Saturday, December 28, 2013

Patro's Pizza

We've all dabbled in the ever-shifting world of greasy corner pizza joints, which stay open very late, waiting for you. They know you'll come. Maybe not at 11pm, maybe not at midnight, but by 2am when the bar closes, there you are pondering the yellowed backlit display menu, its items photographed from inexplicable angles on desolate foam plates. Why wait until 2am? You can eat this pizza any time of the day.

Pizza Club visited Patro's at midnight to obtain a representative sample of their pie. They are located at 2334 N. Charles, across from the Safeway, which is not open at midnight in case you were thinking about that as an alternative. The former tenant of this space was American Wings and Pizza, not to be confused with American Pizza and Wings on 29th St., or Wings, Things, and Pizza on St. Paul. Or maybe Wings Things & Pizza was the one on Charles. Crap. The past flaps away beyond my reach like the shiny greased flesh of a chicken wing.

Also I lost my notes from this meeting, which were written on the back of a jumbo-size coffee filter. If you see a really big coffee filter with diagrams of pizza on it blowing around Charles Street, please capture and return it to me. We had some intelligence going into this experience -- Patrick advised us against a plain cheese pie, steering us towards feta and mushrooms. Patrick wins MVP for this meeting. You need some toppings on these pies to make them taste like anything, and the feta was tangy and pretty good. It helped with both texture and flavor. 

Although they represent themselves as a take-out and delivery place, Patro's does in fact have enough seating in their storefront for up to eight people to scarf pizza fresh from the conveyor belt. Seeing no possible benefit to waiting, we ate our pie in the white-tiled fluorescent glow. Like many crusts in the cheap-pizza range, this one uses buttery stuff to make up for lack of depth or integrity in the dough. So you get a heavy, spongy, kind of sweet crust that definitely fills your stomach. The cheese was laid on thick. We could see into the food-prep area, and they were using a big ol' bag of Sorrento, so unless Sorrento makes a special line of adulterated mozzarella for fast food places, at least this is legit (they advertise 100% real cheese on their online menu).

The mushrooms also seemed fresh; the sauce was plain and sweet. There was a bit of "swim," my new term for when cheese and toppings move around and the crust is too floppy/soggy to lift. As mentioned above, feta is a must. We were satisfied and this pizza even exceeded our expectations. It will cost you $10.50 for a large pie plus $1.25 per topping, but there are all these deals deals deals that you can get if you refer to their menu and want a bunch of Pepsi products to go with your seven pizzas.

The only other point of interest is that Patro's online menu lists an Indian Pizza with garlic, ginger, cauliflower, spinach, and paneer. This wasn't on their in-store menu, but seems worth investigating. I have many larger questions about the life of a corner fast-food place: why Patro's, why here, why now? What's a "papersteak"? Patro's seems to be doing good business, so I guess the delivery thing is working for them. Is this possible because of Foodler/GrubHub/etc., sites that let people order random food from the vacuum of the internet? Patro's offers free delivery. Boli's pizza is better, but Patro's is doing something unique and important: they're an active storefront on North Charles that's open late and has people coming and going all night. This is good for people walking or biking up Charles St. through an area that can get pretty dark and deserted. The guys who work at Patro's are friendly. Maybe that is enough of a service to Baltimore that you should get off your bike and have some pizza on your way home, although we have nothing to say about their by-the-slice option because that's not a good idea anywhere and you know it.

4/8 slices

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pizza Club Meeting: The Arthouse

The Arthouse
1115 W 36th St

 The ley lines underneath Hampden are shifting this year, bringing a new alignment of magnetic and spiritual forces, new vistas of astral energy, cheese plates, taxidermied badgers. I suspect that Woodberry Kitchen has obtained a chunk of Stonehenge and they are hiding it in their labyrinth deep under TV Hill, where it radiates ancient hexes.

Is it any accident that pizza stones are also made out of stone? What would a pizza cooked on a piece of Stonehenge taste like, and would it confer godlike mystical knowledge upon the eater? Keep your eye on Woodberry's Winter 2014 menu to find out.
The powers-that-be are summoning these occult forces for a reason, namely, Paulie Gee's is soon to open in Hampden, upsetting the equilibrium of Baltimore's pizza ecosystem with its Brooklyn star power. Stirrings from Joe Squared in the south and Iggie's to the east suggest a pending clash of the pizza titans, during which one of two things will happen: Baltimore will be destroyed in an inferno of mozzarella, or we will reap the benefits of free-market competition. The free market will also eventually destroy us BTW. But until then, it allows us to enjoy at least four different kinds of really good pizza. 

These are troubling, perplexing times. How much longer can I afford to live in my neighborhood?  Isn't it great that Walmart gives people jobs? I mean, I can't unionize either and I just spent four years in grad school. For shelter from the storm of late capitalism, we highly recommend The Arthouse, newly opened on the Avenue in Hampden. 

None of us could remember going inside this storefront back when it was an art gallery. They've renovated very nicely, with warm-colored walls, tin ceiling, and a nice layout of bar and table seating. Go to the back and sit near the brick oven's roaring fire, order one of the Baltimore beers on tap, and drink until you are warm and rosy-faced and untroubled, at least for a while. 

The pizza here is promising on a technical level; they have really nailed the crust, which is the most important thing. It's crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside with appropriate chewiness. Toppings come and go; specialty pies are like high-premium stock options fluctuating wildly in the night. The point is that this was a really good Pizza Club meeting. We had fun and enjoyed each other's company.

cheese pizza
As per our earlier discussion of ley lines, there are certain configurations of landscape, history and sensoria that help humans feel peaceful about our condition here on earth. Sometimes this bubbles up as nostalgia -- I mean, pizza -- explaining why pizza is having such a "moment" in popular culture. But glorifying pizza on the internet is a hollow exercise -- these felicitous configurations are only available in actual places, like The Arthouse in Hampden, where we ordered eight pies from their ample menu. 
spicy leek
Many people felt that the cheese pie was the best: it had a lot of cheese, kind of like a New York pizza but smaller. Mariam observed that "a good plain pie is hard to find," and she appreciated the tangy, garlicy sauce. (I found the thick layer of cheese a bit too sturdy, but I was alone in this.) They offer a number of vegetarian pies, including a "Fun Guy" (mushrooms, onion, fennel, brie, thyme, and balsamic reduction) and a "Spicy Leek" (leek, cherry pepper, mozzarella, romano, thyme). The Fun Guy was really heavy on the mushrooms, which some felt gave it an earthy or "dirt" flavor. I enjoy mushrooms, especially a lot of them. Other than the spice, which seemed to be red pepper flakes, the Spicy Leek pie was not too exciting. 
Italiano pizza
Meat-eaters enjoyed the Italiano (mozzarella, tomato sauce, sausage and pepperoni) best. They appreciated that it was simple and not greasy. The Duck Confit (pulled confit duck leg, black bean sauce, pickled onion, arugula, crema) was over-topped. Duck on pizza sounds like a good idea, but our tasters concluded that there are better things to put on pizza. 
duck confit pizza
The Arthouse also has an escargot pizza for those who like to push the envelope of vegetarianism. I tried it because whatever, I'd rather eat a snail than a duck. They kind of tasted like mushrooms, which I like. I thought the pie was well put together, though people who know more about escargot found it weird to eat them on pizza. 
escargot on pizza
The white pizza was the most controversial. Most of us found it a flavorless vehicle for ricotta cheese, while a vocal minority thought it was the best pie of the evening. Pro: "Balanced, sweet, amazing." Con: "Globs of ricotta on limp crust, needs herbs and garlic."
Mick observed that the Arthouse seems to be "very topping-oriented," striving for new and interesting combinations which can overwhelm a pie. Their pizza dough is great, so there's time for them to figure the rest out. Someone will always be enticed to order a duck confit pie just to see what it is, but does that strategy have enduring value? We crave excitement and variety, as though the world isn't varied and terrifying enough. Order the cheese pizza and you will be satisfied, and drink an extra beer with the money you save.

Rating: 6/8 slices
Evan feels hope for the future

Thursday, December 12, 2013

from the deep pizza archive: earth wind & pizza

Life is so full of things that are not even pizza. I guess you can focus on material gain and professional advancement. Some people breed exotic cats. But where is the dignity in any of that? The plain old fashioned basic human dignity to which each of us is entitled by virtue of being born? The only way is to get back to pizza.
I don't even remember how long ago this meeting of the Pizza Club was, probably like May or April or something. Someone on the internet suggested that we go to Earth Wood & Pizza, which is up Falls Road past Mt. Washington and Robert E. Lee park, where there's that place that sells frozen yogurt, and a crepe shop, I think. Mark Twain says this about the spring time: “It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want—oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” 

We exited our parked car in the icy suburban breeze; we wanted pizza. The place had a "furniture store vibe," the makings of a franchise perhaps. Apparently they coal-fire their pizza in a thing called a Josper. Why is it called "Earth Wood & Fire" if there's no wood in the fire? What is a Jasper?
We felt that this pizza suffered from some overcooking of crust. This might be a risk of using a Josper, which I think is a bit like a grill. Some people like those burned bits of grilled food, but it is problematic with pizza because it can stiffen the crust too much. They also offer a whole wheat crust, which was pretty respectable for a "healthy option" but got even drier and crunchier than the regular crust as a result of the Josperization process.
 The broccoli-topped pie that we ordered had its broccoli cut into perfectly-sized florets, so they didn't burn in the Jasper. The other vegetable toppings were also good.  The real question in everyone's mind was, how was this pizza made? If a Josper is so great, why does the pizza taste mediocre? Is a Josper a fancy kitchen gadget popular among people who fill their kitchens with vintage espresso machines
 If you tried to dig a hole through the center of the earth, would you encounter a Josper?
A Josper is actually a sub-genre of Gothic fiction. Fortuitously, we brought along an English PhD who was able to identify the telltale Gothic themes: abandoned castles, lightening, the hollow earth, marrying your cousin, marrying your boss, hysterical blindness.
This pizza wasn't really good. We gave it 5.5 out of 8 slices. When we got there we were really hungry and looking forward to pizza; we left with our stomachs full, but we did not feel spiritually full.