Sentimental Sicilian Style

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For months I’ve wanted to go to Joe Benny’s. 

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Circumstances have presented themselves that it wasn’t supposed to happen just yet. Either because I came after hours (I find their schedule endearing and down-to-earth), or on days they weren’t open (they’re closed Mondays).

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It just wasn’t meant to be, for that time.  I have so badly wanted to try their foccacia pies.. And in the few years they’ve been open, I’ve heard almost nothing but glowing reviews, and how inviting and approachable their establishment is.

I concur.

A dear friend of mine had asked me where I wanted to go to dinner this past Saturday.  It was a welcome invitation that mirrors the theme of this post and experience thus far. And bear in mind, I had some idea of where I wanted to go.  I had a few days to think about it.   As the day approached and my friend reminded me of that fact, I came up with a few suggestions.  But Joe Benny’s was at the forefront of my mind.   It only made sense.

My original post about Little Italy can be found here.

We love Little Italy, we love Italian food, my friend is Italian, and it’s a place that had forever alluded me.

Funny that my friend had never heard of it.

What makes this even more charming is the place is self seating, a narrow space, with a few seats at the bar, and a sizable yet ample (cozy) amount of seats.   My friend got there before be and (at the time) grabbed the last one.   I love the restaurants of Little Italy because it’s in a universe all its own in Baltimore.  Many have great food, great wine lists, and many suggest reservations.

What makes Joe Benny’s stand out is their menu.  While many restaurants in Little Italy serve similar entrees, Joe Benny’s is not only the only Foccaceria in Little Italy, but it’s the first and only in all of Baltimore.  That right there is going to attract patrons of little Italy, old and new.

And it’s going to attract me back many times over.

This was perfection.

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We started with their seasonal sangria, that had a fall like taste to it.  I swear I tasted some cinnamon sticks, but I could be wrong.  It was enjoyable, and complemented our heavy meal that was yet to come.

 

The irony is that the heaviest part of the meal might have been the Mimma’s Meatballs. The baked beef and pork mix was delightful enough but it was that tomato sauce that screams habit forming.  And the bread that came with it nearly made us full before we even got to our pies.   I can’t stress enough how amazing this sauce was.  Of course we dipped parts of pizzas into the sauce…

…And speaking of which…

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My friend went with the Angry Ginger.  I went with the Kimtucky.

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How perfect that this past Wednesday (9/20) was National Pepperoni Pizza Day.  And that we have a pie to discuss on this most important of all holidays.  Did you happen to take off work that day?  Ha.  Well you might think pizzas of this magnitude would do just that.

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But the bread was not as filling as you might think.  There was a refreshing amount of air and a light heartedness to the pizza that doesn’t bloat you or make you full to the point of being down for the count.  It was quite the opposite.

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The all around red components of this pie made this not only beautiful to eat, but beautiful to look at.    The melange of pepperoni, roasted red pepper, spicy red pepper (yes both), tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella made this approachable looking pizza an absolute gem.   It was almost too pretty to eat, but well nah, enjoy.  It was tremendous.

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The Kimtucky continues my tradition of loving pesto.  I’ve emphasized this point many times and I’ll never get sick of it.   And the asiago cheese, roasted red peppers, along with that homemade pesto and fennel sausage made this another masterpiece.  Fennel is something I’m really enjoying on pizzas.

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And I’m glad we went with two contrasting pizzas to see how two different sauces, meats, cheeses, and veggies work on the focaccia.

I think they’re going to be alright.  This is one of the better experiences you’re going to have, not just with pizza, but dining in Baltimore.   The great company helps, the great atmosphere helps, but that food and drink made this all wrapped up in those pretty little bows we might make jokes about.  But this is no joke.  This was worthy of all the superlatives you want to throw at it.

We didn’t have room for dessert, we didn’t have room for much more.  We each took a little more than half our pies home.  Because while it wasn’t that filling, there’s always room for seconds.  And my kimtucky tasted just as amazing the next day, or maybe it was later that night.  Oops!  Yes, it was so good.

And we learned from our server, that the staff have their pies on the menu as well, sometimes as specials and sometimes as mainstays.  Judging from the looks of it, we will be back and will be back soon.

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You see the prices.  $15, give or take for these pies is well worth it.

I’m hooked, I’m a fan, and I always was before I even ever walked in the door. I can only hope the next time is coming soon.

Even their website is down-to-earth.

For more on Joe Benny’s, here is their menu, contact info, and their mission, which truly matches what we experienced.

 

Yes, their mission states it might take a few minutes longer than normal for the food.  But it’s so worth being patient.  Good things come to those…

I envision the same will happen for you.

Peace be with you.

Ideen

 

 

More Pizza With My Poppa

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After last week, I’m feeling even more compelled to get nostalgic about pizza memories and the town of Rockville, MD, where my dad has built a great reputation for himself as a small business owner, and has cultivated and nourished relationships for over 35 years

Time flies…

As time goes on, towns change and they tend to start looking like every other.  That can be good but in many instances sentimental folks such as myself miss how towns looked 20+ years ago, and in some instances still look like today, but are on the verge of changing.  With that situation I almost feel that the historic parts of a town, or the signs on the road are there in spite of, or in spite of everything else around it.   See what I’m saying?

The more things change, some things to remain the same.  My dad’s business has changed locations ever so slightly.  Literally from one suite many years ago to its current location.  But the heart and soul has remained the same throughout its entirety.

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I want to believe the same goes for Giuseppe’s Pizza Plus. Here is their menu.

Many years ago it was located in an old looking and aging strip mall (many years ago you would’t call it that), but it was home to many visits by me and my friends after high school or after classes at the local community college.  And sometimes I would grab a slice or pie with my dad.   It was walking distance, so it was convenient, but in a way we took it for granted, because it was so close.

We didn’t eat here enough but when we did we acknowledged that it’s good pizza that fills you up, makes you feel good, and made life easy when cooking or sitting at a restaurant isn’t an option.   And the affordability was a plus too.

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The tremendous deal I remember still exists.  Even with inflation, two slices and a soda is only $5.50.  Beautiful.

And now it sits in its current home next to a movie theater.   You can call it movie theater pizza, you can all it anything you want.  But it’s pizza that you can appreciate for what it is.  It’s the history I have with the place that brings me back.  No it’s not the best pizza you or I will ever have.  But does it really matter in this or most circumstances?  Five dollars and change is the best.

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For my father I got a cheese and random toppings on the other.  He just likes pizza with toppings on them, that don’t always make sense.  But for me I find that endearing.  And I got a somewhat supreme slice with just the pepperoni, onions, and peppers.

Everything was fresh and everything was fine.  It’s going be to be fine…

Thinking back to how the interior and exterior used to be versus now, it’s a tremendous upgrade.  The same goes for its other location in Gaithersburg.  And here is more about this great family business.

I was thinking about this earlier today before writing.  My dad once lived within walking distance of the Gaithersburg location and didn’t go often.  Again, maybe because it’s always gong to be there.

I say lets not take things for granted.  There will always be reasons to go or not go somewhere, to try or avoid something new, and throw all the excuses or ignoring signs to do this or that.  But it’s important to appreciate what’s around you along with going outside of where you reside or work.   But it’s also important to appreciate what’s right in front of you.  This isn’t just abut a restaurant, store, or entity near you.  It’s about everything.  It’s ok to walk past something to revisit it later.  But if something is there, waiting to be embraced, then that’s exactly what you and I should do.

I write this projecting a lot, because life is about seizing the moment and grabbing things while you still can, and while you’re still here on this Earth.

This is only a pizza blog, but it’s the spiritual aspects that I wanted to hone in on.  And I don’t just mean this week, but preceding posts and for the duration.  I will as much as I can.

But for now, I’m sending good vibrations to you, my father, my family, my friends, and the rest of the universe.

There may be one more post down the line incorporating pizza, my dad, and my family. And after that, I hope the next time will be a meal which actually involves my loving family sitting together, and embracing all the love we have or one another.

I look forward to this happening soon.

Peace Be With You,

Ideen

Severna Park Style

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At times I’ve been told I’ve been guilty of being too idealistic.  I’m romanticize potential situations in my life and you know what, sometimes it goes exactly as predicted.  You have a visualization but don’t get overly attached to it, and voila, just as advertised in my mind.

Things don’t always work out that way. But we should aim for the best scenarios, best people, the best (fill-in-the-black), and when it comes to this, the best pizza.  Where on earth am I going with this?   Some of us just want a piece of pizza and be done with it.

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Some kind folks had mentioned Little Carmine’s of Severna Park to me.  They said I gotta try it.   They said I’m going to love it.  Some even said it’s the closest to New York Style they’ve had.  And these are coming from folks from the center of the universe, you know the city that doesn’t sleep and all that charming stuff.

When I hear that I start to get visions and inspirations.  But truth be told, I was the one asking.   I had small town sentiments before I even showed up.  I assumed the pizzeria would be folksy, welcoming, and full of charming neighbors from up the street.

How much of that was true?  Well that’s all up to the person.  For me, I had hoped to be blown away by this place.  I wanted at least part of everything I hoped for to be made reality.  Why am I being so dramatic?  Because despite my overly positive, yet sometimes cynical ways, I still intend to see the good in everything, even before it’s presented to me. And if not, I may express disappointment that wasn’t warranted.

I was not disappointed by the pizza nor was it the best pizza I’ve ever had.  Like the guys from New York, best is a subjective and loaded term.  What’s the best for you and what’s best for me are usually separate universes.  And why would we want in any other way?

I built this place up to be something spectacular.  And you know, I’ll keep doing it.  The aura around this part of town is very neighborly.  There’s a few housing developments within walking distance and the storefront has a truly authentic pizzeria vibe.  Things were looking up.

There’s the standard New York images and photos on the wall (which I sensed and heard from those aforementioned folks) in the restaurant.  And the music was all Frank Sinatra, all the time. I find it predictable, yet charming.  I’ve been to so many different restaurants (not just pizza) that will only play Frank Sinatra.   It’s relatable, safe, and endearing to many.   It’s added to some experiences and at other times it’s made no sense that I had to chuckle.  I envision many people have been in that spot too.

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Finally, let me talk about the pizza.  This is a review of two different visits.  It’s a total of five slices, and some I did save for later.   Is there such a thing as too much pizza? Never!

By the way, the restaurant was much smaller than a how it looks on the outside.  It seems that more than half the space was for the kitchen.  That’s not a complaint, just an observation.

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The smaller space means a smaller display.  That means an easier decision to make.  Let’s go to round 1…

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My first visit was for carry-out.  I went with cheese, white, and buffalo chicken.  I won’t review every slice, one-by-one but instead will talk about what stood out.

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The buffalo chicken was the true stand-out.  The chicken was fresh, the celery tasted like real celery, and that one-two punch of buffalo sauce and blue cheese was absolutely brilliant.  And it was heated to perfection.  That can be said for all the slices.

The white and the cheese were good but not amazing.  And they call can’t be amazing.   Again, it’s all perception.  The basil was great on the white but neither slice is resonating with me, even as I write this.

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Day 2 was an order-in.  There was more Sinatra. There were more friendly faces like the first visit.   I went with the mushroom, and then the meat lovers.   I’ve had a bias towards mushroom so my expectations were higher.  This was only ok.   Once again, the dough was great but not much else stood out.  With the meat lovers, it’s just not my thing.  This is more of a reflection on me than on the pizza itself.  The ground beef was great but it’s a bit too much for me.

There was a major highlight though.  Overheard on the loudspeakers was this Sinatra gem. How fitting with the events that would follow that evening.   Yes this visit was the same day this happened.   Maybe someone was a clairvoyant.  Maybe it was a sign.  Maybe it was a special moment I hadn’t planned for. That’s the point to all this.  Something as enjoyable as the pizza experience should happen organically and not always with plans or expectations.

But this is only the beginning.  My hunch tells me that their pizza in full pie form may be the iconic za I’m expecting and I’ve been told they’re capable of. This is a place where I’d want to be surrounded with good company and enjoy life.   I’ve exhausted the going at it alone part with this place.  Yes the staff was all friendly and hanging out.  But this needs another go with a friend or two.

This is a place for friends.  I’ve seen many of the staff enjoy themselves in the back (assuming they’re on break) acting like regular fellow in a New York Style restaurant.

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There’s a lot of good going on here.

More good to come.

Ideen