The proposition that anything good will ever come of humanity is increasingly in doubt as far as Pizza Club can see. At a distant point in the past people constructed systems of morals, perhaps only as elaborate edifices for power and domination, and history is a long catastrophe in which we constantly fail to uphold these loophole-riddled doctrines except when they serve to oppress the weak and extort wealth. Speaking of elaborate edifices for power and domination, a few months ago (maybe up to a year ago, time is meaningless) Pizza Club visited the R-House in Remington.
The R-House is a carefully-curated reimagining of a mall foodcourt, set in a reclaimed auto body shop. In the late twentieth century, teenagers needed cars to get to the mall. The mall was a place where many people in the coveted Millennial demographic first experienced a consumerist simulacrum of an urban town square. The town square was a gathering-place where one engaged in shared discourse with friends and strangers under terms of mutual respect as part of a pluralistic social fabric. It’s also where deviants were executed by hanging, and witches burned at the stake.
We were prepared for the pizza at R-House to be very good. We understand that everything about the R-House is wholesome and responsibly-sourced, returning millennials to a comforting and functional dining format without denting their self-image as food connoisseurs.
Pizza Club worries a lot about nostalgia: is it a toxic feeling that keeps us from recognizing the truths of the past and the urgency of action in the present? It can keep us in thrall to a myth of the familiar, familiar as in familial, family, the magic circle of capitalist atomization dividing 'us' from 'them'. It's an interesting time for nostalgia, as city-dwelling Millennials begin having babies and moving (back) to the suburbs. Development projects targeted at this demographic are actively erasing the urban-suburban distinction by creating suburban shopping centers in the city and dense pseudo-urban tracts in the suburbs. This smooths over many aspects of city life that might be unattractive to former suburbanites used to a certain level of homogeneity and convenience, while lessening the friction of ultimately returning to a suburb – both settings offer basically identical condo-plus-retail-and-parking-garage complexes, a smog of familiarity that spreads across the landscape.
Pizza Club appreciates that a gathering space such as R-House is genuinely useful, flexible, and welcoming for many. Though its spirit animal is the “indebted freelance millennial coffee connoisseur on a bicycle who craves community and authenticity,” people from all over the city will use this space for their own purposes of hanging out, and that is great. It has an awesome area for kids to run free and play with giant padded blocks. It makes your life easier and probably helps the environment because you can stay in one place instead of driving around to various scattered small businesses. In 1952, real estate developer James Rouse had a similar idea for how to modernize urban consumption. It was called the Mondawmin Mall. In 1763, the city of Baltimore had a similar idea for gathering farmers and merchants together for better consumer access. They built public markets. Interestingly, these precursors sold things that you took home with you, in the case of public markets, providing fresh produce to most city residents; the millennial food hall sells a transient experience of food.
When it first opened, R-House suffered from a significant food-court oversight: amid expensive coffee, fried chicken, and ice cream, there was no expensive pizza. The Seawall Development Company and Urban Pastoral Collective, a “next generation, boutique Development Firm” that seems to curate the various R-House vendors, set out to fill the void this past summer by creating Molina.
Here we come to a sore point in the pizza discourse which R-House unintentionally jabbed with their release of a highly-produced promotional video offering a fictionalized backstory for Molina. The video features wind blowing through fields of wheat and basil in the Old Country as a lovely young woman tells her family’s story of living off the land and baking bread according to the Old Ways. Then American soldiers arrived for the Great War and the cheerful Italians served them irresistible focaccia. Our protagonist fell in love with a GI and came to the New World bearing the gift of pizza. Pizza Club is not questioning anyone’s personal family history, nor do we have any interest in policing the historical narrative about the origins of pizza in the United States. However, as an objective gloss of the Pizza Club community’s audience response, I will say that many found this video confusing.
A sophisticated consulting firm created a pizza counter to go in the food court they designed. That’s fine and makes perfect sense. Why play the authenticity game in this postmodern moment when everything is a hologram of a pastiche conjured out of the amnesiac miasma of the internet? Perhaps the name of the consulting firm, “Urban Pastoral”, suggests an answer – the backward-looking pastoral genre, melded with the millennial love of the urban and sustainability, has conjured this disjointed gesture of nostalgia for a distant past that screens a more immediate nostalgia for our own childhood malls, advertisements for Prego pasta sauce, and belonging, if only for an hour, to the Italian-immigrant family at Olive Garden, which always seemed a lot friendlier than my actual Italian immigrant family.
We must set this unfortunate video aside. We regret ever watching it and will now put it out of our minds.Think about the first vs. the second belltower scene in Vertigo. Think about anything else.
Given the high standards of the R-House, Pizza Club was ready to take its shrill Marxist critique/bitter class resentment and wad that critique/resentment into a tiny ball and cram that ball into an $8 waffle cone of premium Old Bay-flavored icecream and then shove that icecream into a planter full of succulents and walk away from it. We cleansed our souls of anger and opened our hearts to gracefully accept that food from food halls tastes good.
We’d already played out the script in our heads: people are correct to Uber here from Canton and wait in a 40-minute line for pizza because these rugged young men in flannel shirts are doing a brilliant job crafting a high-quality product that stands alongside other distinguished Baltimore pizza offerings while adding something new and intriguing to the mix.
“It feels very anonymous,” Stacie remarked. We got a couple of dry, plain-ish cheese pies, and one with numerous toppings, including superficial traces of pesto, red onions, and cauliflower, that Ben described as “dazzle camouflage on a battleship.”
|Dazzle camouflage pizza|
The logistics of Molina had yet to be worked out at that early point. Most of our pies were cold because no one had called out our order while we sat ten feet away for half an hour. An attempt to sample their pizza more recently ended in failure because it was “half-price night”. We stood in a line, but the stall did not appear to be taking orders because they were frantically filling previous orders from people who reported that they’d been waiting for forty minutes. This level of demand suggests that Molina will have no problem selling pizza within a crowded food court, but may need to staff up if they intend to offer deals. In a final, cheap-ass attempt at critical objectivity, Pizza Club mooched half a slice off a friend a few weeks ago. Because Pizza Club was hungry and drunk, we did not obtain usable results from this sample. Therefore, we acknowledge that Molina may have made significant advances in its pizza-craft that we are unaware of.
In addition to the origin story recounted in their promotional video, Molina also claims the distinction of making the only “New Haven style” pizza in town. The layering of Old and New World identities is certainly something that Pizza Club can get behind, but we just want to know why. Is anyone from New Haven? Is that where the lady in the video began her new life in America? Members of Pizza Club familiar with the New Haven style describe it as charred and chewy, often including clams, but did not see a strong kinship with the pizza at Molina.
Molina promised to add to Baltimore’s pizza scene with a by-the-slice option, which is certainly lacking in the premium pizza market. Ben noted that “a slice of this pizza is the single cheapest food entree you can get at R-House.” This makes it an adaptive choice if you’ve been pressured to meet friends there, need food, but for whatever reason do not want to purchase a $14 sandwich. However, this type of pizza is ephemeral in nature; there’s a reason that Neapolitan places only serve pies fresh out of the oven. It doesn’t lend itself to re-heating, as the crust becomes brittle and the interior sponges up what little moisture was sitting on top. The New York slice, with its viscous cheese blanket, is infinitely more forgiving.
They have, as promised, obtained fine ingredients, including “legit” prosciutto, nice cheese, and fresh herbs. For sauce, they utilize what Ben terms “that weird spare acidic tomato situation,” associated with the idea of “freshness” but adding little flavor. These ingredients are used very sparingly, such that a basic cheese pie with basil featured two basil leaves, four dollops of cheese, and a lot of crust that nobody ate. Every pie had a lot of crust that nobody ate. We were buried in the accumulated crusts of half-remembered pseudo-histories.
|Crusts of forgotten ancestors|
|The almighty purse|