• 03Jul
    "I did not order actual hair with my angel hair pasta..."

    “I did not order actual hair with my angel hair pasta…”

    By all accounts, I should have loved Joe Squared in Baltimore. A thin-crust pizza place that uses a ton of locally-sourced ingredients in a cool historic building I used to pass on the way to college, complete with a killer beer menu and an awesome soundtrack? Sounds good so far.  The Baltimore City Paper loves the place. Solidly positive Yelp! reviews. 4 1/2 stars on Trip Advisor. Lots of my Charm City friends telling me to eat there when I’m in town. So I did, and it was the Single Worst Meal I’ve Had in 2013 (so far, by far).

    Joe Squared has two locations in Baltimore: one at the Power Plant Live entertainment complex, and the original on North Avenue by the Maryland Institute College of Art. The original Joe Squared feels like a typical dive Baltimore bar and grill – an area up front for live music and a carpet that was last cleaned in the Reagan Administration – while simultaneously looking like a gourmet pizza place in an artistic neighborhood. Local artists use the walls to peddle their wares; in this case, bold portraiture of local people in aggressive colors and facial expressions. The beer and liquor list is impressive, and the wait staff are appropriately tattooed.  The menu touts their commitment to local ingredients and suppliers, and that appeals to a Baltimore kid like me. The list of pizzas on the menu is mouth-watering. My wife ordered a Margarita pizza with prosciutto, and I was eager to try the Spaghetti and Meatballs pizza, but was not in the mood for roasted red peppers. The server told me the restaurant would be glad to remove the peppers, and to try the house-made marinara sauce on the pie, as that’s exactly how he orders it. Sounded good to me!

    This miniature Era of Good Feelings ended once we received our pizzas ten minutes later. My wife’s pizza came out as ordered with chunks of prosciutto, but not a whole lot of toppings overall. Barely any cheese or sauce, but, it did taste good and was clearly made with good ingredients. My pizza, however, was just lousy with wilted red peppers with plenty of rib attached, giving a bitterness I was not wanting. Nor was there any sign of the marinara sauce that I’d been promised – in fact, my 12-inch pie had barely a tablespoon of sauce on it that I could see. I sure couldn’t taste it. The dough was tasteless, but that Sunday-Mass/Kosher-for-Passover matzo quality does highlight the quality of the meatballs on the dish. Normally, I’d have complained about the botched order, but Mrs. Five and I had tickets for a Major Social Event that I was not inclined to miss. And, this is my Mike Gundy Year, so I can put on my big boy pants and pick some red peppers off a pizza.

    What I couldn’t do was remove the hair from the pie. Well, correction : hairS. I’ve worked in restaurants before, and I know how furious some diners can be when it comes to hair in food. I try to keep my own cooking relatively hairless, but, I’ve grown up with furry pets my whole life. Hair happens. My family used to have Chow Chows – big wooly dogs that would shed in a Finnish blizzard – so I grew up with fur. No matter how much I groomed my beloved Buddy L. Jones, he’d shed. So, when I see a random hair in my meal, I can tune it out and eat around it. Heck, hair’s usually cleaner than the hands used to make the food. Besides, like I said earlier, Mike Gundy Year, big boy pants. But two hairs, and possibly a third (it might have been the second hair’s other half)? My mouth was reeling from the effect of getting cooked hair in my mouth. I didn’t dare tell my wife for she’d have lost her appetite as well, and there are some gory details a Good Husband ™ should suffer in silence, sparing the better half’s delicate sensibilities. Inside, I was squealing like the front row of a Justin Bieber concert, but outside, only a couple of facial tics belied my anguish. Mrs. Five noticed my looks, and I simply said “tell you later” and she could have chalked it up to sour peppers. I should have corralled a manager, but, like I said earlier, Major Social Event, had to go. We boxed our pizzas up and went to Camden Yards to watch the game. A few innings in, a spicy Roma sausage saved the day and wiped away the faint, lingering taste of “product.”

    I went to the pizza box in the refrigerator on Monday to try the leftovers. The Margarita slices were acceptable, though the thin dry crust does not lend itself well to reheating. My slices, however…well, I went to take a bite, and, wisely stopping,  decided to examine what laid below the toppings. There, under the cheese, was a long, crinkly, greasy dark brown hair. Too short to be my wife’s; too long to be mine, and I don’t believe either of our hairdos are sentient enough to fly off our heads and burrow themselves in a pizza. That was it – I was officially done with Joe Squared. Many food bloggers are content to rip a place over a small service gaffe during a single visit, or to write up a scathing Yelp! review over a perceived slight. I HAD been willing to give Joe Squared the benefit of the doubt – maybe I had just gotten the wrong pizza on the wrong day, and, beneath the taste of AquaNet, I could tell the ingredients were quality. But *multiple* hairs – that tells me something worse than just a bad night or a bad pie – that tells me that somebody in that kitchen flat-out doesn’t give a DAMN. Like I said, I’ve worked in restaurants in a myriad of roles, including server, bartender, manager, lowly line cook up to a grill master. When you’re cooking in a high-volume kitchen, you wear a baseball cap. You tie your hair back. You wear a poofy chef’s hat. You get one of those clear plastic thingies that people with facial hair wear at Costco. You do *something* to ensure a consistency of quality in your food preparation. You sure should notice when your pizza looks like a beloved TV movie critic from the 1980s. I don’t know if I got a “joke” pizza or a “revenge” pizza that you sometimes hear of restaurants pulling on new employees or angry customers – this scene from the movie “Waiting” comes to mind (WARNING – not for the squeamish or people who really hate Dane Cook, which is to say “most”). But this was my first time there, and I’m as pleasant as cold lemonade on a hot Alabama day to restaurant folks, so I can only hope I got the absolutely worst wrong order in the history of wrong orders, or, I just encountered a kitchen that doesn’t care. Either way, that will also be my last time at Joe Haired, or, at least until Rogaine stops working.

    ************************************************************************************************************************************************

    Joe Haired earns a total of 1 WHAMMY! which is not good. The part of me that still thinks I’m a 27-year old hipster gave WHAMMYS! for the devotion to local art, the dive-bar feel, and the cool bands coming through town. The part of me that still thinks I’m a 35-year old foodie gives WHAMMYS! for the great beer selection, good menu and the commitment to local food producers. However, the 40-year old part of me that actually IS a 40-year old me thinks one of the Joes should :

    1) shampoo the smelly, dirty rug. For the amount of money the place charges for a pizza, the least a diner should expect is a clean carpet. I’ve seen cleaner establishments on Baltimore’s infamous Block, and they ain’t clean, son.

    2) find an artist who’s portrait work doesn’t show so many angry faces. The last thing I need when eating is RAW ARTISTIC ANGER EMOTION!!!! shoved down my gullet. Evil, possessed red eyes staring me down… I’m near the River Patapsco, not the River Styx.

    3) caps for the cooks, or, at the least, only hire bald ones.

    -RAY

    **************************************************************************************************************************************************

  • 24Apr

    If you’re in the Bethesda area, or just want some really good thin-crust pizza, stop by Haven Pizzeria on Wisconsin Avenue.  Last Tuesday, the owners of the pizzeria and Andréa — of The Bethesda Foodie fame — threw a little shindig at the self-proclaimed “pizzeria Napoletana.”  Though it started a bit late (7pm) for a mid-week happy hour and tasting, the food was delicious overall and the hospitality, impeccable.

    Mark, the manager, told us about the restaurant’s finer points.  He began with the twin 100,000 pound brick ovens heated with coal, which cooks the pizzas evenly and provides an authentic char on the bottom.  The fresh, organic, local produce and seasonal berries used for the salads, gelato, and pizza toppings are one of the points of pride for Haven.  The organic dairy products from Wisconsin create the delectable foundation for the artisan gelato, which is made in house daily.  Last but not least, Haven imports Italian cheeses, yeast cultures, and olive oil for that irreplaceable Mediterranean flavor.

    After making a few introductions amongst ourselves, we were turned loose upon the bar.  I sampled the Parducci Pinot Noir and instantly loved it.  The clear ruby red wine was fruity and bold with a smooth finish.  It’s a great red to pair with the tomato or mozzarella pie or the Romano salad.  During the food tasting later on, I tried a glass of the Orvieto — a white wine imported from Italy — and it went beautifully with the clam pizza, as well as the spinach and mushroom pizza.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

    The first item brought out for us was something called the “potato chip”; essentially, it was a small pizza crust topped with garlic, olive oil, and pecorino-Romano.  It was crispy, salty, and cheesy — and did in fact taste similar to a potato chip.  The other appetizer served to us was the Haven White Clam Pie.  Fresh clams, olive oil, garlic, and cheese top the pizza.  Alas, I missed out on the appetizer version but redeemed myself during dinner.

    After a tour of the pizza ovens, wine bar, and gelato churn, it was time for dinner.  Mark sent out about six pizzas, and they were all delicious.  Two important notes about their pizzas: the first is that before going into the oven, each pie gets a drizzle of olive oil for moisture and flavor.  The second note is about the crust.  Haven pizzas have a thin, slightly crispy crust that gains flavor from the char added by the brick ovens.

    During round one, I tried a slice of the White Spinach & Mushroom Pie and a slice of the Tomato Pie.  The spinach and mushroom had sliced mozzarella rounds distributed over the toppings, and the pizza had no tomato sauce, hence “white.”  I appreciated the fresh mushrooms and the olive oil drizzled over the pizza.  I would order this pizza if I were in the mood for something a little fancy-tasting.  The Tomato Pie consists of freshly ground plum tomatoes and grated pecorino-Romano cheese, both imported from Italy.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying a tomato pizza, get one at Haven.  Their version has the char on the crust to contrast with the sweet tomatoes; it’s a beautiful thing.

    Mark brought out several bottles of Foxon Park pop, which he has trucked in from Connecticut.  Our table tried the Grape, Orange, and White Birch flavors.  Yes, White Birch really is a flavor; it’s very similar to root beer, but it’s clear.  The Grape was quite tart, while the Orange tasted bold.  None of the flavors were overly sweet, which I greatly appreciated.  I enjoyed the combination of the White Birch with the meat pizza, and the Grape with the Tomato Pie.

    For round two, I grabbed a slice of the Mozzarella Pie with meat, as well as a slice of the Haven White Clam Pie.  Liberally dressed with pepperoni and fennel sausage, the pizza’s tomatoes and mozzarella provided a tasty contrast to the meat.  Try this carnivore’s delight while enjoying one of the many beers Haven offers.  Then I was able to sink my teeth into the clam pizza.  Let me begin by stating that the dinner version was a combination of the Haven White Clam Pie and the Coal Oven Roasted Pepper — with bacon.  Nary a tomato was found on this pizza, but roasted red peppers, bacon, clams, garlic, oregano, mozzarella, and a healthy dose of olive oil completed the dish.  I highly recommend this pizza for those who want a really fresh and good meal.  The flavors went together incredibly well, and if Haven had thrown a few potato slices on it, it could have been called the Haven White Clam Chowder pizza.

    Finally, we were given huge scoops of gelato to finish the meal.  Haven makes five flavors; they’re all lower in fat and denser than ice cream, but the density makes the gelato taste creamier.  A couple of my tablemates mentioned that the pistachio flavor really tasted like the nuts.  I can personally vouch for the strawberry and coffee flavors tasting like the fresh ingredients used to create them.  Haven can also make milkshakes from their gelato.  After having tasted some their other foods and drinks, I can say with confidence that trying anything on the menu is a safe bet.  Haven does not disappoint.

    -TKW (Tiffany)

    Disclosure: From time to time, we are given free items, meals, or events.

    Haven Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

  • 28Oct

    Potomac Pizza.

    Here are some of my favorite places to get pizza. It is not an exhaustive list, but it does include places I’ve enjoyed recently.

    Pupatella is amazing and very very Italian. Can’t seem to order wrong here.  I’ve known Anastasia since her food stand days. I’ve tried the classico,the tomato artichoke  and the sausage pizza–all were amazing. Great crust, sauce and cheese. Try the arancini (fried balls of rice) too. They carry Dolci Gelato, including my favorite, the almond. This is probably my current favorite pizza joint, but it does tend to get busy.

    The Italian Store has good NY style pizza and you can get whatever they happen to have around by the slice. The people at the pizza counter tend to not have the best people skills here, which is odd, because the people making hoagies are personable. This is a good place for the thin crust, charred bottom style of pizza, but I rarely order pizza here because there Philly hoagies are amazing. Even the vegetarian hoagie is great. This place does not really have seating; there are a few tables outside.

    Pete’s Apizza is currently my go to place for sit down by-the-slice pizza. They even have large enough holes in the red pepper shaker that the red part of the pepper actually gets on the pizza.  And, they have a white clam pie, which can’t touch the one at Lombardi’s in NYC, but is still good. Pete’s has outdoor seating, and tends to be busy inside. I’m not sure why their lasagna has both red and white sauces (bechamel is not Italian) but it is good enough. Let’s see if the new Bronx pizzaria two blocks from them in Clarendon gives them a run for their money…if it ever opens.

    Potomac  Pizza does have a good red sauce. If I worked around there, I could see getting their pizza (including the white pizza) for lunch on a regular basis, especially since it is in a different neighborhood than the other pizza joints I frequent. Their veal parm and chicken parm subs are good, as are the cheese fries. I stopped by for lunch (chicken parm sub) a couple of days ago; they NEED lunch specials, but I hear that they are launching lunch specials around November 1st.

    Rustico and Fireworks are good if you like “gastropub” type places, but I haven’t eaten at either in the last 6 months.  Both have a variety of standard and nonstandard (gourmet) sauces and toppings, and are good places for beer drinkers.

    -JAY

    Pupatella on Urbanspoon
    Italian Store on Urbanspoon
    Pete's New Haven Style Apizza on Urbanspoon
    Potomac Pizza - Chevy Chase on Urbanspoon
    Rustico on Urbanspoon

    Permalink Filed under: Restaurants Tags: 3 Comments
  • 13Apr

    I’ve been accused recently of never eating at the same restaurant twice.  Now I know, that’s a big, fat lie.  I’ve been to plenty of places numerous times, but I’ll admit I don’t have the impulse to visit many places a second time.  I did return, however, to Roscoe’s.

    I’d been to Roscoe’s immediately after they opened in Takoma Park – before their liquor license!  And months later, I have returned, with a full bar ready to great me.

    The food on my last visit was ok – there was room to grow.  This time the food was much better, but there’s still some room to grow.  We ordered some marzipan dates – tasty as they were caramelized with honey.  The pizzas took a while to arrive but had a perfect amount of toppings and crust was nicely cooked.  I will, no doubt, return a third time.

    I ask you to think about that restaurant you only visited once for whatever reason, and take another trip back.  And if it sucks, remember, it isn’t my fault.

    AEK

  • 07Apr

    DC Food Wars Airing Party

    Tues, April 13th, Grand Central, 2447 18th Street NW, Washington, DC, 8:30-11pm

    It’s next week! Finally! While the District of Columbia is best known for politics and historical landmarks, who would have thought that a jumbo-sized pizza slice could create such a stir? It’s a real Food War — with two warring brothers behind it all. Only one brother can win this food war. Which is it going to be, Pizza Mart or Jumbo Slice? You’ll have to watch to find out (I’m sworn to secrecy). It’s going to be exciting! Join us to watch the airing of DC’s Food Wars at Grand Central with other Fans and a one of the owners of the pizza establishments in the Food War!

    If you haven’t heard, the new series titled FOOD WARS aired beginning March 9 on the Travel Channel. The host, Camille Ford, has been visiting various cities around the country and learning about their iconic food dishes. Camille has traveled to Minneapolis, Texas, Kansas, Tucson, and next up on their food journey: Washington, DC for the “Jumbo Slice.” The DC Food Wars with Dining in DC’s Lisa Shapiro, who served as a judge for the blindfolded taste test will air on Tuesday, April 13 at 10:00 p.m. EST. Who else is a local favorite? Yep! That’s right! Carla Hall. She may not be able to attend, but we’re working on it.

    Here’s a Dining in DC article about the episode.

    -Lisa Floresca Shapiro

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