Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Kyro Pizza

Kyro Pizza
900 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD

We arrived at Kyro Pizza on a dreary evening and were treated to dreary pizza. Not that it was bad pizza necessarily, but it was not the kind of pizza that inspires faith in the progress of civilization. With so much going on in the pizza world, and the stakes in the gourmet pie game growing ever higher, it's disappointing to encounter a place with the form, but not the content, of pizza connoisseurship.

nice-looking wall thing
Kyro has a snazzy design scheme, with website, menu, and interior d├ęcor coordinated to convey some kind of young, hip, trendy vibe. But is it enough to install a brick oven and write “Maryland's best brick oven pizza” on your website banner? They offer a lot of other Middle Eastern menu items which are perhaps better than their pizza – for some reason, restaurants like to tack pizza onto their normal offerings, but it's a bad move to promote lackluster pizza over the things that you actually make well. Really, our gripe with Kyro was the over-hyping – you can't design your way around average pizza with pretty signs.

When we slogged in from the rain on a swampy Wednesday night, there was one other occupied booth in the place. As we waited for pies, a discourse on cheese-pizza essentialism unfolded - I think the point was that plain cheese pizza is the closest that one can get to the pure Platonic form of pizza while trapped within the finite bounds of human consciousness. This conversation was relevant because there's a lot of stuff on the Kyro menu that my mom would think is “weird”/“crazy”: they are particularly noted for exotic pies like the Sharm el-Shek (salmon and caviar), the sloppy joe and hotdog pizzas, and the General Kyro, which is a pizza with General Tso's chicken on it. These items demonstrate that they are willing to put anything on a pizza, so we're supposed to give them credit for adventurousness. But what about the foundations? We ordered with an eye to uncovering the pure form of a Kyro pizza.

foundations: elasticity

We got four pies: a Margarita (tomato sauce and cheese, determined to be the most elemental cheese pizza out of four on the menu), a Dahb (grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, garlic, tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes), Di Funghi (sauce, cheese, and mushrooms), and an India (Tandoori chicken, spicy tomato yogurt curry, squash and mozzarella with mango chutney). 

just regular pizza

The cheese pizza, a litmus test, did not bode well. Dan pointed out that Kyro's use of a brick oven was technically adept: the thin crust was correctly cooked, with a nice even bake, and the dough had been proofed correctly because there were no huge air bubbles. However, the crust lacked spring or bounce – it was very typical, and not really worth finishing. The central part of the pie could have used more sauce. The cheese was “fresh enough,” but too salty, and the whole thing lacked “zing.” Dan observed that pizza, like sex, is good even when it's bad, which is one way of looking at it.

Dahb pizza

We asked for a Dahb pizza with whole wheat crust, which, in light of their issues with regular crust, was a mistake. It was crunchy but bland and flavorless. The toppings were excellent, especially the eggplant, suggesting that it might be smart to order non-pizza menu items containing eggplant. The sauce, again, was standard pizza parlor sauce. What were we thinking, dragging down an adequate pizza in the name of health? I would caution against it. Get your whole grain fiber somewhere else.

vegan mushroom pizza

We also customized our mushroom pizza with soy cheese to test out Kyro's vegan accommodations (past reviewers have praised their vegan food). Nobody noticed the soy cheese, but that's because the pizza itself was just boring. It resembled any other pie you would get at a standard pizza parlor. In a world of specialty pizza inflation (see: Joe Squared's mushroom pizza with forty kinds of mushrooms), paying premium prices for shrively plain mushrooms is not cool ($15.50 for a 14” pie). This seems equitable towards the dairy and non-dairy consumer, at least, since veganizing made no noticeable difference in quality.

India pizza (chutney not pictured)

Finally, the meat-friendly dug in to the India pizza. They really liked the mango chutney that came in plastic containers on the side. “It's like dessert on a pizza,” said Chris. Upon closer examination we concluded that it might be Smucker's apricot jam. The tandoori chicken was a bit chewy, and nobody noticed the yogurt sauce. We proceeded to spread “chutney” on the remaining slices of every pie to make them more palatable.

yes to chutney

This may seem like an overly harsh evaluation, and it probably is. But things are competitive out there. A new high-end fancy pizza place opens every week. Claiming to be “the best” in this booming industry is an invitation to critical scrutiny, and Kyro Pizza doesn't hold up very well. At around $17 for a large specialty pie, you could do better somewhere else. If you really want caviar, and you want it on a pizza, then this is the place for you. However, from our perspective, fancy toppings don't make up for lackluster foundations.

“Good but not life-changing”


Monday, May 7, 2012

Casa Mia (that pizza place in the Rotunda across from the box office)

Casa Mia's of the Rotunda
711 W 40th St
Baltimore, MD 21211

  Today we are talking about solid pizza. Where I grew up, there was this stupid pizza place where all the cool kids hung out after school. But the pizza there was really bad. Like, big floppy rubbery vast sprawling grease-ocean bad – the kind of crap that people only feed to eleven-year-olds just because they can get away with it. So me and my bespectacled braces-wearing friends took secret pride in going to the other pizza place, three blocks away, where the pizza was of highest quality and we could talk shit on the cool kids without being disturbed. This became a sort of ritual until we discovered that the Chinese restaurant around the corner was EVEN COOLER (i.e., a place that no one our age would ever go).

I thought of this because Casa Mia, that pizza place in the Rotunda across from the box office, is the place I'd go after school if I was eleven. It's hard to explain what makes it perfect, but it's in a basement and next to a movie theater past this weird deserted hall of mirrors, and there's hardly ever anyone around.

The Casa Mia target demographic is movie-goers, casual by-the-slice buyers, so when I called them up and wanted four large pizzas they seemed a bit caught off guard. However, they were very helpful in explaining Casa Mia's offerings. We ordered two traditional pizzas (a meat and a cheese) and two specialty pizzas (one vegetarian white and one spinach and tomato with white sauce).

When I showed up to get the pies they were still in the oven, so I hung around the Rotunda where there was some kind of pit bull rescue charity event going on that involved nice old ladies wearing “I heart pitbulls” t-shirts. The guys at Casa Mia were busy taking small orders from the theater crowd, but they provided reassurance and glimpses into the oven until my pies were ready. I stared at a poster for the Hunger Games, which I didn't realize was a CGI movie about a young woman who suffers a breakdown after applying too much bronzer.

I drove the pizza home as quickly as possible because we were having a party, the kind of party where you invite people over to eat pizza and then demand that they provide a sophisticated critical analysis of said pizza. The general consensus was that Casa Mia is a solid pizza place for normal, everyday pizza consumption.

The meat pie seemed to have somewhat runny sauce, and the toppings weren't particularly distinguished although the sausage was said to have “good character.” Sara found the sauce on the cheese pizza spicy, and Patrick commented positively on the cheese itself. Patrick is also a closet Casa Mia devotee, which was news to us. He has long believed that their traditional cheese pizza is “the best.”

The specialty pies offered both more rewards and more perils. Some of the vegetable toppings weren't properly prepared to grace a pizza – Milana found the broccoli wet and “strange,” while the spinach was still clumped up, having recently emerged from the can.

The white sauce was a good base for the spinach-tomato pie because it didn't overwhelm the toppings, though some people thought it was too squishy. The toppings were strategically placed under the cheese, preventing messy spills. The vegetarian special boasted a solid sheet of vegetables on top, a happy sight for the health-conscious who like to mask their pizza in greenery. The onions and tomatoes were crunchy and fresh, while the artichokes and broccoli were canned/frozen (as is reasonable for a pizza place in the Rotunda).

The crust was just the right thickness, bearing up well under many toppings and some liquidy sauces. “Not super-special, not cardboard,” one diner remarked. We all ate way too much pizza, just like when we were eleven.

5.5/8 slices