Monday, September 10, 2012

Too fast too loulou

Tooloulou Pizza
4311 Harford Rd.
nice logo. "tooloulou": Cajun for "crab"

I guess they probably have pizza in New Orleans, I don't really know because I still have not been there. They definitely have a lot of other food, like po'boys and catfish and muffalettas, that are respected worldwide as delicious and authoritative. When Pizza Club visited Tooloulou, a New Orleans-themed casual restaurant in Hamilton, we were hoping to put together the pieces of this puzzle: why do pizza? What could make a pizza embody "New Orleans"? Would that thing just be shrimp?

It wasn't just shrimp - it was also alligator, crab, and smoked duck. Tooloulou is definitely doing something good with its specialty seafood and meat pizzas. But looking at the rest of the menu made us wonder why anyone who was not there on a specifically pizza-oriented fact-finding mission would order pizza at all. The other stuff sounded great and distinctive, while piling onto the pizza wagon just meant piling novelty toppings onto a pretty standard pie.

gator time

We particularly recommend Tooloulou in the beverage department: they have every kind of root beer ever, as well as Cheerwine, sarsaparilla, birch beer, etc. etc. It's kind of small and hot inside their storefront, so these beverages were consumed in large refreshing quantities. The space is decorated with assorted punning wall plaques ("buy our pizza, we knead the dough") and Old Bay kitsch, but not aggressively so. There's only room for two tables and a bar, but we were the only people eating in at 8:30 on a Tuesday so it was fine. Folks came and went picking up boxes of pizza to-go, suggesting that Tooloulou already has a local following.

enter the duck

We ordered a smoked duck and a veggie pizza. This choice turned out to be strategic, as it created quite a study in contrasts. The smoked duck was delicious, well-put-together flavor-wise, and definitely a distinctive thing that you can't find elsewhere in Baltimore. The veggie pie, on the other hand, was a throwaway, making the resident vegetarians feel that there was nothing for them at Tooloulou (though, upon examining their menu, I discovered that they make a veggie po'boy with tofu and mushrooms that sounds ridiculous but I couldn't get that because we already ate pizza). Let's hash out the details.

golden ratio

The duck pizza contained tomato sauce, house smoked duck, caramelized onions, sweet peppers, and goat cheese with a balsamic reduction. The amount of duck was very generous, it was cooked to a nice texture and cut intelligently into bite-sized bits. What could have been a liquidy pizza with an overload of toppings was instead perfectly proportioned and integrated. The crust, too, was perfect, crisped and only slightly burnt where it formed delicious crunchy bubbles.

great expectations

The veggie pizza had a white sauce, mushrooms, spinach, capers, roasted cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella. The tomatoes didn't seem to actually be roasted at all, except for a few which were slightly wrinkly. The spinach looked pretty dessicated. There was lots of cheese, which had the texture and chew of a good quality cheese, but it just wasn't that exciting. Even the crust, which presumably was the same crust as the duck pizza, was softer and undercooked.

wilted expectations

"I actively want to eat more of the duck pizza," Jonah said while sampling the veggie. "I wish this slice would end so I could go back to the duck." Dan, who does not eat meat, turned his attention to unlocking the secret messages encoded in the restaurant's music playlist. "This pizza makes me hyper-aware of the sax solo in [the 1981 Men at Work chart-topper] 'Who Can It Be Now'" he remarked. Indeed, paranoia was the name of the game for vegetarians. Why were we being treated like second-class citizens? Also, I discovered that capers are some kind of weird mini brussels sprout. I always assumed they were salty bad-tasting berries that got rejected from breakfast cereal. No! They are sprouts. If you don't believe me and you are eating a boring vegetarian pizza with capers on it, definitely pick the capers off and dissect them and you'll see what I'm talking about.

cheesy expectations

In the end we got one delicious pizza and one ok pizza, but both were very filling and we wound up taking a lot home. Dan never figured out what it meant that so many Police, Dire Straits, and/or Sting songs kept playing in a particular order. The proprietor was a jocular man who gave us free watermelons on our way out, which was very nice of him (the restaurant offers seasonal, CSA-furnished produce specials, but I guess they could not use watermelon on pizza). If you are meat-enabled, you should try the specialty seafood and sausage pies at Tooloulou for a deluxe topping experience, but the veggie treatment suggests to us that nothing really novel is going on under the hood of these pizzas - it wouldn't be worthwhile to order a plain cheese pie. To even out their offerings, they just have to elevate the lowly vegetables up to the hallowed plane of smoked duck.

6/8 slices

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