Friday, January 30, 2015

From Pizzahaus to Our House

 “Our House” Pizza
1121 Hull St., Locust Point

I've been driving my car a lot because the month of January doesn't count. It gets wiped from the record, in case you weren't aware. I drive to work, I drive to the gym, sometimes I just drive around the block to make sure everything's cool on the other side of the block. From January 1-31, I don't give a shit – it's not that I do what I want, rather, I do what I fear I secretly want, which is to completely acquiesce to late capitalism and drown the constant enervating chatter of my conscience in $2-per-gallon gasoline and light it on fire. Does pizza matter? This is the true test. Can pizza summon me from the depths of seasonal nihilism? The answer is yes.

Locust Point in times past (Maryland Historical Society)

“Our House” Pizza in Locust Point is really out there in Locust Point. “Your average drunken wanderer from Federal Hill would not make it this far,” Scott observed, “and if they did they'd be scared.” Perhaps they'd be scared by the enormous hulking mothership of Under Armour Inc., located mere yards from Our House's front door. Perhaps they'd be scared if they wandered into the nearby rail switchyard at night and got hit by a train. Life is brimming over with horror, the unknown, and what's worse, humanity's dim awareness of our own abiding futility. That said, I heard this pizza was really good. Since, as I mentioned, I'm driving my car indiscriminately this month to hasten the demise of this doomed pitiful planet, I figured Pizza Club should go to Locust Point.

Our House was warm and welcoming on a sleet-filled night, with friendly ambiance and cozy décor, like mismatched chairs and cute napkin holders. Pizza Club enjoyed the space immensely and on atmosphere alone we recommend going here if you need a spot to hang out. It was so nice there that we had trouble disaggregating our enjoyment of the establishment's physical properties from our ratings of its pizza, on which more later.

Pizza Pretzel

They have a multi-menu system kind of like a sushi place. A descriptive menu describes the food items, and then a paper slip lets you check off the items you intend to order. The menu offers vegetarian and meat options, a crab pizza, and a whole page of breakfast which includes breakfast pizzas. We obtained a “pretzel pizza” and a “pretzel dog” as appetizers. Described as a “Bavarian style” pretzel, these were good and malty, with a lot of sweetness in the pretzel. However, when cutting a pretzel in half and covering it with cheese and sauce, one encounters the “pizza bagel trap” wherein the guts of the bread product, unprotected by a crusty surface, get soggy. We recommend, if you're curious, that you request a plain pretzel with mustard. The mustard is very spicy, as mustard should be.

Pizza Dog w/ mustard

Let's break for an allegory. Two dogs are on a see-saw; unbeknownst to them, this see-saw is in fact resting on one end of another, larger see-saw. As the two dogs see-saw back and forth, having a grand old time, the larger see-saw is slowly oscillating up and down, causing subtle modulations in the temperature, pressure, and gravitational field around the frolicking dogs. As long as the dogs don't realize this everything is splendid and they are able to enjoy their experience of see-sawing. One day, however, Dog A realizes that there is a pattern to these subtle changes in their surroundings. He thinks, "What if we are in fact resting on the end of another, larger see-saw?" Immediately followed by the question: "What is on the opposite end of that larger see-saw?" This allegory explains the feeling of dread that I now associate with pizza. Out there beyond the limits of our sight is something murky and immense.

Guess I didn't bother to rotate this one
The pizzas at Our House bear a striking resemblance in many ways to the item known as the Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pizza, which many will recall from the 1990s. A house is a more sophisticated version of a hut, and so it goes with pizzas from these respective dwelling structures. Thick and buttery, light and airy inside and crispy outside, the Our House version is available in 7” and 10” sizes. It appears to contain cornmeal, which gives the crust an additional satisfying crunchy grit. One of these pizzas will serve 1 or 2 people. They cost about $8 for a small and $10-12 for a large. You could get much cheaper pizza somewhere else, but for the gourmet-pizza market this is pretty standard, plus you get more crust out of this bargain than with the Neapolitan style.

Not Super Popular
We ordered the “BOTH” Cheese pizza as a baseline. It's a mozzarella pizza with parmesan. “It has both cheeses but it tastes like neither,” said Scott. Others concurred that it was plain, not in the sense of having no toppings, but in the sense of lacking the deep satisfaction of a particular cheese experience. Perhaps it also needed more sauce to balance the thick crust, an issue common to all their pies. In the end half of the BOTH pie remained untouched.

That's an Attractive Pizza

The “Pepadew and Goat Cheese” pie was a favorite. It combined sweet carmelized onion and pepadew, which is a kind of pepper, and tangy goat cheese. The substantial but plain nature of the thick crust compliments intense flavor combinations like this one. 

Very Popular
The meat pies, an “Antipasti” (parmesan, prosciutto, pepperoni, roasted red peppers, provolone, and artichoke) and a “Hot & Spicy” (pepperoni, onions, hot peppers, and peperoncini) were intriguing to some and disappointing to others. The Antipasti was “like someone opened the deli drawer and dumped it on a pizza,” but the variety and abundance of toppings was also welcomed in relation to the bulky crust. The problem was perhaps that they didn't integrate well with the pie, perhaps due to insufficient sauce.

Hot & Spicy

The Hot & Spicy was not very spicy, but people liked it because the peppers added good acidity and the onions were enjoyed by all. In both pies, meat was not found in abundance. The meat toppings appeared as pleasant surprises, but were “not predictable,” and absent from some slices entirely. Off in the indeterminate distance, a giant pepperoni sausage rises and falls, levering all of our fates along with it.


General remarks: many felt that the cheese had “no flavor," although some pies had a lot of it, it just kind of sat there and was heavy. The sauce “is pretty tangy,” said Scott. “It tastes clean.” He later clarified this assessment: “the sauce is weak. It's too light, too clean, too crisp. It doesn't give you that lingering sauce sensation.” Pizza is a food that should haunt you in smell and pungent breath after its earthly form vanishes. It should hover in the air guiding you past the veil of sensation to an awareness of the unknowable. It needs more sauce.

Hilary was concerned that “the crust reveals an underlying misunderstanding.” There was much perplexity. At what point do we call a thing pizza? “It's kind of not a pizza, it's bread,” Scott suggested. Dave took a definitional view: “it's a pizza, it's got sauce, it's got cheese, it's got crust." The individual pan form is preferred in certain regions of the United States. "I'm okay with this crust,” he decided, “but maybe it's because I grew up with Pizza Hut.” Many agreed that a palimpsest of past experiences, varying from one individual to the next, will influence your fondness for this pizza.

On a holistic level, however, we were all well satisfied and none the worse for having fallen into a deep pit of ontological confusion. No one around us seemed disturbed in this way, so I conclude that we entered the establishment with problems entirely our own that we then projected onto the pizza. “This place is really nice, and run so well, and everyone is friendly, and they serve pizza,” Hilary mused, “but it's not exactly pizza.”

If you live nearby you should hang out here all the time because they have a wall of self-serve beer cases featuring all your favorite beers, and on Sundays there is brunch with bottomless mimosas. If you worry about the slippage of categories and the instability of concepts, this pizza place may upset you. But if you're also hungry, they'll sell you something that's pretty good and tastes like a better version of the Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pizza of your youth.

Stock photo of Pizza Hut Pan Pizza for comparison
A note: some will say that the pizza here is a lot like the pizza at Barfly, a pub located a few blocks away on Fort Avenue, and reviewed previously on this blog. They would be correct. There is a story about the relation between these establishments (and Matthew's) that's not worth the time it would take to explain. It's the same crust with different toppings. We like the ambiance at Our House better, but Barfly is a great movie starring Mickey Rourke, and their pizza might taste a tiny bit better if memory serves.

5.5/8 slices

Photo Credits: thanks Scott for taking all the pizza pics.

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