Friend(s) of CASA

SocialPubAngelo&MarghertiaPie

This is a different post than the usual.  I’m going to get to the pizza right away, then focus on something of greater magnitude and importance.

This week brings me to the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore.  In the heart of everything are all the bars and restaurants on Cross Street.  And within that is the highly popular, Social Pub & Pie.

SocialPubPie

I’ve patronized this establishment quite a few times over the past few years, but never actually got to try their pizza.  It’s just how things work out I suppose.  The everything happens for a reason, and how things will work out, also applies here.  More on that after the reviews.

In anticipation of wonderful event coming up this Sunday, October 1st, I thought it was only right to discuss pizzas briefly, and then we’ll focus on something more significant.

I had every intention of making two separate visits, which would mean two pies.  I’m pretty good at math right?  Well, fortunately for me, and a great gesture by Social, they do half and half pies.  Which means I’m going to review for for you today.  And this fact can’t be discounted.  I’m grateful I got to expand my horizons a little bit.

And I broke down both visits by first doing a tomato based pies, and then the second would be the whites.

SocialPubAngelo&MarghertiaPie

First up, the Margherita and the Sausage and Peppers, better known as the Angelo.

SocialPubAngelo&Marghertia

That looks pretty doesn’t it?  I will say that the thin crust was a pleasant surprise.  I was expecting something mega.  But then when I figured out these were wood fired pies, I was looking forward to a lighter and flakier crust.  And that’s exactly what we got.  The Angelo was really good.  With the latter having some fantastic sweet sausage that really makes this pie stand out.  I was in the mood for a little something different and this fits the bill.  The onions and peppers tasted fresh.  The Margherita is exactly what you would expect.  I wouldn’t say it was anything out of the ordinary, but it was solid.

 

I love the presentation and it makes for a great visual.

SocialPubWhitePie

But the whites is where things really went to another level.  For visit two, I went with the Spinach and the Onion Crumbled Bleu.   The caramelized onions on both were tremendous.  I have fondness for them in general and this did not disappoint.   The veggies on the spinach were good, but it was the Onion Crumbled Bleu that really stood out.  And I give all credit to the addition of Rosemary.  Yes there’s bleu cheese crumbles and provolone, and while they add something, the rosemary takes this to another place that I didn’t know existed.  If I’ve had rosemary on a pie before I don’t remember.  Either that, or just this just blew everything out of the water.  I can see where these cheeses, the olive oil, and that powerful rosemary taste can backfire.  Not here.  This was incredible.

SocialPubOnionCrumbledBleuSlice

If you could only get one pie here, I’d go with the Onion Crumbled Bleu. And that’s without me trying so many fun looking pies on the menu.  Well I can always come back.

SocialPubPizzaMenu

Their website is easy to navigate, so pretty much all the information you need is all found on the main page.

But onto something of greater consequence and importance, my dear friend Rebecca is the Executive Director of Anne Arundel County CASA, Inc.  And her organization will be hosting an event, the Ultimate Tailgate Party at Social Pub & Pie this Sunday (10/1/17) from 9a-12p, where ALL food and liquor sales will be donated to CASA.  How awesome is that?  How often do you hear of all proceeds going anywhere?

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A small percentage is always amazing, but to go above and beyond like this speaks volumes of the management of Social Pub, but also speaks volumes of the people at CASA.

Me and many of our friends have been supporters of CASA, for a number of years, so we know how amazing organizers, the volunteers, the events, and most importantly, the cause is.

I like to think of myself as a friend of CASA.  They even gave me a name tag with my name on it that read, ‘Friend of CASA’, on it, so it must be true.

But regardless, with all the events going on this weekend, this one I would highly suggest attending.  This will be in the private room on the second floor, so you can enjoy a good time with your friends in a more intimate setting, while still getting excited for any football game you’ll either be attending or watching

A gathering of good friends while supporting a more-than-worthwhile cause is what life is all about.  And I’m honored to be a supporter, and honored to be able to write about it here.

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Here are your links to know more about Anne Arundel County, CASA, how to volunteer, how to get involved, or to make donation.

Here are my previous CASA related posts for your reading pleasure (here, there, and, everywhere)

Sunday is going to be fun.  If you’re in the area, bring your friends, your pals, and anyone else that wants to take part in something beautiful.

We’ll see you then.  Peace be with you.

Ideen

 

Burnin’ In My Soul

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I like to write about things.  Last year I wrote about a mobile pizza food truck at a wine festival.  Now I like wine too, but if I feel compelled to write about the tastings and various festivities at well, this festival, then I will get around to it.   If you sense my enthusiasm is lacking then you’re spot on.

FiresideTruck

But every cloud has a silver lining or something.  And this one goes by the name of Fireside Pizza of Hagerstown, MD.   This years’ pizza truck kept it simple but then it didn’t.

FiresideMenu

You could purchase two slices of cheese or pepperoni for $5.00 total.  Noticed I said cheese or pepperoni.  Their explanation was that they were cooking the pies separately and couldn’t give you one slice of each.  I understand the rationale.  Whether that’s the explanation given to everyone is not something to question.  Wait I think I just questioned.

But based on the grande scale of the event and the clientele being a bit demanding when it came to wine samples, food samples, and who knows what else, food trucks, food stands, stations of all kinds have to protect themselves.

I respect the $10 credit card minimum for that reason among others.

A whole cheese with one topping was $20.00.  I didn’t have enough people in my party of a big enough appetite to justify that a the time.  And the specialty pies at $22.00 may be a stretch for many people.

FiresideSlices

I sound like I’m being hard but I’m really not.  I didn’t see a lot of people ordering full pies, but this was earlier on the day.  As more people have had their samples, their sips, and then their bottles, they will get hungry.  And they’ll be willing to spend a little more to eat, and eat right away.

FiresidePizzaWine

Myself, I was one of the folks who ordered two slice of pepperoni but made one of them a cheese.  Simple I know.

FiresideCheese

This was good pizza.  And when I mean good, I mean good.  I bet at a more controlled and less raucous event the pizza would taste that much better and made under more ideal conditions.  I hope I’m making sense.

These were solid thin slices, that even though were on the small side had a great charred taste to them.  And the cheese and pepperoni did their job and did it well.  I think I enjoyed my pepperoni and my faux cheese slice equally.

If I was in a more laid back atmosphere I think the pizza would taste that much better.

Local business is one of the most beautiful things out there, so I hope they succeed, wish them all the best, and hope to catch them at another event down the line.  And maybe try one of their specialty pies.  I’m curious now.

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For more on Fireside, here is their website and their other page with more information.

Summer means more outdoor events, more parties, and hopefully more chances to write about brick oven and wood fired pizza served outside, served with some soul, and served with the best of intentions.

I look forward to it.

Thanks so much.

Ideen

 

 

 

…Your Favorite Pizza Shop

LittleItalyPizzas

How many different ways can you articulate your fondness and affinity for a town, for it’s spectacular views, small town vibe, and yes the inspirational pizza?

Annapolis has my heart.  Whether I have theirs is a topic for another lifetime, but even the missteps tend to be charming.  And the charm tends to be all that more charming. Yes I’m romantic.   I just love this place so much.  And part of this reason is I have no reason. It doesn’t necessarily get me and I don’t necessarily get it.  Everything about it just feels right.  I feel one with so much when I’m here.  It’s those proverbial goosebumps.

We’ve arrived at Memorial Day Weekend.  How’d that happen?

As I did two years ago, this kind of a homage and congratulations to the Naval Academy and all the commencement activities that will be taking place this weekend.

Here is my pizza history with my favorite state capital.

LittleItalyAnnapolis

A little bit away from the commotion and situations in downtown is a little hole in the wall, Little Italy Famous Pizza & Pasta.

If I hadn’t done a little research after the fact I would think this place would have been here for decades and honoring the authenticity of Italian Style, New York Style, and any other old world style pizza and restaurant for that matter.

I was asking around to friend who do live, have lived or spent frequent time in the area to see if anyone has eaten there.  I either got no response or pals saying they’d never heard of it.

Then I find out this place has been open less than a year.   I was all set to get excited and talk about how this is a diamond or a gem within many others.  My preconceived notions and presumptions are not going to sway me towards the negative.  Not yet at least.

If the pizza’s good then we’re onto something.

It was once a Peruvian Chicken restaurant that converted into this current restaurant. Maybe it’s new owners and maybe it’s some of the same folks that felt like a rebranding was necessary.  And there’s nothing right or wrong about that.  Local business is what I root for, is what many of us are rooting for to succeed because they’re still the heart and soul of so many things.    And there can never be soul.

With that said, the pizza was not exactly what I expected.  Maybe I was going to strike gold and find something not many others have.   Not quite.  It was good but it wasn’t life changing.  But the pleasant surprise was they had slices.  I was going in assuming I would get a small pie to go, but they have their pizza trays with a few choices and that made me happy.

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I got three and because we feasted heavily on meat last week I figure I would dial it back and go with the cheese, the white, and the veggie.  And did they put on a lot of veggies.

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Again, nothing wrong with them.  I just wanted more.  And I’m one of those people that doesn’t ask for a whole lot except in this instance I want my pizza to taste good.

LittleItalyVeggie

The crust was fine on all of them.  Since I don’t have much to say about the cheese or the sauce, I will say the vegetable slice with all of its overloaded vegetables was slightly charming and entertaining in a way.  Maybe I was just (and am) entertaining myself, but it was my favorite of the three.

I do wish I took a picture of the interior.  They had those red and white vinyl tablecloths you might have seen at a restaurant when you were a kid and might still see today.

That’s what made me think this place has been around for a while. I love the attention to detail.  It may not mean to much but I found it endearing in a way.  For that reason a lot it will make me come back.

The pizza may not have been great this time around but I’m all for giving it another chance.  I think this place has some great food to offer including their pizzas.

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Their menu, location, contact information, and story is all available on the main page.

If this works out I will be doing another Annapolis location next week or soon.  And one that’s close to Little Italy Famous Pizza & Pasta.

No this wasn’t my favorite pizza place as the title says but I got a kick of the to-go box. And I thought I saw them all…

LittleItalyPizzaBox

Have a blessed and safe holiday 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.

LaToltecaFront

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.

LaToltecaPizza1

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…

LaToltecaPizzaDisplay

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.

LaToltecaPizzaEaten

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.

LaToltecaSoup

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.

LaToltecaDisplay

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

 

 

 

 

Life Changing and Amazing

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Baltimore is going through rapid changes.  Whether those are good or otherwise is anyone’s guess.  But change can be a good thing.  And with change means an upswing in great restaurants, retail, attractions, and everything in between.  Does that mean good pizza?   The answer is a resounding yes.

I’ve deliberately spaced out the heavy hitters and sexy names in the world of pizza in Baltimore and Washington, DC.  Since I live closest to these two cities, I’ve left other cities out, for now.   I intend to go through all the places I can in both metropolitan areas, and other locations, if and when I can.

PaulieGeesFront

With that introduction out of the way, I’m so happy to have finally eaten at one of the most anticipated and widely regarded pizza restaurants to come to the area, Paulie Gee’s of Hampden.

For whatever reason, circumstances prevented me from dining here at any point in time, until earlier this week.   Close friends of mine went around the time of opening to large crowds, long waits, and long faces because some were turned away.   My friends that did get the opportunity to eat have nearly unanimously said it’s fantastic and it has become a great addition to the Hampden neighborhood.

I am now a believer.  I never really had any doubts other than when I hear everyone else rave about it, does that cloud my judgement?  Do I let the opinions and noise of the outside world unfairly influence my opinion, one way or the other?  Yes there’s the sad truth that we can get tired of hearing how great a place is that we’ll cut off our nose to spite our face.  Just to spite it.  I think that’s the phrase.  Anyways, I want to get this out of the way before I start reviewing,  I loved this pizza.  And I’m only getting started.

Let’s begin what might become a regular staple in my life.  No, I take that back.  This is now a part of my life.  Speaking of life, this was life changing.   I don’t want to throw that term ‘life changing’ around too much or it will lose its luster.

Thank goodness I had the perfect person to join me in my debut feast at this sublime and divine restaurant.   My dear friend is a resident of the neighborhood and is a regular of this fair establishment.  It made this experience all the more surreal.   For what I thought would be an hour to an hour-a-half meal turned nearly three hours.  Yes, that’s when you know things are going swimmingly.   No, that’s when you know things are beautiful.

I’ve always thought the entrance and signage had an aura about it and taken on a life of its own.  I almost got scared to walk in.  The times in the past when I drove by I put this place on quite the pedestal and built this up into something I hope would lead to this day. Success.

The dining room is monumental and has another energy about it I don’t need to put into words.  It just is, and it’s spiritual and it’s special.

PaulieGeesSalad

First up,  the salad to get our appetites churning.  The Grape To Meet You (Ah I love these names) was such a joy and a treat.  The arugula on its own was worth the price of admission, or salad.   No, there is no cover to enter.  But the tomatoes and shaved parmesan cheese made this simple salad taste larger-than-life.  So good.

PaulieGeesSaladWine

Our wines paired perfectly with everything by the way.  We each had a couple of glasses. I just want to tie up those loose ends before we get to the main event.

My friend guided and coached me into ordering ideas.   She had something in mind already for her pie, and starting simple and working forward made sense for me.

Once again, a good cheese pizza is a good judge of how the rest of the pies will fare.  It’s just something that makes sense.  If the original pie is going to be amazing then it’s going to make folks think outside of their comfort zones and order more ambitiously from there.  That also means people will keep coming back.

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So I went with the Beatrix Kiddo.  Yes, that title is awesome.  Perhaps you recall where the name came from.  This is their cheese pizza.  I had fennel sausage added to mine, so if I wanted to pick off the pieces and enjoy a cheese or enjoy a Beatrix with fennel I could. Ah this is so fun I know.

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My friend got a White Pizza, the ‘Ricotta Be Kiddin’ Me’ with bacon, basil, post heated ricotta dollops (which were a gem), and wait, fennel sausage again?

I didn’t see double dose of fennel until both are pies were out.  Is there something to this? Hmm..  Yes we did share and both were astoundingly awesome.

PaulieGeesBeatrixSlices

I’m not sure which one I loved more but I’m kind of leaning towards the Beatrix.  Maybe I’was and still am in a purist mood.  But the amount of cheese and tomatoes placed on this pie was measured to perfection.  I’m not kidding you.  The sausage was a beautiful touch but I almost think any topping would have added just the perfect hint of something else.  Yes I did pick my toppings off for a slice and enjoyed my plain Neapolitan slice in all its glory and solitude.

PaulieGeesRicottaSlices

The Ricotta Be Kiddin’ Me was the perfect dichotomy to the Kiddo.  The bacon and fennel sausage (which is becoming a new favorite of mine) was a powerful meaty combination. But the basil and dollops were the stand-outs for me.  So much yum.

The crust was charred and heated perfectly.  I like that dough was lighter than I expected.  I was told from previous visitors that it may have been a bit heavy for their liking.  That was one of the few minor critiques I heard.  I thought it was just right, so maybe those complaints were unwarranted.

I used the term ‘life changing” again over the course of the meal.  I had genuine reactions of happiness, jubilation, and then a calming over me.  I felt so comfortable during this meal.

This lends itself to the ambiance, the environment, the energy, and the company being just as important as the food itself.  I felt so happy and felt so overjoyed in such a welcoming and inspiring vibe.

PaulieGeesKitchen

I loved how everything was being prepared in the center of the restaurant.  Yes, their kitchen was hiding in plain sight.   The staff was visible but unassuming.   I want to thank our server Jenn who was helpful with our wine and pizza suggestions, and was extremely prompt and attentive in waiting on us.   Thanks so much.

Since this was my inaugural visit, I’m not sure where to go from here.  I can’t leave this to one post.  It would not be right.   There are so many pizzas with charming and over-the-top names to write about that I must come back.  This will need to be revisited and when I do it will make sense and connect with this post.

There are other points-of-view and pieces of information to expound about with Paulie Gee’s but I shall save that for next time.

To click on more info for a location near you, go here.

For the Baltimore menu, hours, and frequently asked questions click here.

My friend did tell me that they are good in supporting and promoting local businesses, and being involved in the community.   In addition, the general manager was visible and did have a presence about him that commanded the room. I wish I got a chance to thank for him all our awesome food, and an evening that will be imprinted into my memory forever.

But like I said, this will be done again and done again soon.

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Thanks so much Paulie Gee’s and thanks so much for reading.

Feeling fortunate,

Ideen

 

Fame and Fortunatos

FortunatoSlices

I know right.  That’s the title I came up with and I’m sticking to it.  Actually I could change it at any time but I don’t see that happening.

For as long as this blog has been going, and we’re past two years now, I always knew I would get to writing about Fortunato Brothers of Towson.

FortunatoFront

Dating back to 2000, I’ve been a semi-regular visitor of this pizzeria.  And it’s a pizzeria alright.  There’s nothing cute about the inside.  There’s pies on display for slice ordering, a standard soda machine, and a few tables for indoor dining.   First and foremost, it’s all about getting food to go.

I’ve seen it cramped at times with patrons waiting for their orders.  I haven’t seen it quite to the point of being uncomfortable, but it’s been close.

But to tell you the truth their pizza has never done it for me.  It’s not like it’s bad.  Most pizza isn’t truly bad, it’s just that for an establishment that has been around over 40 years I would hope their pizza would be on par with some of the best, if not the good ones, in the area.

I don’t think it’s ever come close.   It’s good enough that I come to get a quick slice from time-to-time, but I’ve always felt it to be averages.  It’s a decent slice and a solid price. And usually two slice with a soda will cost around $7.  No complaints with that.

The main issue to me is the quality.

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This go around I went with a chicken parmesan and a white spinach slice.

FortunatoChickenParm

First, the chicken parmesan was adequate but something was missing.  The pieces of chicken were missing that taste and texture that would complement a pizza.  It doesn’t have to be award winning but I’d like a little more flavor.  Something just felt off. The cheese and sauce were fine.  It made for a decent slice but nothing more.  I will say that the crust was fantastic.  It’s enough to eat if you’re in a pinch for a slice but nothing out-of-this-world.

FortunatoSpinach

Next up is the white spinach.  Again, the crust was good but not quite on par with the chicken parm.   I don’t know what happened but the spinach and tomatoes didn’t work here.  They didn’t taste fresh.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the cheese either.  This one surprised me even more.

It almost seemed that the veggies have gone through multiple heating and then re-freezing.  That means the pizza itself has been heated and then cooled again overnight.  I have no evidence of that other than a feeling and based on past experience of similar issues with similar pizza pies.   That doesn’t explain why the crust was still good, or maybe the crust being just a tad below the first slice might explain enough.

I’m not against saving food but for the sake of making money and reusing slices that seemed have sat out too long, that’s disappointing.

You know me.  I look for the positives in all instances of pizza.  But the negatives outweigh anything else.  And this how it’s been for me for quite some time.

I know people who love their pizza and sing the praises of how this is the original Fortunato’s and it’s the best.  I don’t see if that way. Yes this is an interesting local chain. It’s branched off with other locations but they’re not all connected, if any of them are to begin with.  This version has always been just there to me  It’ll be a place I’ll get something to eat in a rush and that’s about it.    The staff over time has always seem to be laid back.  Maybe they’re too laid back?

This is the beginning of something.  Or maybe not.  I don’t make posts with the intent of not following up or referring to later.  There is significance with all of this.   I will be exploring the  various Fortunato locations in the area to see if there is a connection even when there isn’t.    This could make for some interesting discoveries.  I still don’t know all the details so that’s where the discovering will come in.

Here is their menu and online ordering info for our friends in the Towson area, or the county/city line.

My hunch tells me I got something good for next week.

Ideen

 

A Breath of Fresh Air

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And I mean that.  Ceriello Fine Foods of Brewers Hill and Belvedere Square has that cozy Italian Market feel that resembles a throwback to markets you might have gone to when stores like this were more prevalent, and a lovely meeting place in your neighborhood to talk about anything.   Or if you’re lucky there’s one close to you that still keeps all the traditions and goodness of why you came in the first place.

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I can’t place my finger on why places like this draw me and so many others exactly.  At least for it’s the hope I’m supporting local businesses and that my support is going to a place with good intentions that mirrors the customers intentions.  I hope that makes sense.  I also think my overly sentimental nature wants to believe that these business come more from the heart than more larger and national chains that are strictly business and don’t always bring the personable aspect to how they run their operations, versus say a local one.

And Ceriello is a growing company.  They’re originally in New York and now have added a few more in the state, as well as expanding into New Jersey, and now Maryland. The local flavor is still there.

The feeling I’ve been getting from Ceriello is that they do things the right way.  And they’re making it effortless.

I’ve always had a good feeling and food service every time I’ve visited.  Whether it’s ordering a sandwich, wine (click here to read about the wines pictured throughout this blog) prepared foods, pasta, other various groceries, and of course pizza.

And in the less than one year they’ve been open, they seem to have made a positive impact on the local community in Southeast Baltimore.

This is the first time I’ve tried their pizza.  Luckily, in Baltimore they do have a strong sandwich and pizza menu that seems to have expanded greatly from the link here.

I’m glad I took a picture of their choices here that were in front of the oven.  Oh wait, I got a picture of this beautiful oven too!   So after debating on which pie to get and agonizing over a couple, I went with both.  Yes, when all things are undecided, go with both.  And I’m so glad I did.

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First up is the one I originally wanted and almost hedged on, the Quattro Stagioni aka The Four Seasons.  For our pals in Maryland this is for us.  We’ve experienced all four season the past few weeks weather wise, this made perfect sense.  Little did I know that the pie would actually be divided by the four toppings on separate parts of the pizza.  This looks genius, crafty, creative, and most of all beautiful.   What I did notice that even though peppers were on the menu, I’m guessing onions were the substitute.  And believe me, whether or not that was a honest mistake or meant to be in place of the peppers, I’m happy with that.

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The toppings tasted fresh and I mean fresh.  Maybe even farm fresh.  But I’m no expert on what’s farmed or not.  But the mushrooms, caramelized onions, and zucchini tasted like they were from another universe. Maybe that’s how they’re truly supposed taste, just plain natural. And in my usual true-to-form I took plenty of liberties into picking piece of off my pie and enjoying them on their own.   The prosciutto, or cotta, was also really tasty, and a nice dichotomy to all the vegetables that dominated the pie.

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The mozzarella cheese worked perfectly as a backdrop but was not lost in the shuffle. Cheese is always the heart and soul of any pizza. Without good cheese everything else goes down the tubes.

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I did want to mention the crust.  The way this was heated made the dough soft and chewy which in many instances works perfectly.  Some people aren’t going to like that.  It’s not your New York or crunchy thin crust style.  But it’s a style that is the perfect comfort food for any time of comfort.  And it’s still cold, but by the time you read this it could feel like close to Summer in the Maryland area, but the point is still there.  This is a pizza you can fold in half, or appreciate it for what it is, with the perfect charring and tasty crust.

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It paired with an interesting white wine (more on the wine will be updated this Wednesday here).  As you can see above I got all four seasons in these two slices.  So exciting I know!

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Next up was the pizza maker’s suggestion and favorite, the Pizza Polpetta, which was the Meatball.  And man they did meatballs much differently than I expected.  I’ve had meatballs on top of pies which can sometimes cause a mess, fall off, and be too much to eat in one bite.  Not that it wasn’t tasty or created in their vision, but sometimes less is more.  This was more.  The meatballs were baked into the cheese. and they were sliced in the most precisely cut small pieces.  I did not expect that but was pleasantly surprised.   The caramelized onions which seemed to be familiar, oh wait haha, and the provolone really made this pie.  The red sauce and mozzarella once again played second fiddle but in a good way.

I wanted to show you the inside of one of these slices, so without sounding gross, this literally is a dissection of the sliced meatballs and onions with slices of provlone baked under the mozzarella.   I know, so cool right?

This paired with a standard Chianti.  And pizza with meat and red sauce screams an Italian red.

For more on the wines, go here.

The list of their pies is boundless so if I get the opportunity, like I’ve said about many places before, I would love to come back again.  But regardless of that, this place has so much to offer.

And you don’t have to live in the area to get all the  good products and good energy they have to offer.

Here are some links to help you in that direction.

Here’s their list of stores and contact info.

To order by phone, click here.   And here’s where you can order gift baskets and their catering info.

And for our friends in Baltimore, here is their food menu, that I know has grown immensely.

What a treat this was. Seriously, this was two fantastic pizzas.  And I look forward to having more again, in times of comfort or any season I care to celebrate, or all four!

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Oh by the way, they do a pizza and wine night.  For our friends in Baltimore you have may experienced this.  I have yet to have the pleasure.   I hope I get the opportunity.  Oh and…

Happy Early Spring,

Ideen

Fifty Shades of Great

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Actually it’s more than 50.  You can’t put a number on this but the Fifty Shades of Red from Vin 909 is a scrumptious and scintillating pie.   I could throw all the other superlatives that start with the letter ‘S’and any other letter, but this is one of those overall experiences that will resonate with me for a long time.

You know when you have those Grade A (not I won’t be using a bunch of happy words that start with ‘A’ unless it also happens organically) nights out with awesome food, drinks, company, conversation, and service that it tends to come up often in conversation?

Restaurants are more competitive than ever and many are attempting to stand out and differentiate themselves from the crowd.  Vin 909 has done it by the having a welcoming entrance, an approachable and folksy feeling front porch (which is used for outdoor dining when it’s a warmer climate), a cozy waiting area, and even more cozy bar and dining area on the inside.

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All this without any food being sampled.   One more thing, the many times I’ve driven by I’ve felt an energy emanating from the building and the surrounding area.  I equate the visual of the outside as somewhere we go could if we’re checking into Heaven.  There’s no religious connotation with what I just said.  It’s just meant an an expression, and as an experience.

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But I’ll tell you this Eastport Style Pizza was the equivalent of a religious or more I’d say a spiritual experience.

Now I don’t often seek out loads of meat on my pizza.  I like grilled chicken as my preferred protein and lots of vegetables.  Actually I really like to keep it simple.  I like cheese, I like white, I like spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, mushroom, and of course pesto.

However, I wasn’t alone for this meal, so a mutually enjoyable pie was needed for this occasion.  And I’m all for expanding my horizons and getting out of the comfort zone.  But as you can see the pizza menu is loaded with all kinds of creativity and excitement.

I wish I could tell you the best part of this pizza.  I truly don’t know.  But that crust was jaw droppingly magnificent.  Maybe that was the best part.  But these toppings are all fresh. No matter how I phrase it words will not do it any justice.

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I adore how the cheese melted all over this pie.  It gives it a true authenticity that you don’t always see.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that other pizzas are any worse.  This was just the good stuff.

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Even the way the prosciutto, pepperoni, and sopressata is layered on top is art.  That’s a lot of red meat.  And it may not be for the faint of heart or more of the discriminatory taste, but this was a gem.   That basil and paprika is the perfect counter balance with all that heavy meat.   I’m glad I got to share this pizza for I only had a few slices.

Did you see those slices?  Some were in the standard form and others were more square shaped.  I love how that worked out.   The presentation right before on the pizza stand makes this all come full circle and completes this mastery of a pie.  It’s not just the food and drinks, it’s everything leading up to it.  The anticipation, the build, and the payoff are all part of this enjoyable process.  And when it’s actually enjoyable, which this was, we’re talking a world class meal of epic proportions.

The wine (more on the wine pictured here) made the pizza that much better and the pizza did the same for the vino.   The tea helped settle the stomach, and helped with that full feeling I had when departing.

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How else can I say how great this was?  I can’t say enough.  I’m so partial to Vin 909 and my romance with the restaurant predate me ever setting foot inside.  All that’s left is to keep the love affair going.

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That means a return engagement when the weather breaks.  Actually my intention is to make many visits.  And not all will be for the blog.  Some memories are meant to be kept internal and some should be shared.  But I think this is a place that I want to appreciate without the pressure of writing and taking pictures.  Same goes for many others but Vin 909 will always hold a special place in my heart.  Oh and being in Annapolis helps!

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It’s been a pleasure reminiscing about a meal in three installments (Here is Part 1 and Part 2), and about a place a I was reminiscing about before I even walked into Heavens Gates. Yes I did just say that again.

One thing I forgot to mention is they don’t take reservations.  Seating is first come, first serve.  Wait times can go past an hour.  And you know a place has got some cache if patrons are waiting that long.  Trust me, it’s worth the wait.

How do I follow-up next week?   Well I’ll do my best.  But for now this is one to savor.

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If you’re in the area or visiting I highly recommend Vin 909.   Here is more about them, their philosophycontact info, and most of all one of my best friends’ organizations which they support, Anne Arundel County CASA.

I never got the chance to meet Alex Manfredonia, who is the owner and general manager. But in case he does read this, I just wanted to say thank you.

Ideen

 

 

That’s The Jingle Bell Bar

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That everything happens for a reason cliche is a legitimate thing.   I was all set to do a review of an experience at Red Red Wine Bar back in the spring.   As luck would have it, my phone died as I was getting pictures of our pizzas and vino, while enjoying a casual outdoor setting in Downtown Annapolis.  I took it as a couple things, 1) this is not the way this wine bar was meant to be portrayed, and 2) the universe had grander plans for me.  And is that an understatement if there ever was one.

No matter what goes on in life, one thing I know for sure, the holidays bring out the best in us.  We go through a million emotions all year, and all of a sudden it’s Thanksgiving, and then it’s December.  What the heck happened here?   That time to reflect, to appreciate, and spread love magically appears this time of year.   Wouldn’t be great it you felt that all of the time?

Downtown Annapolis always feels like Christmas to me.  It has the old world, small town, welcoming feel that radiates an aura of holiday spirit 365 days a year.  That might be an exaggeration, but it’s the feeling I get.  And that’s no accident.  Different neighborhoods bring different feelings.  It’s up to us to choose to embrace it or move along.    Well I’m embracing and moving forward.

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So we move along nearly eight months later, and this was meant to be.  However, this time, it wasn’t the Red Red Wine Bar.  They transformed themselves into a winter wonderland and holiday spectacle, happily titled, the Jingle Bell Bar.

This bar is something else.  The set-up with all the lavish decorations screams holiday cheer.  If this didn’t get you in the spirit than I’m not sure what else might.

Actually, it was my dear friend’s event that brought us here tonight.   The Anne Arundel County, Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, for short, has done so much good for the community of Annapolis and nearby.  I’m proud to have volunteered and been associated with some wonderful and unique parties and events.  I’m grateful for that.  And I was grateful for this one.

They had a guest bartender on hand, and part of everyone’s check and tips went to CASA. It’s a win win for everyone.

I  could just sense going in that this was going to be an awesome time.  Sometimes you just know.  When you’re connected with a good community, it’s only going to bring about more of that community.  The folks in attendance were there for the same reason, to celebrate this fantastic organization and the holidays.   I felt so at home.  I think everyone else did too.

After all that, how was the pizza?  To make up for last time, I went with two pies, and was happy to share them with friends, old and new.

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I went with the two that I feel most represented this season, with their flavors, ingredients, and overall presentation.

First up, was the White Chicken on Roasted Garlic Flat Bread.   The look of this was fantastic.   For the simple fact that one of the toppings was garlic puree  is why I went with the garlic flat bread.  It did make me wonder how it would taste with the wheat.  That chicken tasted fresh and organic.   I love brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and butternut squash.  Tell me another trio that spells out the holidays more than that?  This was a really good pie, but I almost felt like I didn’t get a taste of the squash or onions in every bite.  That could be me trying too hard to find them or some flavors overpowering the other.  Hence why I wonder how the wheat flat bread would turn out.  Nevertheless, my new friends and I finished this wonderful arrangement in mere minutes.  And I would definitely order this pizza again.

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But the quintessential pie of the holiday season might just be the Pear Prosciutto.  You’ve got to be kidding me.   I confirmed with one of the manager’s, Bethany (who was world class by the way), on which pizza to go with.  I’m glad we were on the same page.

Oh my and Christmas was this one of the best things I’ve eaten in sometime.  This is a must with wheat bread.   This is a throwback to my childhood.  And isn’t what Christmas and the holidays does to us sometimes?  The combination of honey, feta, and wheat on a piece of warm and toasty pita bread (usually wheat) alone is something I share with my family, especially my dad, and continue to this way.  So I felt warm inside before even noshing.  And when I finally noshed, everything was confirmed. This is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.  The pears, prosciutto, and arugula are what you see immediately.  But to me, the heart is the honey, feta, olive oil, and minced garlic.  Again, that’s a family thing.   I’m getting emotional as I expound on this.  I’m getting goose bumps.  I’m not kidding you.

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And combining these pizzas with good people, good wine (click here to read more about the wines), a festive vibe, and a great cause, this is a win-win and then some.

I love this place.  Let me reiterate.  I LOVE this place.  Nestled in the heart of Downtown Annapolis automatically makes a place welcoming.  But there was something special about this night.

Once again, a huge thank you to Bethany for helping me with everything when it came to pizza and wine suggestions.

I’m ecstatic to have been a part of something so special.  I look forward to my next visit to Red Red Wine Bar.   And if you’re in the area I strongly recommend you do the same.

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Here is their story and their contact info.

For my Annapolis Pizza History, click here.

For more on Anne Arundel County CASA and all the good that they do, click here.

And for the last inspiring CASA experience, click here.

This was a holiday party for the books.  I’m so thankful and appreciative to have been a part of this.  All many of us want for the holidays, and out of life, is to feel good.  This event and this bar checks of all the boxes.

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To a safe and happy holiday season,

Ideen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dogs = Love

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You know what makes most people happy besides pizza?

The comfort and companionship of our animal friends is invaluable.  There is no price the love and friendship that comes from a dog, a cat, or any of our other pals with paws brings. So when I find a place, not just a pizza place, but a place that supports helping and protecting our friends, I’m all aboard and then some.   More on this near the end.

I had been to Lost Dog Cafe one time but I didn’t order anything. My time was limited and was only looking for slices on that particular day.  The wait time was 15-20 minutes for food that I decided that day was not meant to be.   Why force the issue on some deliciousness when you know that there will be a place for this in time.

There’ll be a day where I can appreciate a pie where a little more time and craftsmanship than usual.  Man I’m setting myself up for a disappointment aren’t I?   Well when it comes to an individual sized pie (which is the smallest they have) I’m hoping for something that feels a little more, well personal.

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That day was yesterday.  Call it fate, call it destiny, call it I happened to be in Arlington, and a Lost Dog Cafe was mere minutes from me.   Here we go.

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South Arlington was the setting and upon walking up, I felt like I was on a set of a movie and everyone was on break.  It seemed eerily quiet.  It was lunch hour so I wonder where all the people went. But I should also appreciate the quiet time that has been presented to me, as I know it’ll be temporary.

Inside there’s nothing but pictures and murals of dogs in happy situations.  That makes me happy.  I took some but wanted to leave more to your imagination.  If you’ve been here, like many of my friends in Northern Virginia have, you know any of their locations have set ups like this.

If I lived here I’d be a regular of all five, in some way, shape, or form.  That form would be the love of pizza and pups.

So like I was saying, I’ve praised this place beyond the point of turning back.  Am I positioning myself for a letdown?  Absolutely not.

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Since this was officially my first time ordering, I did strain and agonize over what to get. The menu has more choices than a simple man knows what do to do with.  I mean this is life changing stuff.   This could make a break a persons day or life.  Wait did I just  say that? Priorities.

Then something hit me.  Breathe, relax, it’s not that serious.  It’s not.  I may always be this way but the pizza and ordering experience in general, but it’s supposed to be fun.  We have enough unnecessary stress, this should not be one of them.

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After that over-the-top dramatic build, I went with Pete’s Pie, which is one of their newer recipes.

I don’t know who Pete is but I want to say thank you.  Oh my and pizza party was this a pie. I was engrossed in this excitement I forgot the base of this was a white pie.  At $12, this was a deal and a steal.

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That crust is comfort food to the max.  I can only describe it as something that is perfect to pair with a soup or any many meal.  It feels like this dough matches the change in the weather.  Of course this would be enjoyed year round, but I felt like as a introduction, this is how it was always supposed to be.

Pete’s hot sauce along with not just red onion, but green onion, might sound fiery, but anyone can handle this.   And that shredded chicken, you’ve got to be kidding me. Chicken whether it’s in strips, cubed, or dice, is all wonderful.  But something about shredded gives you more flavor and more of a savory taste when eating.

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This pie never had a chance.  Well I did save some for later.  And it was just as awesome the second time around.

But what’s even more awesome is what they do for our animal friends.  For the past 15 years,  they’ve been helping displaced animals find homes.  Links are provided here and if you’re interested in reading more about them and donating, click here.

On that alone, I want to be a support of there’s for life.  Having phenomenal pizza is a bonus at this point.  It’s just a little gravy on a wonderful experience that brings positive energy to our pals with paws, and on that note, to our universe in general.

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I only wish I had  been here sooner, as in years ago.

Here’s their contact info, online ordering info, and their beer and wine list, which I haven’t even touched upon. Especially with the latter that just means I must come back. With the charisma this place exudes, this’ll be soon.  Hopefully their original location will be next.

I love it,

Ideen