Top five Baltimore area pizza places?
Let me reveal my ulterior motives up front. If I were to ask for the best pizza in the Baltimore area, we'd probably get a lot of responses citing the same small group of places. By asking for your top five, I'm hoping to do two things.
First, I hope to get some mentions of places I've not tried, rather than a series of "me too" accolades for the top places. Second, I hope to find out something about how you rank the top handful, which will give me some insight into how your preferences map to mine, which will come in handy if you mention someplace I haven't tried.
That said, I'd also like to request that if you have a particular set of toppings that you use as your benchmark, please mention what it is. If instead, you like a place particularly for the variety of toppings available, mention that, too.
To kick things off, my top five at the moment are
2. Joe Squared
3. Cafe Amore (Glen Burnie)
Close-but-no-cigar - Uno's (yeah, I know - it's a chain), if only because it's the closet thing to Chicago deep dish in the area, though the Uno's chain has badly degraded their "deep dish" from the original.
In my case, my usual benchmark pizza is sausage and onion, at least for thin crust pizzas.
My top 5...well, 5 would be stretching it unfortunately. I'll say:
1. Chef Paolino's (Catonsville) - Great pizza by the slice
2. Matthews - I love the Great White
3. Cafe Amore - Plus great pastas and sandwiches at lunch
And I can't think of any other Pizza that I've been happy with in all of Maryland! However, I haven't gotten to Joe2 yet. My list of disappointments is pretty big, however. Iggie's (good toppings, terrible rolled-out crust), and in Ellicott City Serafino's and Luna Bella (now Della Notte), both with wood-buring ovens and terrible pizza, Egyptian Pizza/Al Pacino, BOP all have been disappointing. Actually, the chains Bertucci's and Three Brothers can put out decent pizza, but I'll still reserve my list for pizza that I really like.
I feel your pain. I, too find some of the better chain pizzas to be above the average for pizza in this area. I guess Baltimore just isn't a pizza town. But it could be worse. At least we have a few independent places that rise above the mundane and beat the best of the chains - perhaps this thread will turn us on to more. I've seen some localities where the more run-of-the-mill national chains were "as good as it gets" when it came to pizza. Now THAT is scary for a pizza lover!
The takeout/delivery pizza from the Jay's/Viccino restaurant group. Although the crust/sauce isn't the best I've ever had, their wide selection of free! veggie toppings makes up for it. Most of their veggies (zucchini, broccoli, spinach, tomato, garlic, eggplant, etc) can be added for no additional cost.
Also, Al Pachino Cafe has some interesting topping combinations. The crust is often too sweet/doughy, but the tandoori chicken and summer squash pizza is addicting.
Have you ever been to Pizza John's in Essex? I think it's THE best pizza in Baltimore, hands down. It also has to be the cleanest restaurant I have ever seen.
1. Pizza John's
5. Egyptian Pizza (moved from Fells Point to Belvedere square). Specifically, tandoori chicken pizza.
I just realized I left off Fortunato in York Rd (and added it to my list).
Thanks for the tip on Pizza John's! I went last night, and it's a good pie - the sort of "community favorite" independent pizza place that is very common back home in Chicagoland, and seems like an alien concept around here. I got my usual large sausage and onion, and I was impressed. It may not be the best pizza I've ever had, but it's a product they can be rightly proud of. I was particularly intrigued by the sauce - it looked like the sort of dark, slow cooked, herb-laden sauce some Italian granny would make to put on pasta. Some will like it, some won't, but that's the idea. I'd much rather go to a place that strives to achieve the owner's idea of the perfect pizza, with whatever quirks or unique aspects that might imply, than to go to a place that is content to churn out yet another "OK" pie that's no different than that being produced by any of the other places in the area.
I grew up in an area where pizza was taken seriously. You were an Aurelio's guy, or a Sanfratello's guy, or possibly a Geneo's guy, if you played softball (16", slow pitch, bare hands - Chicago style!)and liked pizza with your beer, rather than the other way around. And you were willing to argue the merits of your favorite over the other at the drop of a hat. That's been one of the biggest cultural adjustments to living out here. Not only are there very few such "community flagship" pizza places, but "pizza" is deemed a commodity food. Around here, with few exceptions, one goes for "pizza", not a *particular* pizza. I see some of the same sort of loyalty to particular crab shacks, but even there, it just doesn't seem the same.
Maybe it's not so much the location, as a change in the culture. Few people back home play Chicago Style softball anymore, and maybe the old loyalties and passion about pizza is also dying. Maybe we're all being programmed to the "chaining" of America, where you can get off a plane anywhere in the continental U.S. and be largely unable to tell where exactly you are, because the same stores and the same restaurants are in the same commercial developments everywhere.
Forgive me ranting. I weep for future generations. Or should I say "Generic-ations"?
I'm so glad you tried it! I think that either very few people outside of Essex know or even care about Pizza John's. I have told about a billion of my friends but none of them have even bothered to go outside of the city to try it. My family drives out there almost every weekend.
I read on their web site that the family (3 brothers, I believe) originally came from Abruzzo (sp?) in Italy, so maybe it (the sauce) is a recipe that came from that region of Italy.
re: Jamie D
Circumference, I believe. It's about the size of a grapefruit. Most other places in the known universe use a 12" ball and gloves, whether playing slow pitch or fast pitch. Those of us in the Chicago area historically played 16", bare hands, "no guts, no glory". You can tell a softball player in Chicago by looking at his hands - most serious players have fingers that are no longer anything close to straight, thanks to multiple jams, dislocations, and breaks over the years.
Tying back to food, the pizza and bar culture of the Chicago area is strongly tied to softball, though 16" softball is sadly dying out. Many of the local leagues have teams sponsored by pizza places and bars, and so loyalty to a particular pizza place is in some circles tied to loyalty to one's team.