Join the bracket battle! Click here to vote on your favorite Baltimore PIZZA
Pizza! Ohh, man, I love pizza.
I could eat pizza every day for the rest of my life. I could eat pizza twice a day for the rest of my life, and the only reason I wouldn't eat it three times a day is because I'd be too full from stuffing my pizza-hole the other two times. I love pizza, and I live pizza, check me out: When I was in first or second grade, I would go to the Boys Club after school, and every day or so, one kid was selected to walk around the corner to the local pizza place to pick up a giant Sicilian-style pie that was sold by the slice at the club, and whoever fetched the pie got a free square of pizza. Most of the time I was the one who got that square of heaven. It was so good. Pizza.
Later on when I was in college, I was a driver for Domino's, and not only did I eat multiple slices of whatever experimental pies the Manager put up for us Dominoids to eat, I would take home as many of the mistake-order or even kinda burnt leftover ones as I could get my hands on, and boxes were stacked up in my fridge for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And it was good! Pizza!
At this very publication, when I was the person in charge of ordering food on Monday night-all too frequently the Endless Night for the Editorial and Production Departments-I didn't need to poll the staff to find out what they wanted to eat! Because I knew the Answer! It was always pizza! I'm not kidding! For a while, I had a sheet of paper with the same exact order on it for Viccino's (a great place also to grab a slice), and I would break that up with an Al Pacino (still going strong but now called Kyros) order every now and then, or sometimes from the Place on the Corner That Shall Remain Nameless but They Were Right on the Corner so it Was Fast. Later, after I wasn't in charge of the food ordering, I was surprised to find out that some people actually got tired of eating pizza on Monday nights. I had pizza blinders! But I don't apologize! Pizza!
For the purposes of this highly subjective and idiosyncratic article-a celebration of pizza, if you will-I went out and about in Baltimore, The City That Puts Crab on Pizza, and its environs and I went seriously Psychopizzalisticextrapepperonidocious. I ate pizza at places I have been eating at for years, and I ate pizza at places I just found out about, even though they have been around for years, and I ate pizza at places that are kinda new to us all, but basically, I ate pizza! And it was good!
For extra toppings, in this episode of City Paper you will have the opportunity to slice into our Pizza Bracket, and let the world know your fave pizza pie! Also, my new Pizza Pal Henry Hong is gonna toss you the Do-It-Yourself on pizza dough.
And hey, on my pizza odyssey, I'm not here to whine about bad pies, man, life is too short, and the quality pizza is too plentiful! If I leave some places out, it's just for lack of space, not lack of love, so feel free to write in and rep your pizza choices! Most of all, though, forget all that stuff about "New York" pizza and "Chicago" pizza, we have Baltimore pizza, and it doesn't even matter! It's all pizza! It's an Age of Pizza Enlightenment! The switch has been thrown and it's Pizza For All!
Angelo's Carry Out
3600 Keswick Rd.
Angelo's is the home of "The Big Slice," and of course everyone should experience this once in their pizza-life, because it is an opportunity break the rule about never eating anything bigger than your head. Also, everybody should find a reason to purchase a whole entire giant novelty-sized pie used to make "The Big Slice," because nothing makes people happier at a public gathering than to see someone show up with a pizza the size of half a ping-pong table, seriously, it's a great way to make friends, Pizza Diplomacy. I frequent Angelo's because an image of the regular, non-giant Angelo's pie is what pops into the pizza-shaped thought-bubble over my head when I think of pizza, a large pie that barely fits into the box, and the slices are kinda flat in the middle with a big chewy crust-handle to hang on to, not too much sauce, lotsa salty cheese, and a lovely little scattering of herbs over the whole schmear. Two slices usually gets me there, but of course there's always room for a third slice, or sure, maybe a fourth if nobody's looking, who am I kidding. I like to keep it basic at Angelo's, one or two toppings, usually just pepperoni. Also makes for a killer leftover cold-pizza-for-breakfast slice, if there's any left.
Brick Oven Pizza
800 S Broadway
I love the Brick Oven Pizza, a.k.a. BOP. It's a freeform kinda place, but they are consistently great with the thin but sturdy pizza crust, with that little bit of cornmeal under it. I think we can all agree that the Platonic Ideal of Pizza is arguably a round pie dotted with pepperoni, or a round cheese pie, right? Well, the Brick Oven Pizza ideal is a lunchtime or late-night slice with over 50 toppings on it, and whenever I go to BOP, I always try to order a slice I never ate, so as to stretch my Platonic Ideal (and usually my stomach, because it's usually more than one slice). Last time was Canadian bacon, artichoke, and red peppers. That's out of a universe of choices listed on their menu as: Artichoke Hearts, Basil, Black Olives, Broccoli, Capers, Carrots, Cilantro, Cherry Peppers, Corn, Eggplant, Garlic, Green Olives, Green Peppers, Jalapeno, Mushrooms, Onions, Pepperoncini, Pesto Pineapple, Potatoes, Red Onions, Red Peppers, Zucchini, Spinach, Ricotta, Fresh Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Fresh Salsa, Bacon, Beef, Canadian Bacon, Chicken, Gyro Meat, Meatballs, Prosciutto, Pepperoni, Hot or Mild Sausage, Turkey, Salami, Spam, Cream Cheese, Cheddar, Feta, Fontina, Goat Cheese, Gorgonzola, Sour Cream, Soya Cheese, Provolone, Anchovies, Clams, Crabmeat, and Shrimp. Next time I'm gonna go HAM on some Spam on my slice. I asked if anybody really orders the Spam, and they said they get requests for it about a half-dozen times a week, and no, it's not the same person every time. You can totally order whole pies here as well, not just slices, but there's just something about the way BOP is set up that makes you want to get three different slices and do Spam on your pizza. Or potatoes, or gyro meat with salsa on it, I never had that combo.
Egyptian Pizza Cafe of Belvedere Square
542 E Belvedere Ave.
My thing when I go to the Egyptian Pizza is to try and make it really Egyptian, you know? The easy way to do that is order any pie on the menu that's an Egyptian city, like the Giza, which is mild marinated lamb piled up on mozzarella and feta cheese with black olives and roasted red peppers with some spicy red sauce on the side. The most Egyptian-city pie, I think, is the Sharm el-Sheq, which has salmon and caviar, and they serve it with this crazy kinda chutney on the side that's sweet but combines perfectly with the salty pie, it's super weird and different for when you are feeling all United Nations of Pizza, you know? I also dig the felafel pizza with the wacky green felafel and tahina and salsa on the side, and I forget the name of the city it's named after, but all you really gotta remember is it's the felafel pizza, OK?
5132 Belair Rd.
Gil's Pizza kinda shocked me the first time I went in for one to go, because it smelled crazy good in the car, but when I got it home, it looked like they forgot to put on all my toppings! There was just cheese everywhere, and I wasn't gonna go back, man, I need some pizza NOW, you know? So when I tucked in, I realized the Gil's steez is to shove all the toppings under the cheese, so that makes Gil's kinda exotic or something, even though it's been around forever. The pies are only one size, which sorta makes it less stressful, you know? I mean I always order a large anywhere else, but it's sort of a relief to see there's just one size because I don't go through that whole thing about how I'm a hog that always orders too much pizza. So at Gil's you can't do that! You are ordering the perfect amount! They are also super-nice, the people at Gil's, and the last time I was in they were handing out a very cool fridge magnet that looks like a slice of pizza, however, it is a fictional slice for Gil's, because the magnet-slice has the pepperoni on top of the cheese.
Hersh's Pizza & Drinks
1843 Light St.
Tasty, tasty, tasty pies here, man, and they are deceptive because they look not real huge and not real thick, but they are supersaturated with so much flavor you achieve pizza satiety quickly! The one they call the "Il Regale" is a fucking tomato-flavor BOMB, man, it is astounding. Also outstanding is the "Da Funghi" one which is a mushroom and cheese pie with a vinaigrette on it that just puts it on a Magic Mushroom level, wowee. They don't cut the pies here, so you just use a knife and fork to cut 'em, which is one of those things that's like "when in Rome" or whatever, but they say it's like when in Naples, but you won't care, and it's fun to cut a giant slice and then a teensy weensy slice when you hit the wall and can't eat any more, except for one more li'l tiny slice! I also dig Hersh's because it's a different ambiance, a place to hang out and drink some fancy cocktails and they play R&B and the lights are kinda low and there's no teevees blazing away into your eyeballs with distracting lights and movement so it really makes for a nice vibe with people talking and stuff instead of being tricked into looking at some sports or whatever. I love me some teevee, but there's too many involuntary fucking screens in my lifetravels, it's nice to be somewhere away from them.
1741 Light St.
Sometimes you see something and it's just a gimmick, I dunno, and the first time I saw these things at Homeslyce called the "Slyce," it just seemed like they were out of ideas. The guy described it as a cut-open calzone, I think, or maybe it was a stromboli, I dunno, it was one of those things that is basically made out of pizza but it's folded or cut open differently, but I figured "OK, try it once, it's still made outta pizza so it won't be a total loss," and it showed up looking like a little pizza canoe, kinda, and it was outstanding! The crust on these things looks like it's gonna be too doughy and heavy, but it's super light, and they cut the canoe shape at right angles so you end up with three sorta triangle-shaped pieces that are easy to eat. I recommend the "Homeslyce Classic," which has goat and mozzarella cheese, walnuts, eggplant, spinach, caramelized onions, roasted peppers and the option of HomeSlyce sauce, which, I don't remember what it is, but you should get it. It can be argued these "Slyce" things kinda look like a vagina, it's not just me, man, everybody says this, and I consider it a plus. Good times.
818 N Calvert St.
Iggies makes me sad sometimes, when I look on their Web site and see all their Soup Nazi anger about how they don't want people to stare at the pizza guy and ask him dumb questions like "where is my pizza," and how they don't want you to stay too long with your BYOB, and your children shouldn't be grabbing stuff near the register, and all these other gripes they have about their customers, wow, and for a while they were saying they were gonna move out of the city, and that made me sad also, and how could they do that, move away from my mouth that I put their pizza in, but they didn't move and I go there and the pizza is so fucking good, the duck one, and the mushroom one, man, so good, and the pear and Gorgonzola one, YUM (even if it is not currently on the menu), and then I forgive them for being grumpy, and I really do try to behave a little when I'm there, and I never get caught looking at the pizza guy.
221 S High St.
Isabella's is tiny, and most of the time when I go, it's busy, so I don't sit and eat, I take it home, so it's a pop-in experience for me, very opposite my usual Little Italy hours-long sit-down feeding experience. The pizza crust, man, some pizza crust is just so nice, you can easily imagine eating it plain, I'm not kidding, it's weird to be eating a lovely pie with this slightly spicy sauce, and while you're eating it, you're thinking "wow, man, I could totally eat this plain, I mean, I realize right now I'm eating this pizza with all kinds of delicious stuff on it, but I could eat it plain right now." What is that? Is that some kinda psychological Freud thing? I dunno, all I know is they have this one pizza there, the "King Richard," that is totally meat-tastic, it has meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, and ham, and it makes you realize how highly underrated ham is as a pizza meat. The service here is great, I think because of the size of the place, so they wanna get you taken care of quick and make sure you're happy the first time.
133 W North Ave.
The deal at Joe Squared is they use a coal-fired oven, I think, and so it cooks pizzas at One Million Billion Degrees Fahrenheit or something, and they use this really distinctive sourdough for the pies, and they come out a little bit charred, and it's the kinda pie you just want to get as much of it into your face as possible in as little time as possible because if you get a large pie, you forget how it's like, the size of a ping-pong table until they bring it out, and you're like "oh man, I need to eat this entire ping-pong table right now!" so you start jamming this delicious and nutritious pizza into your pie-hole, and it's light, the pizza, so nice and delicate, so you can enjoy a lot of it, especially the "Mushroom Lovers" one, or the "Quattro Formaggio" one, which is Italian for Cheese Squared, I think.
3131 Eastern Ave.
The Matthew's pizza is one of the totally sui generis pizza pies in this town. It's very thick, the crust, but it's deceptive, the pies are nice and airy, like there's millions of air bubbles in the dough or something, and I think it is a Secret Recipe, but I don't care, I really don't want to ever know how they make it, it's more fun to imagine maybe somebody dumping a lot of beer into the dough, or lotsa yeast? I dunno, anyway, this pie is one of those pies you can't eat fast enough, because when it comes out of the oven, it's very aromatic, especially if you get the grated Reggianito cheese topping, which you should, it just smells insane, and it compels you to think must eat it immediately, which is fine, I'm not telling you not to get involved with your pie in an instinctive manner, but many Pizza People contend the real test of a lot of pizza is how it does as the Cold Pizza breakfast, and Matthew's pies are perfect for that.
113 Back River Neck Rd.
For years when I would talk about pizza in Baltimore, people would talk about Pizza John's in Essex, which is not in Baltimore, but it's not that far away as the Google Maps flies, and I am gonna recommend this place just for the sheer Human Experience. This joint is gigantic, and it is busy like the busiest train station you were ever in, or airport, even, every time I have gone, the place has been completely swarming with customers, but I think, maybe because of the ordering scheme (you order at the counter, then you go get a table), Pizza John's has achieved some sort of Maximum Pizza Potential, with a whole team of people in the kitchen (you see them as you enter), and then another form of service if you are gonna drink the alco-beverages, a server will take your order once you get to your table, and then when they call your number, someone will help you take your pizza back to your table, and they do not hold back on the toppings here, wow, and they have devised a crust that is tasty and on the thin side, but it completely holds up to a lot of wet toppings and does not disintegrate as the meal wears on. Also, there is a giant pizza man outside the restaurant with glowing eyes.
How many beers have you drinkened? So hungry. I need something, man, just something . . . how much money do you haz? Man, I gotta eat something, I don't fucking care, it's 3:30 in the fucking morning, man, I don't know, I just gotta eat. No. No. No! OK. I am not eating a fucking "Taquito" or whatever, though, how many fucking ingredients are in one of those things, seriously, or a "Bomb Burrito?" Right? BOMB is right, tomorrow morning, hah? Blergh. Or one of those-oh, man-look at those greasy hot dogs going around and around and around, urgh. Look at that, OK, man, yeah, that looks OK, for $5.55? Same price for pepperoni? Let's do it.
Squire's Italian Restaurant
6723 Holabird Ave.
Sometimes I am of a mind to be all Eastbound & Down, so I cruise along Eastern Ave. and then Dundalk Ave. to Dundalk, USA, and the sprawling Squire's pizza complex (ample parking), where I do battle with an enormous Sicilian pizza, which, while not square in shape, is a formidable and delicious appetite adversary, basically a coupla loaves of bread hammered (lovingly) into an incredible and surprisingly light yet sturdy circular platform for the Squire's Special, a generous application of mushrooms, meat sauce, sausage, green peppers, pepperoni, and capicollo, and I knock down a Rolling Rock or two and just lose myself, man. What?
5716 York Rd.
Toss is BYOB, casual, and super arty, with all kinds of stuff on the walls to look at, and they do the Gourmet Pizza with a mellow vibe, and it's a great place to bring kids. I'm all about the Toss Special, which has the nice loose-style sausage, a sweet sauce (but it's not too saucy), red peppers, caramelized onions, and lotsa cheese, just a really nice pie, and Toss does chicken right, man, on pizza, seriously, too many places cut the chicken into strips and they get all dried out and lose their flavor (if there really was any to begin with), but Toss does their poultry in juicy little irregular chunks, and they hit it with feta on top, so their Chicken Pesto pizza ends up being just a teensy weensy bit of browned cheese, perfectly cooked, and there's sundried tomatoes, but they slip it under everything so they don't get dried out, and then there's sharp little shots of kalamata olives and red onion, the most unboringest chicken pie ever.
3102 Fait Ave.
This is the neighborhood corner pizzeria experience revised and revivified for today's demanding and discriminating Pizza Consumer, who is me, and maybe you, I dunno, you have to stop in! Cops eat here, and that's always a good sign, because they eat at restaurants a lot, and I dunno about you, but whenever there's a place where there's cops doing what I'm doing, enjoying some of the absolute finest pizza (they slice the sausage so thin, almost to the point of translucency, I swear), I always stare at 'em, the cops (I stare at the pizza too, but that's different), because I want to look at their gun, to make sure they have the holster thing snapped down, and I look to see if they have any new Batman-style gear, like a new taser or some kinda mace or whatever, but anyway, the people at Tutti Gusti are very welcoming and neighborhoody, and this Sicilian pizza they make has perfect dough, just light enough, but substantial, with the right amount of oil coming out of the pan, and my whole thing with a square-cut Sicilian pie is I never really want the part in the middle because there's no crust, but the way they cut it here the pieces are long and each piece has crust. Genius.
641 S Montford Ave.
My eyes My eyes have been opened even wider to the world of possibilities of PUT A EGG ON IT, which I always knew was great, like a BLT, yeah, that's good, but PUT A EGG ON IT man, and it's even better, and it's not as pretentious as Truffle oil or whatever, you know? So at Verde, which is a beautiful restaurant with the trendy incandescent light bulbs and old-looking wood and stuff, they perform the sacrament of Brunch, and you know where this is going, yeah! PUT A EGG ON IT, as in pizza! And what pizza here, wowee-wowie, this is some of that Very Special pizza dough you can eat all by itself, it's salty and stretchy and chewy and a little bit of char on the bottom, and they have this bottle of pepper-infused oil on the table and you go and hit your pie with that, kaboom, flavor Truth Bomb, man, and this is another one of those places where they don't cut the pie (you don't want to cut the eggs up until you're ready to chow, and I have officially gotten over feeling like a 2-year old who didn't get a grown-up to cut my food up, they give you a fork, and this thing called a knife), and it's on!
1145 Hollins St.
I have a soft spot for Zella's in "SoWeBo" or the Hollins Market area, whatever you might call it, because back in the day it was the Tell-Tale Hearth pizza place, which was a completely ahead-of-its-time pizzeria. They had a brick pizza oven and cooked the pizzas that so many places are doing now, but they were just not in a spot that worked at the time, and eventually it became Zella's, and they've gone through some changes, but now the Original Ownership is back in place. I used to order from them for the City Paper Endless Monday Mandatory Pizza Dinner, and it was great stuff, and they have not lost a step, and Hollins Market could use some action from the Pizza Consumer, so sometime when you're maybe thinking about a slice of some same-only-different, as in pizza, stop in to Zella's where they are reclaiming the rep. I dig the Zella's Special because I think it's always worthwhile to go for the thing the place thinks is the Feature Attraction, and I also like the garlic herb sauced Spinach & Artichoke as a counterpoint to the tomatoey and meaty Zella's Special and also because two pizzas are always better than one. I also (because three pizzas are better than two) really dig the "Sicilian," which, while not a square pie, is a thick dough pie, it's just named the Sicilian, and it has a nice light sauce and prosciutto and red peppers. It took me a year or two, but I finally figured out this place and Toss are doing a lot of the same stuff, plus they have the same menu design, and it turns out that the guy who owns Toss also has a slice of Zella's, so there's some Inside Pizza info for you, good times.