With Love,

AmericanFlatBreadIonianAwakeningPizzaReady2

You know so many folks throw out the word artisanal more than ever.  Well maybe it’s lost it’s cache if you will.  Me saying that is just one person’s opinion.  But that’s what I sadly sense.  If you throw out superlatives and overstate positives where they shouldn’t go, they tend to get lost in the shuffle.  And what’s actually great could sadly get lost in the shuffle or…

American Flatbread was speaking to me.  No, not literally, that would be goofy talk… But maybe it was.  I was searching my local supermarket’s frozen pizza aisle, and I was in the mood for anything but something that would be bloaty and stuffy.  The weather outside would deem suitable for comforts and getting full and happy, but that’s not what I’m usually looking for, now or ever.

I was reading the labels and their story, where it just kept striking a chord with me.  Maybe it’s the mood I was in, but the message of doing good, not just for others, but for ourselves brought a smile to my face.  The message of supporting charities, those in need, and still taking care of ourselves is important.  If we can’t help ourselves how can we be at our best at helping others.

As we approach Thanksgiving and the heart of the holiday season, these messages are going to be much more commonplace.  I do my best to support others throughout the year, while still trying to do right for me.

The importance of eating healthy, and by taking in the most natural ingredients has become indoctrinated in us more than ever.  It’s important, and we shouldn’t resist this.  I shouldn’t resist.  This to me is more artisanal than anyone claiming as much, with nothing to back it up.

They can back it up, and then some…

My two choices were the Tomato Sauce & Three Cheese, and the Ionian Awakening.

(Here is where to buy near you)

I will review them together and separately.  First, the crusts are 100% organically grown wheat, and I can feel it.  I can taste a difference.  You might trick yourself into thinking this, but it’s true.  There was something about this that didn’t upset my stomach or upset me in any way.  Ha that was funny.  But seriously, this flatter crust (well it is a flatbread) really made a difference, and made the cheese and sauce taste that much better.

This is an operation comprised of good people, good spirits, and good souls trying to make the best pizza they can.  This was incredible.  This is not your typical frozen pizza. There is a genuine feeling of good and health during and after eating.  The lower calorie content will tell you that as well.   And I can’t get forget those herbs.  You really get a good taste for them here.

AmericanFlatBreadIonianAwakeningPizzaReady2

I just like the name Ionian Awakening.  With a powerful name, you know it’s going to be good.  I never had a doubt. These are Mediterranean flavors at their best.  If you love feta cheese, red onions, and olives on your pizza (which I love off a pizza as well!), you’re going to adore this.  You’re going to savor every bite, and with the most brilliantly prepared crust to balance (not counterbalance, but balance) everything out, some may love this more than the traditional cheese.    I love them both, so I can’t really say what was better.  I can call it tie!

AmericanFlatBreadIonianAwakeningPizzaSlice

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness… This is pizza, this is true artisan style, and it deserved to be called that and so many other good things.   I also just love the good that American Flatbread represents.

I’m grateful I found this days before Thanksgiving.  I’m truly thankful and grateful that I was introduced to this pizza, and the timing couldn’t have been better.  There’s more pizzas to choose from, and I love what they represent.  So I hope to revisit this again and try to show them some of the love that they are projecting onto the world and the universe.

Happy Early Thanksgiving!

With Love,

Ideen

Around the Globe, Around The Corner…

TraderJoesSpinachRicottaPizzaReady2

Across different universes (here and here), and this one, I’ve sung the praises of Trader Joe’s and for good reason.

I don’t recall many places that have resonated with me for so many reasons over these many years, but they have. and maybe you have a place or two that has given you those feelings, those butterflies, and everything else with the warm and fuzzies.

In the grand scheme of things, it still is just a store (to find a store near you go here), but it’s always had a a good energy.   Sometime it’s had the energy.  I can’t tell you how many locations I’ve been to, but with maybe one or two rare exceptions, I’ve always felt at peace, spiritually whole, and sometimes rejuvenated after a visit.

There’s no need to belabor this point.  Maybe I’m always in that place of abundance right before I walk in, and it manifests itself in ways that words won’t or can’t do justice.

After all this time, how I never got around to writing about their pizzas is one of those universal things.  Micro vs. macro, or what have you. It’s not that serious, let’s get to the pies.

For the summer, I hopefully found two of the better pizzas to discuss, and I’m proud to say that the Spinach Ricotta, and the Sicilian Style Red Pepper. Provolone, & Pearl Mozzarella were absolute works of art.

Maybe it was a moment of inspiration, but of all the pizzas (and they got too many, that another post is meant to happen, and soon), I grabbed these two, and they turned out perfectly.

The suggested heating time and temperature is shown to you, but I altered it a bit and placed both in the oven simultaneously.   That hasn’t always worked, but this go around just felt right.  I just knew it was going to be special before I even walked in the door, and then before I walked in the door.

Thin crust is ideal for warm weather, it’s ideal for any time, yet in July, in the heart of Summer, it’s ideal for right now.  Perfection.  And this crust, my goodness, everything about this is right.  It’s not quite comfort food, which can wait. This is a pizza to enjoy alone, or share with friends, and to appreciate with every bite.

Honestly, I did have one I liked a little more, but that’s besides the point.  They’re both tremendous.  The spinach and ricotta on top of a regular pie base had a charm and appeal that I didn’t realize until after it came out of the even.

The Sicilian Style would be fine with our without the peppers, but I wanted a cheese pizza, with just a little more.  The provolone and mozzarella definitely has a distinct taste.  Yet, within all this splendor, there was a packet of olive oil to drizzle on top.  I was only going to put on a little, but I went crazy. Looks good doesn’t it?  It’s the little things, but going crazy over olive oil is what makes me happy right now.  This pizza made me happy.

No I don’t have a favorite after all, it’s a two way tie and both are outstanding.  Did I already say that? Well let me reiterate, Trader Joe’s knows how to do pizza.  It’s more than just frozen food, it’s an experience.

And I’m grateful to have had this experience, and to share it with you.

Peace Be With You.

Ideen

 

There Was A Reason For This

pizzaovenfullpie

As of this writing National Pizza Day will be yesterday, February 8th.   I would be lying if I said I knew this ahead of time.  And I would also be lying if I knew what about what pizza or pizzeria I would be writing about.   The biggest lie would be that I had something big planned all along.

I didn’t have to plan anything.  I’m sure I would have written about a great place, or what I would hope to be great, and celebrate National Pizza Day, and move on to the next week. But no, the universe always has a way of rearranging itself and working itself out for me. Anything is possible and usually is.   We tend to say these things but they don’t always have any meaning.

I want to believe that this has meaning. Either there was a reason for this, or the reason was presented to me and I still need to figure it out, or there’s nothing more.  And there’s closure.

The way I write about pizza makes it seem like it’s some cosmic and metaphysical experience.  To some it is just pizza.  But I tend to think when it comes to things your passionate about, there’s something bigger than us.  It’s a spiritual celebration of food, of feeling, and fascination.    And maybe some alliteration too, ha.

This encounter had such significance that I don’t know if words will be enough to convey how special this was.  I will do my best.

A very unusual set of circumstances brought me the town of Prince Frederick, MD.  Never heard of it?  Well I imagine many folks in Maryland haven’t either nor have the faintest idea where to find it on the map.  A few years ago I would have been one of those folks. This was only my second ever visit, and the first unplanned.

When I find myself in unique towns, like anyone, I like to drive or walk around, and do a little sightseeing.  The grass tends to be greener and everything looks larger-than-life. Perhaps many times it is.  What I do look for, without trying too hard, is a nice place to grab a bite, some coffee, maybe a museum, maybe a charming shoppe, and of course the joyous slice of pizza.

You know every town has a pizza parlor.  And hopefully it’s a locally owned one.  That’s one of the major points of all this, to support local and all the happiness it brings to peoples lives, to go somewhere comforting, where yes someone knows your name and you know the friendly folks behind the counter.

And it becomes a a tradition.

At first your just a customer, then an acquaintance, then a friend, then maybe even a good friend, and then essentially family.

That’s the true heart, soul, and backbone of this thing called life.   So with that I’m grateful to say I may have hopefully started a new, semi-regular tradition with a place I forgot, from my childhood, Pizza Oven Inn.

pizzaovenfun

And I mean it’s a truly forgotten place to me.  As it hasn’t been on my record for at least a decade. Funny the things we forget and with all the information we have, there’s so many pieces of information that become buried in our subconscious, never to return again.

Thankfully this one was revived and now retained.

It was a nice change of pace to be in Southern Maryland.  As I’m starting to heard home I do have a yearning to get some foods, you know, because eating is one of the joys of life and is fun.   I did some scoping around and located some pizzerias close to me, and I know one of them was going to become a part of this everlasting story I’m telling.  Luckily I bypassed one to get to this old-time looking strip mall.  I can’t explain how it looks, but it just has a feeling of a small-town shopping center that’s been around for a long time.  And the sentimentalist in me likes that.

pizzaovensign

So I see this Pizza Oven Inn, and from the window noticed they didn’t do slices.  So I felt like I was in a rush.  But a rush from what?  I was 90 minutes from my house, and anyways, I needed to enjoy my time in a place I’m rarely in.   But as I’m parking I almost drove away. You know how sometimes you’re indecisive when it comes to food, or just about anything? This was the dilemma.  And I’ve done this a bunch of times with a bunch of places I never ended up eating at.  I didn’t want this to be another what could have been moment.

pizzaovenintro

Before I walk in to a place, I may take a picture of the outside of a building to incorporate into my stories.   However, when I walked in, a gentleman who turned out to be a regular called me out on that.  And I wouldn’t say in a bad way.  But I did feel like I was made.  That happens from time-to-time. It was a pleasant exchange nonetheless.  But what this did lead to was…

pizzaovencounter

I got to meet the owner, Stacy, on her day off of all days.  This led me to explaining what I do and what I write about.  If it wasn’t for being figured out by one of their own, I’m not sure this conversation even takes place.   Lots of weird energy (in a good way) going around during this entire exchange.

pizzaoventrays

My first inclination is to get a small pie to go, as I still feel that I’m in a rush.  Stacy suggested a large to go.  And maybe even a square shaped pie.  At this point I feel like I’m at everyone’s mercy (haha not even close but for for dramatic purposes, sure why not) that she pegged me for a vegetable pizza man.  I took that as a compliment.

pizzaovenfullpie2

So I went with the vegetable pie and resumed this fascinating conversation.

After a few minutes it came up how Pizza Oven Inn was a massive local chain going back decades.  And there were several near where I grew up, one being in Rockville, MD.  I started reflecting back on the past and realized there was one within walking distance from where my dad works (still does after all this time), and where my family still lives.

At this point I started getting goose bumps, and remembering how the outside of the building looked and the image of an even older looking shopping center (which still exists today in almost its original form), and another location where the community gathers and meets regularly.

While my pizza was heating, she made a call looking for verification the old Rockville, MD location and all was confirmed. It was a pleasant and surreal feeling all at once.  I got those warm and fuzzies.

I believe she spoke to her business partner, but I want to believe that phone call was made and received from a much higher place.

Their business has gone through many changes.  What was once a local chain with pizza shops all over the Maryland and DC area, is now down to two.  It has been taken over by a couple incarnations of larger chains, but for me, I’ll stick with the support of local.

So, after all that, how was the pizza?

It made me happy.  It made me feel like a kid,  The square pieces are always a welcome change from the standard pizza shape.  And many of us love that pizza .  They serve that kind of pie as well.

pizzaovenpieeaten2

The crispier pieces were from the end slices, and sometimes you found perfect charring on random slices throughout the pizza.   The vegetables tasted fresh.  And those tomato slices made that pie.

pizzaovenslice3

I love olives, onions, peppers, and I adore mushrooms. This was all around happiness.

pizzaovenslice2

For the first time in a while, I threw on oregano and parmesan cheese to enhance the flavors. It didn’t need much enhancement but for so many reasons this felt like a special occasion.

The pizza lasted me a few days, and I feel it tasted just as good, if not better, than when originally heated.   At some point I did finally take those pizza savers, (or as Stacy called them, Barbie Tables) off of the pie.  With all the excitement of energy of this day, I never thought to remove them.  I never thought to do a lot of things.  I just went with the flow.

And the flow is what makes experiences like this so amazing.

pizzaovenfun

I mentioned that two locations still exist.  I’m not sure when I’ll be back and if their own shoppe will be a part of that.  I certainly hope so.  This is an experience I’m going to be thinking about for a long time.  While it may seem too dramatic for some reading this, there’s a spiritual component of many of these visits, that I don’t always write about.  This one will resonate for some time.

pizzaovenmenu

Pizza Oven Inn doesn’t have an official website, which I think adds to the charm.  But you can find them on Facebook.   I posted a picture of their chalkboard menu above, but you can also find it here.

I’m so fortunate to have been a part of something so special and something big.  I can only hope the next time I’m back in Prince Frederick, and I’m back at Pizza Oven, that the next story can be just as or even bigger than the next one.  I welcome it with open arms.

pizzaovenbox

On the other hand, if this was to be a one-time only deal, I will cherish this memory forever.

pizzaovenfront

Happy National Pizza Day!

Ideen

 

 

All Fired Up

JZ'sDuo

A serendipitous moment took place at a wine festival I attended and volunteered at took place.  While sampling various vinos a little chow is not only going to be necessary, it’s going to be inevitable.

JZ'sTruck

From generic food stands to flavored nuts to seafood to pasta, and everything in between. I’m only glossing over what I saw or what I choose to see, but once I saw JZ’s Brick Oven Pizza, it only felt right and this was destined to be.

JZ'sSign

As you can see they had a limited menu for the festival which is only right.  You only need just a few slices to please everyone.  Luckily, they pleased me and it seems like most of the attendees would concur.

I went with the cheese and since I’ve seldom had it anywhere, the Greek.

What immediately stood out is how cheap all these slices were.   Everything, including the aforementioned slices, the pepperoni and buffalo chicken were only $3.00.  For any type party, festival, or facsimile that is a bargain.  And I may be understating that.  I’ve seen similar food trucks charge more than double what they’re asking for.  That’s automatic brownie (or cheesy, man I’m cheesy) points in my book.

JZ'sWoods

These slices would be worth double that.  I mean that sincerely.  These were highly enjoyable.  No it’s not going to win best pizza in the world nor that does scenario really apply here.   These tiny guys were delectable.  I really got the brick oven feel and taste that I haven’t always gotten from places that proclaim the same.  Maybe it’s the people and brains behind the operation, but the folks behind these slices seemed to be enjoying themselves.  And the charring looks artistic.

JZ'sCheese

In spite of the growing lines, my pizza came out swiftly and efficiently.  The cheese tasted exactly how I had hoped, nothing more, nothing less.  Maybe it was the festival vibe and atmosphere, but this was comfort food and it’s finest.  And this was a source of comfort.

JZ'sGreek

The Greek was the stand-out of the two.  I could have devoured a whole pie of these.  The garlic, feta, olives, spinach and tomatoes blended  together to make a champion.

Maybe the stroke of genius is these slimmer slices only left you wanting more.   I did notice familiar faces going back more seconds, and maybe thirds (even more?) and that’s the sign of a winner.

JZ'sOven

I do believe this would work in a multitude of settings.  The atmosphere of this event lent itself to foods and wines maybe tasting better than they normally would in a regular environment.   Most people aren’t too picky, they just want good food with a good vibe.  This was the best of both.

And I would love to have this again.

The website is easy to navigate.  The menu, contact information, and other particulars can be found all on the same page.   Everything about JZ’s would point to be being on the same page.

For more on the wine festival I added, you can go here or here.

I’d like to make mention that I had the good fortune of meeting someone, while volunteering, connected to this group but misplaced their contact information. She said her family is the ones behind this and have now opened up a new restaurant in the Towson, MD area.  I had promised to do an honest write-up and wanted to give them credit as well.  If you happen to read this I just wanted to make mention and say thanks so much.

Here’s to a great Summer and festival season,

Ideen

BOP or Bust?

The Fells Point Fun Festival is the first weekend in October.  For at least the next four weeks, the posts will be dedicated to a pizza joint (or wherever I made eat a pie or slice) in this historic neighborhood.

BOPFront

I knew for a while that I was going to write about Brick Oven Pizza.  This is not going to be pretty.

I had been eating here since moving to the area in 2000.  And like many a tourist I either discovered it by walking around the neighborhood after a night of libations, or through word of mouth.  It’s been a while but for me I think it was the former. And then the latter after learning more about this amazing part of the city.

And if memory serves me correctly, I loved it the first time I ate it.  I loved it all the way up until about 2007 or 2008.   And I’m not quite sure what happened.  Either the quality of the food got cheaper, the way the pizza was prepared and heated changed, or my tastes went into a whole different trajectory.

BOPBuild

Lets be clear.  At one point this was my favorite place for pizza.  I craved getting pies of all flavors.  I loved the cheese, white, pepperoni, and many other toppings.  When I lived in Towson, during and after college, my friends and I would make special weekend trips to get a couple of boxes for carry-out.   I thought it was quality pizza.  And high quality at that.   Not anymore.

In the late 2000’s to now I have seen such a sharp decline that it’s alarming.   I’ve eaten here day and night and the quality has been lackluster regardless of the hour.   I wanted to think that the effort is not quite there after the bars close vs. during the day, but it’s bad all-around.

But yet I kept going back because I wanted to believe that the quality would resurface.  And it’s one of the first places I grabbed a slice when living in the area.   Then I started to go out of my way to avoid it.   What’s even worse now is when I’m in the area, I don’t even think to go unless it’s with friends or for the purpose of this blog.

BOP.Cheese.WhiteBOP.Pep.Pesto

And speaking of that, I will be reviewing four slices, albeit briefly, which took place over two different visits.  One was during the day and one was near closing time.  It doesn’t matter which took place when as they were all pretty disappointing.

BOPCheeseBOPWhiteBOP.PepBOP.Pesto

When I said I will be brief I was serious.  The order does not matter but I got a cheese, white, pepperoni, and that funny looking one.  That’s a cheese with pesto on top.  I had ordered a white slice with said pesto and they gave me that.  I wasn’t even in the mood to tell them they messed up, as the point is moot.

BOPOven

There is no soul to this pizza anymore.  The crust, the cheese, and the toppings had no flavor.  Sometimes I felt like I was eating soap.  It was a struggle to finish any of these.  They look so much better than they tasted.  The dough was cooked funny and I don’t see how a brick oven can make this.  It’s a tragedy.

BOPMenu

And for what they charge there is no justification.  These are not premium slices.

The staff working the front has also left a lot to be desired.  I get people have bad days but a lot of these folks seem to phoning it in.  And that energy reverberates to everything.

BOPCeleb

I think the celebrity testimonials are wonderful but I suspect many are from years ago, when the pizza was impressive.

I write all this because I care.  I miss the old B.O.P.   And I don’t it coming back.  In a way it’s heartbreaking but it’s also time to move on.  Every now and again if I’m desperate maybe I’ll grab a slice but there are food options elsewhere.

Many folks from the area will disagree and I understand.   Some of my friends are loyal to this place.  I was but my heart isn’t there anymore.   It’s time to move on.

BOPVan

I can only hope the Fells Point pizza will get better from here.

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