charm to it.  It felt Baltimore, it felt old world, and it just didn’t feel like how many newish places are looking and feeling today.  It had an authenticity, which still exists in many places, but is slowly dissipating.

However, I never had their pizza in the old spot.  I only grabbed a drink and maybe an appetizer from time to time.  I wasn’t there enough to consider myself a regular.  Not even close.  But I did feel at home and felt cozy when I was there.

Several year later, my first pizza eating experience at Joe’s was actually at their (at the time) second location at PowerPlant Live.

It’s where friends and I would prefer to eat before a concert.  We all love pizza, and as a bonus we loved their risotto, and indulged there on a number of occasions. 

I couldn’t tell you exactly what we ate.  But I know once we had this mushroom risotto that was existentially awesome.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  Actually I could but I think that’ll work.

I don’t remember the pizza we ate, but the square shapes and the simplicity of our cheese, our toppings, and the pizza crust, made it always enjoyable.  I never said it was the best pizza I ever had, but it surely belong in the conversations of the better pizzas in Baltimore.

And after all this time, I impulsively decided today to grab two personal pizzas to go.  Yes as I alluded to earlier, I wanted to keep the Artscape theme going, and I nearly dropped the ball. Since, I was short on time, instead of sitting down and dining it, I opted to get two pies to go, to have a little now, and maybe save some more for later.  And I saved quite a bit.   Don’t read into too much of that just yet.

The interior is nothing to be too mesmerized about.  It’s a basic set up with pictures, a spacious dining room, and a medium sized bar.  Because of this, no pictures are really necessary, outside of the food.  It also made the decision to get my za to go that much easier.

JoeSquaredMenu

I went with a simple one, The Flag, and then a more complex pie, The Cumin Braised Lamb.

In a nutshell, these are no the pizzas I remember.  Much time has passed, nor should they be. But the charm and the openness and welcoming vibration I got from these pizzas was not there. It’s been replaced with something not as enthusiastic, and not as down-to-earth.  At least not on this day.

The big positive is the coal-fired and thin sourdough crust.  That’s tremendous and a gave the pizzas a distinct taste, outside of the toppings.  Because…

I’ll go with the more adventurous pie first.  The lamb had a lot going on.  The lamb by itself was absolutely terrific.  You can’t help but pick pieces off yourself and enjoy.  I did bit of that. Because otherwise the eggplant didn’t work for me here.  It tended to dominate each bite I took. Now I love eggplant but this was a bit much.  The onions didn’t mesh well either.  As individual entities the ingredients were fresh.  But I don’t think this came together as capable as it should. I I can envision many people loving this because of the lamb.  I loved the lamb but I wanted to love everything, and I couldn’t.  It was merely ok.

JoeSquaredFlag

Now the usual standbys of The Flag, which is essentially three pies in one, a cheese, a variation of their white, and their pesto mozzarella.

JoeSquaredFlag2

This should be a safe bet correct?  Well not quite.

The cheese and white were missing something.  I tasted more of the crust (which is a good thing sometimes) than anything else.  The cheese was missing something. Maybe more  cheese?  And the white was too creamy and then not creamy enough.  I feel that depended on the bite.  Garlic cream is usually beautiful, but maybe it was trying too hard.

But the pesto will never let you down. I could eat this all day, but I wouldn’t because that would be unhealthy or something.  Yet that pesto taste so real, so magical, and just plain delicious.  I wish I got that as a pie by itself.  It’s fantastic.

What else I want to do is give this another go.  There’s so many pies to choose from, maybe I just found two of them that didn’t resonate with me.  They might with you though.   But a place that carries this much weight deserves to have more of their pizzas sampled.

Speaking of which, if you’re at Artscape this weekend, I would absolutely recommend Joe Squared as a dining destination, if seating is available.  I imagine on a weekend like this that seats might be at a premium.

Next time I’m back I will hopefully be with a friend or two, and absolutely try a couple more pizzas.  Again, one being rather simple, and one being out of the norm.  There’s plenty of that, and options for everyone.  They do offer vegan and gluten free options as well.  Always a good thing.

So this is just the beginning.  I’ve been saying that a lot but it’s the truth. I look forward to coming back and having another go at this.

For their menu click here, location and contact information, and their list of specials.

JoeSquaredSpecials

Maybe I’ll try a special next time myself.

We’ll see you at Artscape.

Thanks so much.

Ideen

Creating Art

PastaLaVistaPie4

It’s been 10 years since my first Artscape, and I’m in love with this event more than ever.  My reasons are the same for me as for many others.  There’s the first time we attended this event and it’s novelty, the art we witnessed, the performances, the food, the comradery, the energy, and everything in between.

For a while I felt the local flavor was deteriorating.   Apparently I wasn’t alone.  There was an outcry for more local food vendors and respective artists from the area.   And now for the last two years we’re seeing a renaissance.

My post last year was up the day (and weekend) of Artscape.  This time I chose to post something after the fact.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to come up with for this be all of festivals, but I sensed something was going to find me. Surely, one of the many great pizzerias and restaurants in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood would offer up some great write-ups.  Not yet at least.

As I was alluding to, the local flavor was in full bloom.  There were stands for all types of cuisines; whether you were looking for burgers, soul food, Caribbean, vegan, or maybe just a smoothie, it was there for you.  I indulged in a few of those eats as well, but this is a pizza discussion and I will stay the course.

PastaTruck

This brings me to Pasta La Vista Baby! Yes, with an exclamation point.  Now I had seen these guys in random parts of the city for years, and never brought myself to order anything from them.   I don’t know if the stars weren’t in alignment or what, but this was long overdue, as long as they had pizza.   After perusing the menu after the fact, I’m even more fortunate than I first realized.  There’s no pizza listed but lucky enough for the crowd, they had a white w/ spinach on the big board. That’s what I went with.

PastaLaVistaPie3

It’s different and cooked on a nice flat bread, almost pita style.  On a hot day like it was, this was necessary.  Thicker dough is not going to work in the heat. It’ll bloat you silly, or maybe that’s just me.

The staff working the truck were all smiles.   My lunch was during the earliest part of the event so it wasn’t too crowded and I imagine they weren’t overwhelmed.  This was a deliberate move on my part.  I wanted my food with little wait time.

PastaLaVistaPie2

This was a charmer.  For $8 it was a personal joy and a smidgen of a bargain. The only downside was the added ricotta to the side.  And ordinarily it wouldn’t be.  It was a bit rich for my taste but otherwise this is a great choice. The pizza on its own was enjoyable and pleasing to my sensibilities.  Wow did I just say that?

PastaLaVistaPie1

Even for its size, I was able to make two meals out of it.   I picked up a delicious burnt taste under the crustand,  and flipped it around to see just that.  The charred taste really does wonders. So my educated and over-analysis tells me this was grilled?  This is a winner.  The spinach complemented everything and was the perfect vegetable to go on top (and from within). I’m not sure anything else would.  This was well thought out.

PastaLaVistaFlipped

If they make other pizzas, I’d love to find them again.

Here is their contact info if you’d like to get well you know, get in contact.

Best of all, here is their story.  There’s some soul behind this operation.

For my pals in Baltimore and everywhere else, I’ll leave you with a few images from Artscape.  It was transforming.  At certain times I felt like I was in another world, yet knowing I was still close to home.  I’m not sure these brief pics depict that.   But what is telling is for my friends in the city, you may recognize someone in one of these photos.  This was not planned, and I had no idea until after I glanced at my pics earlier today. Life is funny like that.

Hope your Summer has been rocking!

Best,

Ideen

These Boots

TwoBootsSignage

Just in time for Artscape, I wanted to get around to writing about Two Boots in the Mt. Royal section of Baltimore.

For those outside of the area, if you aren’t familiar with this festival, its massive.  Major streets are shutdown and it’s a sea of humanity.  It’s really quite the visual.

This pizza establishment, based out of New York, is entrenched in the heart of MICA and the University of Baltimore.  Penn Station is nearby as well.  Because of the diversity of folks, from locals, students, business travelers, tourists, and passersby, you get a very unique energy when you go inside.

I would like to think that’s usually a positive.  But, the last few times I’ve gone it’s been a weird vibration of sort.  It could be what I’m seeing or it could be all the moving parts around me.  I’d like to think it’s a little of both.  It has been uneasy at times.

My most recent visits, have led to 15 minute plus waits for just a couple of slices to be heated up.  And it’s with little to any line in front of me, or people waiting for their orders.

However, I have never been the biggest fan of their food.  I’ve only had pizza but it as never blown me away.  And many times when I wanted a slice, because of the toppings, it would be gone.  That’s likely a combination of their popularity and so many people coming in and out getting whatever slice may be available.  And that happened to me on the eve of this event, which starts today.

The two I really wanted to get today were unavailable, and there was a 15-20+ minute wait time on the next pie to come out, which is understandable, just frustrating.

AnimalCo

The Animal Collective, which is a spinach and artichoke pie, had been decimated way before I got there, from what I was told.  I would like to give that a shot sometime.

Cleo

And the last slice of Cleopatra Jones was taken by the person directly in front of me.  It was a bit disheartening but the early or last-minute bird gets the worm.

MisterPink

So with what was available, I ordered the Mr. Pink and because they were low on slices, a regular cheese. You can always judge a place on their cheese.

MrPinkCheese

The cheese nor the Mr. Pink I found enjoyable.  I could barely taste any cheese and I am not a fan of their sauce.   For the latter, the creole chicken didn’t taste particularly good.   It wasn’t fresh.  I was in New Orleans for the time first time recently and tasted some wonderful chicken, along with other meats. This wasn’t it.  I’m not all of a sudden an expert on southern cooking.  I just want it to delicious and feel good eating in the process.   These were both very mediocre slices.

TwoBootsDuo

And the cornmeal crust is an interesting topic of discussion.  Some of my friends love it more than regular dough.   I find it very coarse and rough.  It feels funny on my tongue and when chewing it.   It’s not likely to be an acquired taste.  Good crust is good crust. This isn’t it.

I wasn’t able to finish either slice and found myself pining for something else.   And the wait for my two slices was again, around 15 minutes.

With this major festival happening, the wait for your slices and pies will likely be much longer.   And a few of my peers love it, as might you.

I wanted to post about this because if you’re attending the festa, you may want something other than food truck or outdoor vendor to snack on.  Two Boots, with its wonderful storefront signage and charming names for their za’s will be easy to spot. And I wish them a massively successful weekend!

TwoBoots

It’s going to be a great for few days for Baltimore and the local businesses nearby. The positives that will come from this will be infinite.

TwoBootsSpecials

And because they have so many varieties, I will gladly try them again.  And I understand how busy they can be, so that may lend itself to rushed cooking jobs.   The staff has always been friendly and show a great deal of patience during busy times.

Most important of all, they have a large community presence and that always feels good to read about.

If you head down, see you at Artscape.  Enjoy!

Best,

Ideen