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

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