Happy Birthday Too loulou!

toolouloupie4I could have just said Happy Anniversary Tooloulou, but then I wouldn’t have such a witty (or nerdy depending on your take) title.

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Yes, Tooloulou, one of the staples of the Belvedere Square Market, in North Baltimore, just had a major milestone last week.  They celebrated their 5th Anniversary!  Congratulations.

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And that’s it for me, thank you everybody!

No, not quite.   I would be lying if I said Tooloulou was in my regular rotation of pizza places.  I wish it was.   But for the duration the intent from me is there.  But what has been a more-than-regular thing is a visit to Belvedere Square.

It’s history is also something I can’t pretend to say I’ve been a part of.  However, I was just finishing college in 2003, when it re-opened, so I have some sentimentality to the newer version.

My love for markets goes back forever.  It’s the local feel, the sense of community, the local businesses, and all around good energy that draws so many people in.  It’s one of those ‘just like the good old days’ feelings that shouldn’t just feel like the old days, but right now.   But it’s good to be sentimental.  When it comes to supporting local, you can never have enough of that love for local and can you really be that overly sentimental.  In my humble opinion, the answer is a resounding no.  Wait, resounding doesn’t sound so humble.  But I think you know what I’m trying to say.

Now back to Tooloulou.  They haven’t always been at the market.  A location change, brought this local creation to Belvedere Market.  And what a welcome and inspiring addition this has been.  Still in nearly three years market, why did my first visit only happen two weeks ago?   I have no explanation other than it hasn’t been meant to be until now.  Well I changed some history and went back for a second time.

So does that mean two pies?  You bet.  The first one was a dine-in experience and the second was carry-out.  Yes these are the riveting details I present to you.

Have I teased you enough?  I obviously love the pizza or I would be misleading you with the tidbits of it being a welcome addition, etc.   Ok onto the za!

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First up is the Tooloulou Pizza.  For my first ever visit, it only made sense to go with this one.  And this is where I sat down at their cozy booth and helped myself to this pizza pie.

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I loved it.  I was hesitant at first, since it seemed on the surface to be a bit too rich.  But all my man-made fears were alleviated after a few bites.  The combination of crab, Andouille sausage, and banana peppers is a trifecta of wonders.  Who came up with this?  It’s the perfect complement and complement to one another, and then the other.   The flavors came alive when I first thought something would get lost in the shuffle.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And they put a lot of  crab meat and sausage.  No skimming I promise you.

Add to the fact that the base is white sauce with mozzarella makes this all the more extraordinary.  I think a less inspired effort elsewhere would be a disappointment.  But this was tremendous.  And a little old bay was thrown in for good measure.  You have a winner.  And that crust was cooked to perfection.  I’m salivating as I write this.  It was filling though as I got seconds and thirds out of this.  A 12″ pie at $14.50, with what you’re getting it a deal at this price.

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Not to be outdone was the Shrimp Pesto.  I couldn’t do a celebratory post without doing a second pie.  If I hadn’t found myself back in the area, then this part would never have come to fruition.  So I’m excited.

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In the two plus years of doing this blog, whenever I found pesto as the base, or as an ingredient, I mention how much it’s one of my favorite things period.  Pesto is something of a work of art to me.  If I could do a Pesto Pals blog I would.  Hmm..  But when I saw this on the menu, I knew I had to try this one.  I was actually debating between this and another.  If you look at the menu order, I am following it sequentially.  Whether that mean there’s more to come is quite possible.    Let me get back to this pie before I go on a complete tangent.

I’m not sure which I loved more.  I loved this one for different reasons.  And then reasons that surprised me.  That pesto was authentic.  It tasted homemade or market made, ha!  And not out of a can.  And those pieces of shrimp were pure a joy.   I took a few off the pizza and had myself a good old time.  I re dipped some in the pesto sauce just for kicks.

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But knowing me I would think those were my favorite parts.  No, this pizza was so good that the actual highlights for me were the sundried tomatoes and the mozzarella.  When I found pieces of tomato and shrimp covered in that mozzarella, I appreciated every bite. The taste is just too good to describe.  And this is saying something because the pesto was that good.   What have I done to myself?  I’m craving this pie too.  This was the same price as the previous pizza, and worth every bit of it and more.

This crust may have even been charred better than the first.  How is that even possible?

The bonus was the staff both times were overwhelmingly friendly.   The Shrimp Pesto was a recommendation over another pie, which shall remain nameless and be reviewed at a later date.

For our friends in the area or might be travelling to the area, here’s their location and hours.

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I know Tooloulou is also widely known for their po’ boys.  And if I get a chance again, the next time I come back, I may incorporate one of these sandwiches with another predicted awesome pizza.

I look forward to it, but for now, I will appreciate these two fantastic pies.  And wish Tooloulou a Happy Fifth Anniversary!

And to many more!

Ideen

The Best View

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I honestly don’t know what to say.   Columbia, MD has always been an intriguing topic of discussion with my friends.  Actually I tend to be the one that brings it up.  I’m softy for the area.  Some of my friends don’t care for it for the same reasons I adore it.  It’s been deemed to safe, too happy, and too transparent.  Well it may be all of those things to some and some (or many) may be fine with that.    I see the good but understand why others see the negatives.

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As we approach the town’s 50th birthday (which I didn’t know about until doing research), I thought it would be cool to do another write-up (here’s my original) about one of the the best places to live in the states.  And based on this intro, it almost makes complete sense to write about the local Whole Foods.

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Yes they have pizza, something which not every store has.  They also have one of the most incredible views you’ll ever see from a grocery store, like the one you see above.  But how was the pizza?  In short, I’ve had much better.  I’m also looking at this from a standpoint of this being a supermarket.   That doesn’t mean I’m lowering my standards.  It means I still expect it to be on par with the better pizzas we’ll have at a restaurant or at home.  It should still taste good.

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There was a lot of confusion with what their pizza is.  Is it Artisanal, Neapolitan, Wood Fired, Brick Oven, or all of the above?  That first word, artisanal, is used so much and by everybody, I’m not sure how much value it has anymore.  This has nothing to do with Whole Foods, but everywhere.

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I went with the Grilled Shrimp Pizza (which was the weekly special) and the White. Neither blew me away nor was either one terrible.

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The shrimp looked mightily impressive but something just didn’t add up.  I think as whole these ingredients didn’t work well together.    I love feta, shrimp, tomatoes, and red onions.  And I imagine if this was prepared in a different fashion or with a different energy (but with the exact ingredients and dough) that this would work to near perfection.   Maybe feta on top of mozzarella is a clash of two cheeses.  It may not work.

However, even when I picked off the shrimp, it didn’t taste like I had hoped.  The sauce may have tarnished the shrimp and everything else.  These ingredients don’t work with their tomato sauce.  The crust wasn’t anything special either.  This pizza was ok but this was an opportunity lost.

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The white was a little better but not anything special.  It was kind of just there.  And I’m honestly surprised.  I thought this would be simple yet delicious, and I wasn’t wowed by it. Both slices were ok to eat but not out-of-this-world.  And I didn’t finish either.

I can’t complain on the prices though.  For a place that charges a lot of for their groceries, salad bar, and hot bar, etc., getting two slices for $6 is a bargain anywhere.

I just wished what I ate would have been one to write home about, as opposed to expressing my disappointment.   This won’t deter me from trying some more in the future.   As you can see, they have an assortment of slices and I’m certain there’s a few that will be praised in a post here down the line.

But these views from the outside dining area are worth coming back for alone.  This is one of the newer additions in town, and one of the more visually pleasing parts of town.  That storefront is quite welcoming.  It draws me in more time than not when I’m visiting.  I haven’t done many repeats, yet I’ve teased doing some down the line.  This has been added to that list.

So as I’ve said before, this is just the beginning…

Ideen

 

The Slice Is Right

The timing of this post is right.  I have some dear friends headed to New Orleans next week and I thought it was only right to go back into my archives for this week’s pizza extravaganza!

I love this city, I love the energy, the people, the outdoor festivals and parties, bars, restaurants, people watching, sight-seeing, and everything in between.  I know I just used a lot of similar narratives but so be it. I am getting emotional looking back and photos and writing today’s post.

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After a quick ride from the airport and dropping my bags off my room, I was not about staying inside whatsoever.   I never had that much of a set plan while I was there except for maybe trying a few pizzerias.  It only seems right for changing the geography of this blog when I can.

I wrote about an incredible spot back in July and I’m grateful to be writing about Slice Pizzeria in the beautiful St. Charles neighborhood.

This was actually planned.  Sometimes they do come together. My room was just minutes away.  When I arrived here I got goose bumps.  I’m getting goose bump and chills now.

A few friends had suggested this place to me and I’m all for fun places to go along with wherever random and unexpected turns I make in my travels.

I knew I was in good for a great day and great visit. The inside is so laid-back and so charming.  There were a few regulars and enjoying their food and their cold ones.   It felt so right and a nice start before I did more of the touristy stuff.

Now onto the slices!

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First up, in typical vacation fashion, I ordered a cheese slice.   The crust on all of these is perfectly cooked and a bit crunchy. That’s a good thing.   The slices were crisp and thin so I never got bloated.  And that’s good because I would be over-indulging for the majority of the trip shortly thereafter.

I think the cheese was solid but I wasn’t blown away by it.   It was enjoyable but nothing out-of-the-ordinary. However, at $2.75, it’s very reasonably priced.  That was a pleasant treat.

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After that slow start I got a bit more ambitious.  The menu had a nice breakdown of pies between Classic, Signature, and Native.  I think that’s a wonderful touch.

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Next was the Sportman’s Paradise.  We had a lot of moving parts on this one.   The shrimp and sausage mixed together definitely gave it some power.  I had to pick some of the pieces off just to see how they tasted on their own.  And they were brilliant.

In my honest opinion, having the onions, peppers, and tomatoes might have been a bit much.  Don’t get me wrong, this was another good pizza but I think there may have been one or two toppings too many.   Sometimes less is more and that’s what I felt here. But how can you complain at $4.25 a slice.  This was worth that.  I just think this slice could be incredible as opposed to just really good.

SliceDuo!

So I ordered those two slices together and usually I’d be done at this point.  But I’m in a different universe. It’s time to get ambitious and inspired.  And this final slice I ordered is exactly that.

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The B.B.G., which is short for Bacon, Basil, and Garlic is one of those slices I still think about.   Maybe that saving the best for last and the third time is a charm cliché applies here.  I can’t rave about this one enough.   This is how less is more and how every topping really means something here.

I wish I had ordered a pie of this.  This was heavenly, divine, cosmic, metaphysical, and out-of-this-world.   And at $3.50 I felt like I was stealing from them.  We all know how amazing white pizza is.  But these simple additions really make this something to behold.   The garlic, bacon, and that fresh basil thrown on top is pure eye-candy.  It was almost too beautiful to eat.  Thankfully I saved a photo.

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And you know I’m going to enjoy some vino with my meal.

This is how I will always remember how I started my vacation.  And knowing who I am, this was perfect.  I am missing this amazing city as I write all this.  It’s only been four months but I’m feeling incredibly nostalgic and yearning to go back.

The bartender was very friendly and this made the experience all that much better.

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There will be more NOLA posts to come.  When the timing feels right.  This feels right.

I miss it.

Best,

Ideen

New Orleans Finest

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The pizza shown here is art.  That’s all I can say.

I have been waiting for the right time to talk about the first of several pizza places I visited in New Orleans. There is no right time, but I didn’t want to wait too long.  And the Summer is always ideal.   I have so much good to say about Reginelli’s that I’m freaking out on where and how to begin.   Well I believe I just did!

I need to write whatever I can to do this place justice. Plain and simple this is some of the best pizza I’ve ever had.  One in particular was such a stand out, I was genuinely getting goose bumps while I was having this pie.

About a month ago, I made my first ever visit to New Orleans, and of course I enjoyed as much as I can in the limited amount of time.  I did a lot of sight-seeing, a lot of eating, a lot of drinking, and a lot of living.

I had researched a few pizza places I wanted to visit, for this blog.  And I did get to a couple of those, but the best things in life tend to happen unplanned.  And this is what happened here.

After a day of exploring I found myself in the Central Business District just strolling along with no worries, no headaches, and no sense of direction.  That last part is not a negative.  It’s good to get lost in a place you’ve never been. These are the events that make you stronger and are so liberating.

As I’m walking along I see this charming storefront and I also see pizza!  Whatever fate had in mind for me, I was meant to eat here.  And eat here I did.  I also ended up staying for a couple of hours.  More on that shortly.

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The staff could not be more welcoming.  I had a nice view of downtown NOLA as I had a cup of coffee, yes coffee, and a glass of water before I was ready to order.  They told me take all the time I needed.  It wasn’t too busy in there but I appreciate the sentiment.  And they were sincere about it.  I felt so at home and like a regular.  Maybe in a previous life?

I love their setup, I love their menus, I love everything about this place.  The interior felt so cozy and so welcoming.  I didn’t want to go anywhere.  It’s like I belonged here and in this city.  It was my last day here and this experience will always resonate with me.  This was quite the way to go out.

After everything I just got overly sentimental about, how was the food?

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There was so much on the menu I wanted to devour, but I could only get one pie.   And a small, personal pie would most likely suffice.    The friendly server who waited on me, Danielle, was so kind and so helpful in her suggestions.   She said I could do a half-and-half pizza.  Funny, that months into writing about these pizza joints, I never thought to do that.  Well here we go.  As a first timer, I went with the Gumbo, which includes andouille sausage, spicy smoked tomato sauce, crystal marinated shrimp, roasted eggplant, holy trinity and pickled okra.  That’s a lot to digest I know.  No pun intended. The second half was the Saltimbocca, which has garlic herb sauce, fresh spinach, marinated chicken breast and prosciutto with fresh lemon juice.

Can you guess which one really hit a nerve?

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Ironically it was the latter piece.   The Gumbo was very good but there was a lot of moving parts that it felt too much to eat all at once.  And this is meant as high praise  It was scrumptious.  The toppings, the sauce, the cheese, and the crust were cooked to perfection.   It just seemed a bit rich and hearty for me.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t eat again.

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But, I need to talk about the Saltimbocca.  I could dedicate an entire thesis on this one.  This is how a pie is done.  All you need a is few ingredients, the right temperature, and the right soul behind it, and you have a winner.   The lemon juice really put it over-the-top.  I would have never thought to put that or have that added to my meal, ever.  It’s such a simple and healthy that I no longer want to take for granted.

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The presentation was also out-of-this-world, I wish I could throw up a hundred pictures.  The display is sometimes just as important as the pie.  I mean you’ve got to be kidding me?  This is incredible.

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And speaking of not taking anything for granted, I want to thank Danielle for being so kind in allowing me to take pictures and getting her blessing to do a write-up on this place.  I think this is the first time I felt so comfortable talking about my blog to the actual spot I was writing about.

In addition, they accidentally gave me a large but charged me for the price of a small.  It’s the little details that I wanted to mention as well.   They didn’t have to do that.  But it’s the sense of family and community I got in there that makes me want to come back.

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Maybe I just felt at home, maybe its being on vacation, maybe New Orleans just hit me on a very spiritual level.

I can’t wait to go back.  I miss this city so much.

Best,

Ideen

New Sensation

Italian Sensation

Happy Opening Day in Baltimore.  For many this feels like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other festive days, all rolled into one. Life is good.  Everyone is happy and feeling like a million bucks.  As we should.   Now in keeping with the tradition of today, I did go local on today’s review.

My pizza journey this week led me to Italian Sensation in Fallston.   I go through a running list of places I want to check out and listen to suggestions from my fellow pals.  But, the funny thing here is I had no idea they had a local creation, until perusing their menu.  You could call it coincidence, happenstance, or fate.    The inspiration and stories find us.  I was to go about this pizzeria like any other.  And of course with different analysis.  But serendipity finds me again.  Of all days to write about their spot, of course it had to be today.  And I’m glad.

Have I stretched this out long enough?

Baltimore

The Baltimore, pictured above, looks so beautiful doesn’t it?  With sauteed shrimp and crab meat, it’s a locals dream.   The olive oil, garlic, and mozzarella are a good complement to this pizza pie.  Now I say good.  In my opinion, it’s not amazing.  I didn’t have any expectations going on, and I wasn’t disappointed nor was I blown away.  The shrimp is incredible.   I could pick those off and eat those myself.  Actually, a few times I did.   Something about the crab meat didn’t entirely work for me. Maybe I didn’t enjoy it on my slice?  If this were just loaded with shrimp, I would be heaping for praise.   The pizza otherwise tastes pretty good.  If you take off all the toppings, it’s essentially a white pizza, without the ricotta. And it tastes alright.   The crust is magnificent though.  It’s just a little crunchy, but mainly soft and chewy that it ranks up their with the best of them.  And I love when the cheese crunches up near the end of the crust, and becomes one with the pie.  Lovely. I’d say it’s a good pizza, but not a great one overall.  It’s maybe a case of the whole not equaling the sum of it’s parts.

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I also ordered a cheese, as a nice dichotomy to the Baltimore.  And in the back of my mind, I thought it might play second fiddle.  How wrong I was.  This was stupendous.  It’s just as scrumptious and savory as it looks.  I don’t know if the cheese swirled while I was bringing it home, or it was made that way.  But this is almost too beautiful to eat!  But it was enjoyed and appreciated.   And again, the dough is a stand out here.  Magnificent.

Togetherness

Paired together, they look good.  For more of the wine that’s hiding back there, click here.

I haven’t been to Italian Sensation often, but I’ve usually been happy.  I’ve had several of their slices, and always enjoyed them.

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The staff was also very friendly and welcoming.  The Fallston location has a nice aura about it.  The outside looks so charming.  I’ve also been to the Bel Air spot and got the same vibe.  A review of that place is forthcoming. And a drive up to Perry Hall is going to happen as well.

But for now, enjoy opening day, enjoy one another, and enjoy yourselves.

Take good care.

Best,

Ideen