I recently spent 24 hours in Baltimore while in town for an awesome book event at Atomic Books. I hit 6 different pizzerias ranging from hometown classics to late-night fallbacks and a couple in-between. Here’s my road report…
Stop #1 was Matthew’s, a Baltimore landmark that claims to be the oldest in town. They started serving thick pan pizzas in 1943 and continue to this day in a space that looks more like a place senior citizens go for the early bird than it does a pizzeria. Still, there’s a TON of charm in here and Baltimore IS the Charm City, so everything seems to be in order.
I developed a serious hunger during my three-hour drive from Brooklyn and may have had a case of pizza goggles. I ordered two whole pies: one they call the Traditional Tomato Pie and one crab pizza. The Traditional Tomato Pie is listed on the menu as having sauce and hand-grated Reggianito cheese. At first I thought this was a typo meaning Parmigiano Reggiano, but it turns out to be a slightly different cheese. It’s a smaller, less aged Parmigiano found mostly in Argentina. It’s not a huge surprise since massive amount of Neapolitans fled to Argentina in the late 19th century. Perhaps the founders of Matthew’s stopped in Argentina before landing in Baltimore.
I wish I could think of a better way to describe the pizza than interesting. That word usually means something isn’t enjoyable but still has academic value. In the case of Matthew’s, interesting means “I’ve never tasted a pizza quite like this and even though I don’t love it I’m really glad I’m trying it.” First of all, the crust is puffy yet heavy. They use lard in the dough and it has a seriously unique effect that really defines this pizza. The next thing I noticed was the cheese. I expected a dusting but it’s more like a full load of Reggianito, so thick it resembled a hard piece of funky low-moisture mozzarella. Pretty odd, but definitely enjoyable. It’s a good pie, but nothing I could eat every day.
The crab pizza was something I just had to order since I was in Maryland and crab is the thing to get. I always feel guilty for being in a city and ignoring the local cuisine in favor of sampling pizza, so this seemed like a good compromise. The crab was mighty tasty, but I found myself picking it off the slice rather than eating it as-is. I’m not against seafood + cheese, it just didn’t work for me in this case. Still, I’m glad I gave it a try.
Next up was Ledo Pizza, another Maryland tradition. Unlike Matthew’s, Ledo has multiple locations around the area and it’s the pizza everyone grew up eating. I really enjoyed it in that it brought me back to the pizza flavor of my youth, but with a twist. This is a square pizza that’s thin and chewy, unlike thick and puffy Sicilian pizza. It’s so thin and the slices are so small you feel like you’re really pigging out when you’re probably just eating the equivalent of 1-2 slices.
The room itself was less than exciting, but I could see myself getting Ledo for take-out if I lived in the hood. It’s a real go-to pizza but nothing worth a special trip.
Stop #3 was a relative newcomer to the scene: Iggie’s Pizza. My sources tell me this place is PACKED at night so it was good we got there early in the evening before things got nutty. Speaking of nutty, we ordered a pizza with pistachios! It’s sort of like the Rosa at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AV, which has thinly sliced red onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, rosemary and crushed local pistachios. It’s a great flavor combination and I really dug it! The crust was pretty tame, but I wonder if that changes as the night gets busier and the room gets warmer. Check it out and let me know!
The fourth pizzeria I hit was Joe Squared. These guys installed an Earthstone coal-burning oven that bakes the pizzas in just over a minute. It’s insane. The resulting crust was a bit soft, but suuuuuuper tasty!
We ordered two pies, one Margherita and my second attempt at a Maryland crab pizza. The crab pie at Joe Squared was definitely better than the one at Matthew’s. It had a roasted garlic cream, crab, cilantro, zucchini, red onion, egg, mozzarella, provolone and cheddar. There are three cheeses on this one, but they’re applied perfectly so the crab could sing. I do remember the crab itself tasting better at Matthew’s, but we’re talking about the entire pizza here, not just one component.
The Margherita pizza was really nice and balanced as well. Lovely gobs of fresh mozzarella and a post-oven shredded basil that gave every bite a hint of sweet herby goodness. The only trouble was that since the crust was so soft you really had to grab a corner slice for stability. I bet if I go back when they’re busier and the oven floor is a bit cooler I’ll get some more crunch.
After Joe Squared, we ventured to a newer place called Homeslyce. I was instantly annoyed by the spelling because my searched for a Homeslice in Baltimore kept coming up with no results. I thought the GPS was busted but it turns out they just use a crazy spelling. Our relationship started out on the wrong foot, so I shook it off an went inside. It’s a sports bar with a couple Skeeball machines in the back. The menu looked pretty good but there was a bizarre item on the menu called a Slyce. I figured this was a single slice, but that’s almost nonexistent in Baltimore. It turned out to be a weird boat-shaped pizza that’s pretty much like a calzone that didn’t get sealed on top. Fair enough.
We ordered a small pizza they called the Homeslyce Classic. But this isn’t just a cheese pizza, it has goat and mozzarella cheese, walnuts, eggplant, spinach, caramelized onions, roasted peppers and HomeSlyce sauce. The toppings were fine, although a bit on the salty side. But what caught me was the super heavy greasiness of the crust. Every slice (or is it slyce?) removed from the pie left behind an oily trail. I’m all about the grease, but I prefer it to drip off the top of my slice and not ooze out of the crust.
The final stop on this whirlwind journey was the strangest, which is why I’m giving you three photos…
That’s my friend Phil about to go into a place called Charles Carryout. I’m jut as surprised as you are that they even have a website. It’s a totally weird take-out Indian fast food joint with a conveyor oven and a Chicken Tikka Masala pizza several people recommended to me. But more about the pizza in a bit, now you must take in the grandeur that is Charles Carryout…
Yup. That’s it. Pretty dumpy place, but it’s not like they’re trying to be anything else. After all, the place is called CARRYOUT, so they’re not expecting anyone to stick around. But if you do, there’s a weird secret bar attached to the place and an extremely baron side room with a few table for those who defy the restaurant’s name and dine in.
We chose to defy the name and had our chicken tikka masala pizza right there out of the box. I guess I understand why people talk about this pizza. It’s super weird and unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. But it’s not even close to being something I’d ever tell a sober person they had to try. It’s a late night pie and one that requires several lapses in judgement to attempt and/or enjoy. I know that sounds mean and I do fully support you eating this pizza if it makes you feel good, but I think I’ll just hang out on the sidelines and watch next time.
Baltimore, you truly are one strange pizza town. Next time I’m there I’ll go back to Joe Squared and round out the trip with a visit to the one place I meant to go but didn’t: Verde PIzzeria. It’s a beautiful Neapolitan joint in a lovely part of town. I showed up a couple hours before they opened but had to haul out to Philadelphia so was unable to hang around. Oh well, I’ve already expressed my desire to give some of these spots another try so it looks like I’ll be back soon.