True Tampa Style

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I owe all this one to a dear friend who I visited this past June in St. Petersburg, FL.  I visited many friends, many amazing places, and experienced many awesome things.  For that I’m grateful to everyone who welcomed me and made me feel like home.  And it certainly did.

This vacation was somewhat bookended my some sight seeing in Tampa.  While it’s always fun playing tourist, it’s always a pleasure when a friend looks up pizzerias in the vicinity, to try, and for the sake of this blog.  If it wasn’t for my friend’s insistence this post would never see the light of day.

Thank goodness for good friends.  And thank goodness for great ‘za.

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After a few circles and strolls around Downtown Tampa, we marked our territory in what I now realize is the highly sought after and touted, Eddie & Sam’s N.Y. Pizza.

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As many of us do on a trip, we over indulge, we like the finer things in life, and we should always strive for those finer things.   With that said, I had five massive slices.

I mean who knows when I’ll be back here? I have every intention of doing so, but still, you never know.  And before you ask, no I did not eat everything.  I essentially ate a little bit of each, and then some more, and then some more.  And hopefully the significant amount that was saved was left for the person it was intended for.  I ask and I still don’t think I remember how that turned out.  Alright enough of that.

How I review is this going to be instinctive yet going with the flow as I write this.  That might mean the same thing, I’m not quite sure right now.

First, let me say that the dough on these pies is tremendous.  For some it stood out with much more passion than others.

Eddie & Sam’s imports water from New York to make this as authentic as it possibly can. I understand that the elements of time, space, and travel may not make this exactly New York Style.  And being in another state may pay a part in that.  But to be honest, I haven’t been to New York in quite some time.  I forgot how their pizza tasted.  I just remember some places being great, some being drab, and some everywhere in between.

We’ve all been to places that claim NY Style, only to be disappointed or accept the fact that it’s just pizza, sometimes good, but nothing memorable.

It’s been three months and I still think about these slices.  A lot has to do with being a new city, an unfamiliar city, an unpredictability of where this day was going, and being around great company.

Here are the five I ordered:  1) Cheese, 2) Blanca aka White, 3) Buffalo Chicken, 4) Chicken Bacon Ranch, and 5) Lasagna.   I realize now that vegetables are missing in this discussion.  I must have been in the mood for some protein.  This also leaves the door wide open for another visit and post sometime.

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The cheese and buffalo chicken were the two main stand outs for me.   And if you judge a place by its cheese, this place is doing things perfectly.

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But it was the dough on the buffalo chicken that stood apart from all the other slices. And yes while they overloaded all these stunning pieces of chicken on this pie, the softness of the dough mixed in with periodic crispy bites made this comfort food to perfection.

These were my two favorite slices by far.

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The lasagna was loaded with flavors but maybe I was expecting something more.  While still really good, I wanted a little more wow.

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The Blanca, while good, still is not what I had come to expect from a white slice.  I’ve mentioned this numerous times before, and maybe I need to lower expectations.  Maybe my tastes keep evolving but I don’t remember the last time a white pizza blew me away or was at least great.  This came close but not quite what I was looking for.

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The Chicken Bacon ranch was my least favorite of the bunch.  But it does get credit for having real pieces of breaded chicken and genuine pieces of bacon.   In many instances the slices served by many pizzerias will only include diced pieces of chicken and bacon bits.  That’s defeatist and in a way misleading to a pizza patron.  For presentation, Eddie & Sam’s get a lot of credit.

Overall, this was a wonderful, memorable, and joyous experience.   Another thing, these pizza slices vary in price.  I think for my five I spent around $25.  It sounds pricey but an experience like this was invaluable and worth its weight in pizza, and in everything else.

And while the exterior feels welcoming yet intimidating all at once (depending on your point of view), there’s room for everyone and the staff was working hard and were extremely friendly.  I sense many of the folks took pride in the pizzas they were creating, and aimed to make them the best they could possibly be.

That’s all you can ask for.

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Well my friend did order this work of art.  What else needs to be said?

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Here is Eddie & Sam’s Menu and their contact information.

They make over 20 slices a day, so I want to say we’re just getting started.

We’re just getting started.   It’s New York Style yes, but I’d like to call this Tampa Style. Tampa now has my heart, but maybe it always did.

Let’s do this again sometime.

Take good care,

Ideen

 

 

 

South River Situations

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A dear friend, who has helped me with this blog over the past couple of years, always suggests to change up the city or town of pizzerias and pizza parlors, whenever I can.  If I end up in a place I’ve never written about, you know for sure I’ll be looking and hoping I discover something of a gem.

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Bella Sera of Edgewater, MD is a not-so-hidden gem in a strip mall loaded with chain restaurants and box stores that so many towns are loaded with, and make an otherwise charming town look well, just like every other.

So you could look at it and say, thankfully there is a local pizzeria, restaurant, in a sea of chains, and think to yourself, that it’s good that local business is still there and still thriving.  The other school of thought is well, you have a local operation that’s there and allowed to exist, in spite of everything around it.  I hope that makes sense.  And I’m not talking about this restaurant in particular.  It’s more of how I’m observing things.

Last year I had passed through Edgewater several times and literally just kept on going.  I didn’t stop and appreciate what was around me.  These things and moments are important to me.  It’s not a big thing, but the little things lead to big things.  And they’re all significant.   I had seen Bella Sera in pizzeria searches and then driving through, but I kept moving along.  I can tell myself that it wasn’t meant to be.  But at the time, it wasn’t…

Now it’s over a year later, and I’m back again under the most unusual, yet entertaining of circumstances.  That’s more of inside joke to me, but that’s how the universe works.  The currents and the energies led me here and I finally need to make the most of it.

Snuggled (or nestled) in one of the more approachable looking shopping centers, this pizzeria looks like a castle from the outside.   I had high hopes and sometimes those hopes based on nothing but how the exterior looks can lead to unrealistic expectations.

It was right before dinner time, so it was just starting to get busy, but thankfully they still had a lavish display of pizza slices on the counter.  I’m grateful for this because many establishments will nix slices in favor of whole pies for dinner time.  It’s a concept I completely understand, yet I find it refreshing when slices are available open to close. It’s so beautiful.

The exchange when I ordered was awkward to say the least.  And I’ll put most of this on me.   For inspired reasons, I went from wanting to order two slices to four.   Realizing that I would actually be saving money if I ordered a whole pie, I still went with the slices. I didn’t get the sense that mentioning my blog would be rejected, but nor was I feeling like explaining myself.  I stand by that decision.

And now I figured out why I might have been better off ordering a pie… I’ll get to that in a few moments.

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I ordered (here is the menu) the cheese, buffalo chicken, the spring white, and the inspired call was the spaghetti slice.   I’ve reviewed a similar slice here, to great results.

First off, I did not eat all of this right away,  I saved a lot for later.  Eating too much of this would be crazy.  I got three meals out of this, and that’s me trying to make myself feel better about this.

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The cheese was the best.  It’s simple.  The thin crust was great, and the cheese and sauce are exactly what you would want from a plain slice.  How does it stack up again others I’ve had?  I can’t say.  They’re all similar yet unique in their own essence.  I know there’s a real soul and a real emotion behind the making of these particular slices, and that counts for a lot.

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The buffalo chicken, again had a great crust.  The crusts on all of these stood out in a good way.  I see that the buffalo chicken is homemade.  That’s always a plus.  This wasn’t my favorite.  Something about the blue cheese, and maybe the mozzarella cheese didn’t work this time. It was a style clash that may work more times than not. But this didn’t click for me.

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The spring white looked gorgeous.  The grilled chicken strips were so great. I could’ve had a plate or bowl of those on their own.  So in my traditional fashion I had a few on their own.   Maybe my tastes for white pizzas have changed or I’m having higher expectations because this didn’t gel like I hoped either.  The tomatoes tasted fresh, as did the boat loads of spinach (which I appreciate), but the actual white pizza by itself felt like it was lacking something.  It didn’t wow me.  I really wanted it too.

The spaghetti slice was $7.  That’s why I was told an actual pie of anything else would be better.  This was not worth $7.  This will fill you up.  And while it was good, the reminder of what I paid for did bring this down some.   This is something you could get multiple meals out of if you wanted.   But I wasn’t loving it.

If you look at their menu, their prices are on the higher end of what you may see elsewhere.  But that comes with a local business, and being in proximity (20-30 minutes Southwest) the state capitol of Annapolis will do that.

With that understanding I can understand the prices.  The other slices were $3-$4 which is reasonable and justifiable.

I will absolutely come back.   I’ll put a lot of this on me.  Maybe I forced this experience and it didn’t feel as organic as I hoped.  That’s going to make any food taste a bit differently.   Our minds are funny like that.

But I’m all for local and always want these businesses to succeed.  So if I’m in the area (which happens more times than I realize), I will absolutely get some more pizza, and maybe try some of their other entrees once again.

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Here is more of their story, their menu, their contact info and location, and online ordering for our pals that are local.

Thanks so much and have a blessed weekend.

Ideen

My Favorite Mexican Restaurant

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That might be a bold statement but La Tolteca has always been so good to me, and to my friends who live(d) in the Bel Air, MD; Harford County; and now Baltimore County and City.

Warning – their website has music, so turn it down if you’re at the workplace or a library. The music is fun though.

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But my first was the Bel Air location and it will always be my favorite.  I’ve been to others but this has the look of what an original and authentic Mexican restaurant.  I sound like I’ve been to a bunch of restaurants or Mexico itself, but it’s just a feeling.  Bel Air will always be my favorite and home base restaurant.

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That’s why I chose home to finally write about their Mexican Pizza.  I meant to do this two years ago for Cinco de Mayo and then again last week but well, things happen, life happens, and the timing wasn’t right.

I figure a week a later isn’t going to hurt anything.

What you might find humorous is their Mexican Pizza is on their Children’s Menu.  So kids and kids of all ages are invited to try this.  I say this because at first I was afraid there was some protocol about a grown up ordering from the kids’ menu but no questions were asked.  I did feel a bit awkward for a second when ordering.  No I didn’t, because…

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It’s also on the grown up lunch.  In hindsight I wish I got both to do a comparison but as someone once said, six in one, half dozen of something.  Right.

Let me first say I love their food.  I’ve never been disappointed.   I’ve ordered burritos, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, salads, soups, and everything else under the sun.  I want to focus on the pizza but I also want to focus on the soup.

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First, the pizza.  I honestly can say I didn’t love it.  It wasn’t good or bad.  It was good enough to eat but nothing I would go out of my way to order again.  I didn’t have grandiose expectations of eating something amazing or life changing.  Not at all.  But I was hoping for something with a bit more pizzazz.  Yes I know what I just typed and it was no accident.

The crispy tortilla which acted as the dough seemed a bit too crunchy for me.  And I know other people will love it.  It just work out for me.  The beef tasted life beef, the cheese, tomatoes, jalapeños (which had a kick to it), and onions all completed the pizza. It was fine but nothing memorable.

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Honestly, that’s as class to a negative thing I’ve ever said about La Tolteca.  Now I want to shift to something magnificent.

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That Mexican Chicken Soup is worth going in for alone.  I don’t know all that is in it. Actually maybe I do but my mind is wandering and my mouth is watering at the thought of having this soup.  As I type this the restaurant is closed or I’d be having some right now to draw a little more inspiration as I write.

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My love comes from the combination of the shredded chicken, random vegetables, and the tomatoes becoming a part of the soup.  Oh my goodness this soup is ecstasy.  I know this is a pizza blog but I had to make mention of this.

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And if you’ve been here before, you know habit forming the free tortilla chips, salsa, and that white sauce is.  Yeah that white sauce will get you.

I’m glad I waited a week (and two years) to get around to this.   But if you’ve never eaten here don’t wait any longer.   Don’t wait a year, two years, or another minute.  This place is fantastic.  If you live anywhere near a La Tolteca I highly recommend it.

Their website is as inviting and accessible as it gets, so you should have no problem finding a location near you and something inspiring of their inspirational menu.  Yes loads of inspiration.

And as inviting as their site is, you will see how more inviting the staff is when you walk in. I’ve usually ordered food to go.  But when I’ve sat down with friends we’ve always been treated like family.

I started writing this as a way to end up suggesting trying a Mexican Pizza at your local restaurant or making it at home but this went in a different direction entirely.

And I’m not only suggesting, but also encouraging going to La Tolteca if you’re in Maryland.

And I wish you all a Belated Cinco de Mayo celebration.

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