Keeping It Simple

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For years I’ve driven by Mamma Lucia Italian Eatery in Waverly and though to myself, this place looks intriguing.  There’s a charm about it and I really can’t put my finger on it. There’s an old school, old feel, and old soul aura about it.  It’s also old Baltimore to me. But old doesn’t mean bad.  It usually means quite the opposite.  It shows character, experience, and a distinguishable look that stands out from many of the cookie-cutter pizzerias and restaurants popping up everywhere.

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Sitting right in the heart of 33rd and Greenmount (3240 Greenmount Avenue), this establishment has been serving its clientele for years.  And that clientele can only be described by me as real Baltimore.  It took this blog for me to finally walk in.  So why the hesitation?   I can only justify it as saying its out of my comfort zone.  Johns Hopkins University is literally footsteps away. But the pizzeria is away enough that it looks like a completely different universe.  And that may be an understatement.

I had meant to write about them over a year ago but maybe I couldn’t come up with the right words to say.  I was over-thinking things.  What I did notice in past photos that I only found myself ordering the same three slices, over several visits.  Yes there were a few trips to this staple of Historic Waverly.  And I feel fortunate to write about them now.

The easy part is their cheese, buffalo chicken, and white veggie are all so similar even if they’re full of different flavors.

This is not the best pizza you’ll ever eat.  It doesn’t come close.  But it’s solid. The one thing I’ve noticed across the board is the crust was legitimately crunch.  It was New York Style taken to new heights.  I don’t know if it was by accident or what, but the crust was incredible.  And the irony is, a year ago in the same place, I would be complaining about how this isn’t pizza.  And that this crunch was born out of laziness and an accident from the oven.  Maybe that’s why I chose not to write about it before.  I felt I needed to expand my horizons and pizza dining experience across-the-board.

But I will say the flavors of the pizza aren’t anything that will win any awards.  But once again, they’re decent and will satisfy their customers.  And two slices and a soda for $7 doesn’t hurt either.

And I’ll tell you something about their customers.  It’s full of some of the most authentic people in Baltimore I’ve ever seen.  I’ve sat inside multiple times and have overheard conversations I wouldn’t hear in a more supposedly posh.  That sounds like I may be demeaning the locals who frequent Mamma Lucia, but the opposite rings true.  This is a breath of fresh air.  I’ve even had a impromptu discussion or two with some of the regulars and it’s been refreshing.   It has only enhanced my awareness and gives me more of an appreciation for one of the originators of Baltimore.

This city has grown so much but it’s always important to support local.  With the holidays here that message is even more vital.

This may not have been the most glamorous pizza place to write about but this is one that has sentimentality to me.  The decor is simple and as long as there’s pizza to be had, friendly folks behind the counter, and a sense of relaxation.  That’s all I can ask for.

For my friends in Baltimore, if you happen to drive by, maybe pop in one day.  It’s not the most alluring but its perfect to me.

Happy Holidays,

Ideen

 

Sentimental in Swedesboro

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It’s my intent to keep all these posts as simple as possible.  Sometimes things happen and there’s a boatload of photos and the verbiage has gone off the rails.  For this one I truly intend to keep in concise and to the point if at all possible.  I mean it’s just pizza right?  Ah well everything has significance.  And the location has just as much importance as the subject at hand.

But when it comes to pizza I just can’t talk about the pizza.  A drive through one of the most charming towns I’ve ever seen, Swedesboro, New Jersey (previous Jersey posts can be found here and over yonder), means the pizza and everything else I’ll experience while here is going be larger than life.  At this point I don’t care how good or bad the pizza is.  Actually yes I do, it better be good enough to come up with another in my long tradition of melodramatic openings.

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Mama Francesca Pizzeria doesn’t have a website,  I can barely find a menu, but more importantly what it does have is soul.  It has character, it was charm, and it has a welcoming aura that can’t be measured my clicks, searches, or any other technical term that wasn’t even on our radars in what feels like as short lifetime ago.

What if I never walked in and only imagined the pizza as the greatest thing ever.  It would be more romantic to have just driven by and thought what could have been.   But this isn’t how things work or how you eat pizza.  You actually have to eat the pizza.

The exterior took me back to places I went with my family when I was a kid.  And I remember all the pizza being the best, no matter how good or bad it may actually have been.   I loved my cheese, I loved my bread, I loved my sauce.   But then I also loved everything else that went with the package, company, location, and that moment in time.

The inside had small counter with a few places to sit facing the window.  The main seating area was led by a set of stairs and that’s the part that truly to me back to my childhood.  I remember seeing places like that but can’t recall exactly where. And that might be the best form of Deja Vu imaginable.

I’m not a kid anymore.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t get that same vibe of feeling happy, harmonious, and just grateful to grab a couple of slices and enjoy myself.

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I came at an odd time so the only slices available were cheese and a white vegetable. That made my decision easier.

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This is nowhere near the best pizza I’ve ever had.  But I didn’t expect it.  What I did get was slices that reminded me of my childhood.  That cheese was your standard cheese with a thick and crooked looking crust, looking like it’s been through a war.  But I didn’t care.  It was perfect for this moment.    I’m cherishing it even more now as I write it versus when I was actually here back in August.

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And just to clarify, the white chicken veggie is not something I frequently had as a kid. I can’t say any stood out. If it did I would actually think something was seriously wrong.  I guess I was mostly a cheese and pepperoni kind of guy.  This slice was stacked with vegetables, and it was exactly what it was supposed to be, and nothing more.  It was a slice good enough to eat and enjoy but it’s not going win and awards.  And it doesn’t matter.

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I loved this town.  I would write about other experiences I’ve had here but that means I would have to create other blogs. It would water down some of my own memories .  Some are best kept internal, for you, for me, and for the universe.

If I could write about small towns every week I could.  I don’t seek them out.  I let them find me.  It’s fun to dream and envision living in a place like this but with the understanding that maybe I’m heaping praise on somewhere I’ve never been with no expectations, no hang ups, or any other biases.  And maybe the second and subsequent visits would lose its luster.

As we approach the holidays I hope to discover more places that feel like just that, the holidays.   It’s important to see the good in everything and it’s easy said and done.  But that just sounds like kids stuff.

Exactly!

Ideen

Word To The Wiseguy

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I had never heard of Wiseguy NY Pizza until just a few weeks ago.

My first experience at the Arlington location was magical and I didn’t know until after I left.  I’ll save that for the end.  I had all the intention of getting around to recapping this experience by the end of November, but as all things nothing goes as planned nor should it. Especially when blogging and having fun.   A chance visit to the Washington, DC location within the past few days brought about a second helping of some dynamite slices. And the experience was something else.  It was something different. It’s DC. I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Speaking of which,  I’ll start backwards like they do in some cinemas.

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It was lunchtime and the line was 20 people deep.  It moved fast and fortunately I wasn’t in any rush, nor should I truly ever be.  But I’ve been the guy who’s paced back and forth and obsessively stared at their phone, hoping I still had time to get my food and rush back to work, without management being upset.  That’s the sense I got from most of the folks around me.  It wasn’t laid back but would you expect anything less?   The guy behind me especially seemed very programmed that if I hadn’t ordered my slices right away, he may have interjected and started that sighing and whining you see in the cinemas.   See I knew I mentioned cinemas earlier for a reason.

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That’s the end of the negative.  I ordered the Backyard Veggie and a Chicken Ranch.

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I said that was the end of the negative but I’ll quickly state the veggie was the one slice I had a hard time eating.  Of course I did but it was a bit too spicy for me.  Ingredients for all slices are shown above. The chili peppers were incredibly aggressive.  And I’m not one to complain about spices. In general I’d like it hot.But it didn’t work here.  And I feel the tomato sauce does not complement any of these vegetables.  It felt like too much and everything got lost.  The olives were good though.  I picked those off.  This is also where the crust seemed not to matter.  And the NY Style thin crust was wonderful on the next three (wait, hold that thought) slices across the board.

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The Chicken Ranch Melt was divine.  It more than made up for the previous slice. The crispy chicken slices and that house made ranch sauce were perfect to eat enough by their lonesome but wait, there’s more.  Throw that on top of a white pizza, and we have a winner.  But the true standout is the parsley. It added something that is too good for words.  If you love parsley you know what I’m talking about. But seriously, this made the slice when it was already made.

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I wish I could end the post here and split this into two parts.

Actually that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  Arlington, next week.  Trust me, it’ll be well worth it.

Here is more about this less-than-five year old pizzeria, their menu, and online ordering for those local.

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More next week,

Ideen

 

A Dundalk Institution

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It’s National Pizza Month.  Yes this is a thing.  It seems like you could come up with a day, holiday, or month long celebration for just about anything.   When it comes to pizza, if everyday was pizza day and every month pizza month, I doubt you would get many complaints.

I wasn’t necessarily going to try and make these posts a bit larger than life because of said event, but a dear friend suggested we brainstorm and take this to the next level.

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With that we go to one of those big time places in the Baltimore area, Squire’s Italian Restaurant.

Right outside the city, in Dundalk, this is considered by many to be an institution.  I actually heard that phrase, in regards to this place, by a good friend tonight, that I had to use it for the title.

I knew the place existed for a long time, but I didn’t know their family went back nearly 100 years. That will make anyone sentimental, nostalgic, and think of this place as a second home. Here’s a history lesson for you, and for me too!

I’ve only been here a handful of times, but never actually ate their pizza.  Maybe it was all leading to this moment earlier today.

My previous visits had to do with playing social sports nearby and coming by for a drink, some appetizers, and not much else.  I knew they had pizza but never actually had any myself.  For people in the area that sounds weird.  I take it as it wasn’t meant to be until now.

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My pal and I were seated in effortless fashion and we decided on some onion rings for the appetizer.  Nothing out of the ordinary but they did taste better than most onion rings I’ve had at similar restaurant set ups.   So they were really good nonetheless.

After some careful deliberation, we decided to go with the Seafood Pizza. And not just any seafood pizza but the Signature Seafood Pizza. In hindsight I can see why.  It seemed fitting. We didn’t want any heavy protein and loads of vegetables didn’t feel right either.

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Those pieces of shrimp and crab meat and shrimp were profound and all over the place. I’m grateful it wasn’t a halfway amount of seafood that you may find in other establishments.

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And man were those chunks of shrimp and crab meat scrumptious.  This was absolutely fantastic.

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The crust was somewhere between thin and Sicilian style, so it was refreshing and a change-of-pace to what I’m used to.  I appreciate how our medium pie was cut into smaller pieces.  We had two slices apiece, so there is something to be said about portion control, even if was unintentional.

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Yes I did like the crust.  I had my two slices rather quickly.

If there was one initial issue, it was that I felt the seafood didn’t gel with the tomato sauce. I thought it was standard tomato sauce at first.  But if I remember the menu, it did say spicy red sauce.   And that spice kicked in a few seconds after the first bite and it’s still resonating with me as I write this a few hours later.   I had thought that maybe a white clam sauce would work better, but now I don’t see it.  It might have been to rich and the seafood we love, along with the crust, and a certain Baltimore spice would have gotten lost in the shuffle.   Speaking of which…

…I almost forgot there was Old Bay as well.  That might be that be a hint of Old Bay, but nevertheless this pie came together like clockwork.  The whole equaled the sum of its parts.  Everything about this pizza meant something and it wasn’t overloaded with toppings of spices.  This is just a straightforward pie with some of the staples of this area, but without all the bells and whistles you may find elsewhere.

Now I was reminded why locals and folks from nearby neighborhoods are drawn to this place and keep coming back. It’s the simple things. The service was friendly, the atmosphere was simple, yet cozy, and the overall vibe was approachable and unpretentious.  More of this please and nothing else.   What took me so long?

And I love that my leftovers still had that amazing taste while lukewarm. The cheese hardened and with the seafood still in tact, it made for wonderful seconds at dinnertime. And speaking of another meal…

Lets do it again sometime soon, shall we!

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I love the photo of Squires, past to present.  I’m glad I got a snapshot.

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What a fantastic experience!

All The Best,

Ideen

 

 

We Take Care Of Our Own

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For a while now, we knew we wanted to make our own homemade pizzas, and were just looking for the right occasion to do it. Along with celebrating my birthday, a friends raise and their job, and the Summer, it’s always fun to cook at home.  And it’s always more fun with friends.

We each picked out the proper ingredients like cheese, sauce, oils, and toppings.   It can get exciting but can also be pressure packed to make a good pie.

As I was reminded, it’s always better to keep it simple.   It’s also good to be creative.  Most importantly, it’s about having fun and learning from mistakes and experience along the way.  As I learned here, less is always more.

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We each made two pies a piece.  And they were all from delicious whole wheat dough.   Thanks to Wegmans for the majority of our ingredients.  For more on the wine pictured above, click here.

Here are the results of round one :

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Mine was a pesto base with cheese, mushrooms, olives, peppers, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes.   This was an adventure and maybe not the best one.   The ingredients were fine but the whole didn’t equal the sum of its parts.  The tomatoes didn’t need to be included and I picked those off the pie and ate them on their own.   I think a pesto base is great.  I adore pesto.  But just didn’t work here.  I was able to finish it, but it was a minor struggle.

My friends kept is simple for their first entries.

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A basic cheese was made with pizza oil, and the results were better.  This was in the similar style to a white pizza.  You can see the cheese baked in the dough like a professional would make.   I got to try a piece and thought it was fantastic.

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The final creation for the first go around was a tomato sauce base with cheese, peppers, onions, and chopped pepperoni. This turned out very well, as this was also kept simple.  The pepperoni pieces were a great add-on, as you’ll read about in our second set of masterpieces.

For round two, it was a combination of being creative and keeping it simple.   I chose the latter.

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I learned quickly from my first undertaking to get back to basics.   This time I used tomato sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and fresh basil for my pie.   The basil was growing by the kitchen window, and was found upon instinctively while we were making our meals.  I was happy with how mine was looking, but the basil really put it over the top.  After mine came out of the oven, I was pleased.   The shape of both of my personal pizzas weren’t the best, but that will be learned with experience, patience, and repetition.  But overall I was heartened with mine.

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One of my pizza pals had a similar pie for theirs except no pepperoni. And he put the cheese on first, then the sauce (and a lot of it), and basil.   He was happy with that one.

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And finally, my other fellow pizza pal turned hers into a calzone.  How cool is that?   This is a perfect case of knowing to be creative, but to also keep it simple and yummy.  She was pleased with hers as well.

We will be doing this again, either to celebrate, or for no reason at all.  It’s good to change it up a bit, and see if our meals can measure up to the outside pizzerias.  I was happy with this and can’t wait to do it again!

Keeping it simple, fundamental, and then taking the right chances is the way to go.

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Have a great day!

Best,

Ideen

Wegmans, A Place For Friends

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Or maybe a place for pals, if that’s more to your liking.  I sure do love Wegmans.   I think I visited my first one, when it opened up in Hunt Valley, MD about 10 years ago.  Originating nearly 100 years ago from Rochester, New York, they are growing in popularity and locations.   If you’ve been inside, you know it’s like the Disney World of food stores.  But, It’s more than just that.  It’s a place of joy, inspiration, and happiness.  And of course it’s a place where plenty of wonderful things can be purchased.   Let me not get too carried away here.  The heck with it, let’s have fun. It’s time to evoke emotions.

Anything you want to go, is here; from sandwiches, sushi, salad, soup and of course the hot bar with international foods from all over this wonderful planet.  But this is a pizza blog.  Time to make moves.

I must say, I love their cheese, white, and pepperoni pizza.  Perhaps in the future I will review those.  I will just say they are great.   And there will be more posts regarding Wegmans pies soon.

The specific store I visited for this installment was at Boulevard At Box Hill in Abingdon, MD.

This post will be about the Chef’s Creations, and they are constantly changing :

Slice #1 : The Bacon Cheese Blue Cheeseburger (pictured at the top of this post, on the left) : Oh my goodness.  This was heavenly.   I find their pizza dough to be exquisite.  It’s cooked in their ovens to perfection.  It wasn’t too crunchy nor too soft either.  It tasted like I was eating a naan or pita bread.  And that’s how their dough has resonated with me.  And the mozzarella and blue cheese melted together, with the bacon and hamburger meat is an incredible combination.   Phenomenal stuff.

Slice #2 : The Spinach Ricotta (pictured on the right) : Well something went wrong here.   I could tell it was siting on the tray for a while, as it was starting to look a bit old.  The pizza tasted great, but the crust was too crunchy.  The ingredients were great but needn’t have been out this long. I won’t fault the store, but I will fault time.  It just felt like eating potato chips.

But this will not discourage me from coming back.  In my opinion, they have some underrated pizza.  Maybe because it’s a grocery store and not a specific place to get an amazing slice or pie.  I will be returning and hope to bring another inspirational take on the Wegmans experience.  And with more pictures.

Best,

Ideen