1520 Clipper Road
We really liked Birroteca. We like what they're doing. But Birroteca is bigger than pizza. In what follows I will try to review Birroteca's pizza while also conveying a broader sense of how this new venue fits or does not fit into the densely-woven, shimmering fabric of Your Baltimore Life.
|Your Baltimore Life|
This place opened in September and is probably in the running for best low-key-but-conspicuously-tasteful restaurant in the city. Many people on the Tuesday night that we visited appeared to be on dates, kind-of-dates, or after-work drinks that could potentially turn into a date (I inferred this from body language). Like the couple who we sat next to and whose conversation we interrupted throughout their meal to talk about pizza. Their date seemed to be going pretty well, but they looked like a seasoned couple, accustomed to having their nice evenings crashed by large groups of pizza fanatics.
|Nice on the inside|
Here's how this works for a first date situation: you, if you happen to be the date asker, explain that the restaurant is in Hampden, which is a known quantity for most people even if they're afraid of Baltimore (which you haven't determined yet because it's the first date). The address, the Baltimore Sun reassures us, shows up on GPS. However, after driving the winding, unlit stretch of Falls and Clipper Mill roads leading to Birroteca, your date is a bit apprehensive and wondering if you have terrible taste or are crazy. The address is a squat former industrial building on a gravel lot under the highway. Then the date walks inside – and lo! - it is a carefully-designed upscale bistro with salvaged fixtures and chalkboard art and a retro bar and the acoustic ceiling tiles have been replaced with acoustic ceiling tiles designed to look like an antique tin ceiling. So this is a great way to impress your love interest who doesn't get around Baltimore much or is new to the city with your knowledge of the restaurant scene (which is apparently cooler than knowing about bands, food is the new rock, etc.). I'm not trying to run your life for you or anything, but Birroteca is definitely a good date place.
Incidentally, I used to think that when people talked about whether a city is “good” or “bad” to live in they were talking about access to amenities – art, music, museums, transportation, parks, Whole Foods, etc. Now I think they're referring to the number of good date restaurants. Baltimore is no better off by some measures than it was three years ago, but now we have so many good date restaurants that people will start moving here and spawn families and fill the proposed youth prison site with daffodils and rainbows.
Pizza is definitely part of this picture, since people who are not lactose-intolerant really like it (Birroteca is not equipped to provide fake-cheese substitutions). Once you've made it into Birroteca (and this is a challenge – it's so buzzy at the moment that they were booked up on a Tuesday and turning people away), you will have a specialty pizza selection as well as the option to choose your own toppings. There is also an infinite selection of local craft beers. Your knowledge of these beers and their local provenance will further impress your date, or make you look like an asshole. This isn't under your control – your manner of conveying craft beer knowledge is an indicator of deeper, underlying personality issues.
Pizza Club ordered the Locavore, Duck Duck Goose, Pesto, and Spicy Sausage Fennel pizzas. The waitstaff of Birroteca are very nice; they Facebook-messaged me to make sure we could get seats, because they thought that Pizza Club was pretty important (this remains for history to judge).
The Locavore pizza was billed as having “roasted market vegetables,” mozzarella, and olive oil, but the vegetables turned out to be mostly arugula and sauteed onions, with possibly some squash underneath. This was not a bad thing; the crunchy bitter greens balanced the sweetness of the cheese, and it worked well texture-wise. I'd like to underline that their mozzarella was pretty good. The crust was a bit charred, and Adrian suggested that feta cheese and some kind of sauce would make good additions to the pie. Some found the salad-on-a-pie arrangement unwieldy, but others were comforted by the presence of vegetables.
|Paul Giamatti: Friend of Ducks|
Another thing that makes your casual dinner date tasteful and classy is the addition of small bits of duck meat to whatever you're eating. After seeing this Nature documentary about ducks, narrated by Paul Giamatti (who loves ducks), I can no longer support the killing of ducks for food. However, the Duck Duck Goose pizza was apparently very, very delicious. Chris's response to the first bite was “I would eat this pizza every day of my life.” The pie came with duck confit, fig and onion jam, a balsamic vinegar reduction, fontina and asagio cheeses, and a duck egg cracked on top and baked. It was that end of the slice with duck egg on it that people were really into. Everyone around me was closing their eyes to savor this duck egg on a pizza, at which point I began to wonder about my life and what I am doing.
The Spicy Sausage Fennel pizza was less of a blockbuster – described as “underwhelming” and “non-threatening”. Some complained that there wasn't enough going on. Sauce and toppings were sparse, leaving mostly bread and cheese that, for some reason, wasn't as good as the other cheese on the first pizzas. This lack of other stuff led us to meditate on the crust. Birroteca is doing something with its crust that is more interesting than the typical gourmet-pizza-boom restaurant that installs a brick oven and assumes that whatever crust they put in it will come out delicious. Birroteca's crust was kind of pretzel-y and buttery, crisp on the outside and able to hold up its toppings despite being rolled thin. This is a special thing, and makes their pizza worth ordering even though they have many other authentic locally-sourced type menu items that are obviously quite good. It was great that we had the opportunity to notice this, but the sausage pizza was deemed “hollow and unsatisfying.”
|We didn't like the sausage that much but obviously we ate it all anyway|
Finally, we ordered a Pesto pizza, which contained a lot of pesto. The crust on this one struck us as doughier, more flatbread-ish and less crispy. One would assume that all the dough in a restaurant is made from the same recipe, but we inferred that perhaps the baking times are different for different pies, leading to textural variation. We enjoyed the pesto and tomato combination, and the understated presence of mozzarella and ricotta. This would make a very solid appetizer pizza, as there's not too much going on – it's clean and each ingredient is there for a reason.
By the end of this Pizza Club meeting, we had all gone on a lovely date with each other and with the other people on dates around us whose dates we interrupted. Who says that dating is dead? Perhaps society is ready to move beyond a rigidly dyadic relationship concept. We are all in a relationship with pizza, and with each other, and as this relationship deepens and evolves, we will sometimes need to jazz things up by going to fancy restaurants and spending a lot of money. This may ultimately make the world a better place, but also the world may not last long enough for it to work.