Down To The River To…

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This is a Small Business Saturday special.   But for me, supporting small business, when it comes to pizza, or other ventures, is what I’m proud to support the most.   However, there are mom and pops, brick and mortar, or whatever you want to call it, that strike a nerve just a little more.

All of a sudden it’s December.  How did this happen?   Last Saturday felt like it was minutes ago.  But in the spirit of that, I take it to a town that has meant so much to so many of us, Ellicott City, MD.

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I was going to write about River House Pizza Co last summer, but things didn’t work out that way.  I stumbled upon their courtyard right smack dab in the heart of Old EC, where I had been many times before.  But this one felt special.  The weather was glorious, the live band (yes there was a band) was rocking, the crowd was enjoying themselves, and eating some great pizza to boot.  I say great, but am I getting ahead of myself?   The wait times were upwards of 20 minutes for a pie, and I didn’t have time to wait.  At least that’s how I try to rationalize it.

But the planets aligned and this was meant to be a special for the holidays.  And how special are these pies?   In a chestnut shell, these pizzas taste like perfection for this time of year.  They taste like Christmas, or they taste like anything you might celebrate.  It’s one of the most comforting and endearing pizzas you’re ever going to have.

To mark the importance of this, there will be two pizzas reviewed over two visits.  How cool is that?  Yes the pizza is hot and cool, at the same time.  That’s enough of the cheesy puns.  Wait I’m not even sure if that’s a pun.

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The first stop was a fortunate visit to the local library’s farmers’ market.  And what do you do know, this would be their last day here, for a while.   Funny how that works out.

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In the tradition of my play on words and then my love of pesto, I went with the Market Special.   This pizza is so simple yet so extraordinary.  That dough is so chewy and gooey and as I alluded to, tastes like the holidays.  It’s on the level of that cheesy bread you may find at your national chain pizza.  But this blows it all away.  I can’t rave enough about how amazing this soft dough is.  And the balsamic glaze really shines through.  It may be the highlight in a sea of highlights.  The chicken tasted fresh, the pesto homemade, and that cheese is a pure delight.  At only $12 this pie is a bargain.

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I saved half of this for lunch the next day, and tasted equally as good.   I’m salivating at the thought of having one right now.  It’s inspiring.

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So that was two weeks ago.  We move along to that Saturday after Thanksgiving.  After that remarkable display of wood fired fierceness, how do we top this?  I’m not sure but the Namaste I got at their Courtyard is on par.  And if you look closely, both pizzas complement each other in the spirit of Christmas.  I love that so much.  I didn’t even plan for that.

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I’ll admit, I ordered the Namaste for the name alone.  The spiritual connotation was enough for me.  And once again, that dough was insanely good.  You’ve got to be kidding me.    The marinara and red peppers add to the holiday visual.  And those caramelized onions, mmm mmm mmm I’m in love.  Was that even a sentence?  But mmm….This was tremendous.  And I continue to find that portabella mushrooms add to most meals and of course that means to most pizza pies.

Needless to say this pizza didn’t stand a chance.  I finished it in one sitting.  Yes, I was hungry but it was more than that.  This was spiritual experience at the courtyard.  I was alone, but I wasn’t.  There were a few other tables occupied but that wasn’t it.  It was just cold enough that being inside was feasible, but the warm energy around me was enough to let me know I was surrounded by spirits.

And with positive spirits comes positive vibrations.  And the vibes that radiated from all the shoppers in downtown Ellicott City made me feel so good.  I had no problem waiting a few extra minutes to find parking and appreciate all the people going over the crosswalks.

This is what the holidays are all about.  Well maybe not all about.  This is just a small sample size within one story.  We all have those stories that tug at our heartstrings and creative a memory that will resonate with us forever.  As time goes on, I’ll appreciate this experience even more.

At the end of this post I’ll share with you some of the images I took in downtown EC. Some were taken from my car, so they may look a bit awkward, but it almost seems fitting.

Pizzas like this only come ever-so-often.  And supporting local is the way to go.  For those in the area, their winter weekend hours are posted here.  Their intent to stay open the entire time.   Here is their courtyard menu.   Finally, if I haven’t sold you on their pizza yet, here is the chef’s bio.

As an added bonus, Midnight Madness is tonight! 

Here are my two previous visits to Ellicott City gift wrapped to you, in door #1 and door #2! 🙂

I want to review all their pizzas, so this may just be the beginning.  And I’m going to safely assume they will all bring joy and make great memories for you and your loved ones.  I hope this is just the beginning, and I would like to say I’ll be back soon.  This will be a cherished part of my holiday memories and I hope the same happens for you.

Namaste,

Ideen

Keeping It Simple

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For years I’ve driven by Mamma Lucia Italian Eatery in Waverly and though to myself, this place looks intriguing.  There’s a charm about it and I really can’t put my finger on it. There’s an old school, old feel, and old soul aura about it.  It’s also old Baltimore to me. But old doesn’t mean bad.  It usually means quite the opposite.  It shows character, experience, and a distinguishable look that stands out from many of the cookie-cutter pizzerias and restaurants popping up everywhere.

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Sitting right in the heart of 33rd and Greenmount (3240 Greenmount Avenue), this establishment has been serving its clientele for years.  And that clientele can only be described by me as real Baltimore.  It took this blog for me to finally walk in.  So why the hesitation?   I can only justify it as saying its out of my comfort zone.  Johns Hopkins University is literally footsteps away. But the pizzeria is away enough that it looks like a completely different universe.  And that may be an understatement.

I had meant to write about them over a year ago but maybe I couldn’t come up with the right words to say.  I was over-thinking things.  What I did notice in past photos that I only found myself ordering the same three slices, over several visits.  Yes there were a few trips to this staple of Historic Waverly.  And I feel fortunate to write about them now.

The easy part is their cheese, buffalo chicken, and white veggie are all so similar even if they’re full of different flavors.

This is not the best pizza you’ll ever eat.  It doesn’t come close.  But it’s solid. The one thing I’ve noticed across the board is the crust was legitimately crunch.  It was New York Style taken to new heights.  I don’t know if it was by accident or what, but the crust was incredible.  And the irony is, a year ago in the same place, I would be complaining about how this isn’t pizza.  And that this crunch was born out of laziness and an accident from the oven.  Maybe that’s why I chose not to write about it before.  I felt I needed to expand my horizons and pizza dining experience across-the-board.

But I will say the flavors of the pizza aren’t anything that will win any awards.  But once again, they’re decent and will satisfy their customers.  And two slices and a soda for $7 doesn’t hurt either.

And I’ll tell you something about their customers.  It’s full of some of the most authentic people in Baltimore I’ve ever seen.  I’ve sat inside multiple times and have overheard conversations I wouldn’t hear in a more supposedly posh.  That sounds like I may be demeaning the locals who frequent Mamma Lucia, but the opposite rings true.  This is a breath of fresh air.  I’ve even had a impromptu discussion or two with some of the regulars and it’s been refreshing.   It has only enhanced my awareness and gives me more of an appreciation for one of the originators of Baltimore.

This city has grown so much but it’s always important to support local.  With the holidays here that message is even more vital.

This may not have been the most glamorous pizza place to write about but this is one that has sentimentality to me.  The decor is simple and as long as there’s pizza to be had, friendly folks behind the counter, and a sense of relaxation.  That’s all I can ask for.

For my friends in Baltimore, if you happen to drive by, maybe pop in one day.  It’s not the most alluring but its perfect to me.

Happy Holidays,

Ideen

 

With All The Trimmings

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This is a Thanksgiving Special two months in the making.   And the holidays means roads trips, leaving town, going to see family, and all the other stuff that makes this overly busy holiday that much busier.  But what would the fun be if it were otherwise?

For this particular trip, I was on my own.  A visit to one of my favorite cities, Philadelphia, led me to one of the more unique and creative pizzeria experiences I’ve had in some time.

Rustica in the Northern Liberties part of town, looks very welcoming, approachable, and unassuming all at the same time.  It has a neighborhood feel to it that my pictures may not do it justice.  It feels like a corner bar or restaurant that I would frequent on a regular basis if I lived close by.  I’m heaping a lot of praise before I even walk inside.  As I always tells myself, I hope I’m not setting myself for disappointment.   This would not be the case.  Rustica is awesome.

rusticafront2As their story says, they’ve been a part of the growth of the neighborhood since its inception back in 2001.  Before I knew anything about this place, (other than the fact they served creative slices)  I got a sense when I was driving through and then walked through the neighborhood, that Northern Liberties has really developed.   It had been many years since I last set food in this part of Philly.  I did recall it was less populous and less busy than it is today.  And there’s room for more.  It still feels like a hidden gem within such a hectic and ever-growing city.

Ok now onto the pizza.

Through my limited knowledge, I did know they had some creative slices but I didn’t know how inspired they really were.  In hindsight I’m even more happy with my three slices. Yes I got three.  I would have had more if my stomach could handle it.  It could barely handle two.  Yes they were thick, rich, full of life, and inspiration.  Yes I said inspiration again. There was a lot of soul and effort to make these pies

I’ll start with the simplest and work my way to my holiday special.

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Do you see that cheese slice?  I know right.  It has the look of what a thick and hearty cheese slice should look like.  This would be considered an extra cheese in most places but not here.  If you like your dairy and you like your dough than this is the equivalent of heaven on earth.  Wow this was something else.

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On almost any other day I would talk about the Jambalaya last.  I feel bad putting it in the middle with the two bookends.  However, that doesn’t discount how incredibly good this was.   The andouille sausage, the fresh and smoked chicken,  red peppers and those carrots are a wondrous and mesmerizing combination.   These are the freshest toppings.  They cut no corners and spared no expense.  Oh by the way, I honestly forgot there were clams on the pizza.  Not that it wasn’t memorable.  It’s more that the other toppings stood out more.  White as the base seems a bit understated with all the other players involved.  And that’s saying a lot.  This was a visual and palatable achievement.

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Now serendipitously we go to our holiday feast special  I didn’t realize at the time I was celebrating Thanksgiving early. but the Brisket with mashed potatoes, and gravy is one of those slices that may not be for the faint of heart.  It’s not quite turkey but this is the perfect protein to go with mashed taters, gravy, and thick bread.   And as rich, hearty and intimidating as it may sound, it’s a creative masterpiece.  I tend to throw that word around a lot but this was a special one.

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This visit took place couple of months ago but I might as well have been celebrating Thanksgiving then.  And little did I realize I was.   I’m so relieved I waited until now to talk them up.   And they deserve all of the praise and accolades you can throw at them.

All the good that they do for their community makes me even more grateful I supported a business that represents strong support for local and national organizations.  That’s what the holidays and life is all about.

Because they do so much good, the energy levels are much higher.  The pizza is automically heightened to taste even that much better.  So if the pizza was only average it would turn into good, but because this pizza was already great,  that makes it near perfect.

If you live in Philadelphia chances are you’ve at least heard about them.  If you’re visiting or planning to, make this a part of your holiday plans or whatever plans you like.   I intend to be back and intend to try some more outside-the-box slices.   Their prices may turn some folks off and I certainly understand that, but you’re paying for quality.  I’ll gladly pay a few dollars extra for world class anything versus the norm.  We pay for what we get.  And you can always get a slice or two at around $5 per if that’s more within your budget.

I’ll gladly make it a part of my budget.

Next time I’m in town you know I’ll be stopping by here.

It’s the holidays  It’s about indulging, over-eating; and making everything bigger, larger than life, and out of this world.  These slices cover all those bullet points and then some.

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Thanks Rustica for being a gem in a city full of them.

Happy Early Thanksgiving,

Ideen

Sentimental in Swedesboro

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It’s my intent to keep all these posts as simple as possible.  Sometimes things happen and there’s a boatload of photos and the verbiage has gone off the rails.  For this one I truly intend to keep in concise and to the point if at all possible.  I mean it’s just pizza right?  Ah well everything has significance.  And the location has just as much importance as the subject at hand.

But when it comes to pizza I just can’t talk about the pizza.  A drive through one of the most charming towns I’ve ever seen, Swedesboro, New Jersey (previous Jersey posts can be found here and over yonder), means the pizza and everything else I’ll experience while here is going be larger than life.  At this point I don’t care how good or bad the pizza is.  Actually yes I do, it better be good enough to come up with another in my long tradition of melodramatic openings.

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Mama Francesca Pizzeria doesn’t have a website,  I can barely find a menu, but more importantly what it does have is soul.  It has character, it was charm, and it has a welcoming aura that can’t be measured my clicks, searches, or any other technical term that wasn’t even on our radars in what feels like as short lifetime ago.

What if I never walked in and only imagined the pizza as the greatest thing ever.  It would be more romantic to have just driven by and thought what could have been.   But this isn’t how things work or how you eat pizza.  You actually have to eat the pizza.

The exterior took me back to places I went with my family when I was a kid.  And I remember all the pizza being the best, no matter how good or bad it may actually have been.   I loved my cheese, I loved my bread, I loved my sauce.   But then I also loved everything else that went with the package, company, location, and that moment in time.

The inside had small counter with a few places to sit facing the window.  The main seating area was led by a set of stairs and that’s the part that truly to me back to my childhood.  I remember seeing places like that but can’t recall exactly where. And that might be the best form of Deja Vu imaginable.

I’m not a kid anymore.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t get that same vibe of feeling happy, harmonious, and just grateful to grab a couple of slices and enjoy myself.

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I came at an odd time so the only slices available were cheese and a white vegetable. That made my decision easier.

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This is nowhere near the best pizza I’ve ever had.  But I didn’t expect it.  What I did get was slices that reminded me of my childhood.  That cheese was your standard cheese with a thick and crooked looking crust, looking like it’s been through a war.  But I didn’t care.  It was perfect for this moment.    I’m cherishing it even more now as I write it versus when I was actually here back in August.

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And just to clarify, the white chicken veggie is not something I frequently had as a kid. I can’t say any stood out. If it did I would actually think something was seriously wrong.  I guess I was mostly a cheese and pepperoni kind of guy.  This slice was stacked with vegetables, and it was exactly what it was supposed to be, and nothing more.  It was a slice good enough to eat and enjoy but it’s not going win and awards.  And it doesn’t matter.

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I loved this town.  I would write about other experiences I’ve had here but that means I would have to create other blogs. It would water down some of my own memories .  Some are best kept internal, for you, for me, and for the universe.

If I could write about small towns every week I could.  I don’t seek them out.  I let them find me.  It’s fun to dream and envision living in a place like this but with the understanding that maybe I’m heaping praise on somewhere I’ve never been with no expectations, no hang ups, or any other biases.  And maybe the second and subsequent visits would lose its luster.

As we approach the holidays I hope to discover more places that feel like just that, the holidays.   It’s important to see the good in everything and it’s easy said and done.  But that just sounds like kids stuff.

Exactly!

Ideen

Severna Park Style

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At times I’ve been told I’ve been guilty of being too idealistic.  I’m romanticize potential situations in my life and you know what, sometimes it goes exactly as predicted.  You have a visualization but don’t get overly attached to it, and voila, just as advertised in my mind.

Things don’t always work out that way. But we should aim for the best scenarios, best people, the best (fill-in-the-black), and when it comes to this, the best pizza.  Where on earth am I going with this?   Some of us just want a piece of pizza and be done with it.

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Some kind folks had mentioned Little Carmine’s of Severna Park to me.  They said I gotta try it.   They said I’m going to love it.  Some even said it’s the closest to New York Style they’ve had.  And these are coming from folks from the center of the universe, you know the city that doesn’t sleep and all that charming stuff.

When I hear that I start to get visions and inspirations.  But truth be told, I was the one asking.   I had small town sentiments before I even showed up.  I assumed the pizzeria would be folksy, welcoming, and full of charming neighbors from up the street.

How much of that was true?  Well that’s all up to the person.  For me, I had hoped to be blown away by this place.  I wanted at least part of everything I hoped for to be made reality.  Why am I being so dramatic?  Because despite my overly positive, yet sometimes cynical ways, I still intend to see the good in everything, even before it’s presented to me. And if not, I may express disappointment that wasn’t warranted.

I was not disappointed by the pizza nor was it the best pizza I’ve ever had.  Like the guys from New York, best is a subjective and loaded term.  What’s the best for you and what’s best for me are usually separate universes.  And why would we want in any other way?

I built this place up to be something spectacular.  And you know, I’ll keep doing it.  The aura around this part of town is very neighborly.  There’s a few housing developments within walking distance and the storefront has a truly authentic pizzeria vibe.  Things were looking up.

There’s the standard New York images and photos on the wall (which I sensed and heard from those aforementioned folks) in the restaurant.  And the music was all Frank Sinatra, all the time. I find it predictable, yet charming.  I’ve been to so many different restaurants (not just pizza) that will only play Frank Sinatra.   It’s relatable, safe, and endearing to many.   It’s added to some experiences and at other times it’s made no sense that I had to chuckle.  I envision many people have been in that spot too.

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Finally, let me talk about the pizza.  This is a review of two different visits.  It’s a total of five slices, and some I did save for later.   Is there such a thing as too much pizza? Never!

By the way, the restaurant was much smaller than a how it looks on the outside.  It seems that more than half the space was for the kitchen.  That’s not a complaint, just an observation.

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The smaller space means a smaller display.  That means an easier decision to make.  Let’s go to round 1…

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My first visit was for carry-out.  I went with cheese, white, and buffalo chicken.  I won’t review every slice, one-by-one but instead will talk about what stood out.

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The buffalo chicken was the true stand-out.  The chicken was fresh, the celery tasted like real celery, and that one-two punch of buffalo sauce and blue cheese was absolutely brilliant.  And it was heated to perfection.  That can be said for all the slices.

The white and the cheese were good but not amazing.  And they call can’t be amazing.   Again, it’s all perception.  The basil was great on the white but neither slice is resonating with me, even as I write this.

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Day 2 was an order-in.  There was more Sinatra. There were more friendly faces like the first visit.   I went with the mushroom, and then the meat lovers.   I’ve had a bias towards mushroom so my expectations were higher.  This was only ok.   Once again, the dough was great but not much else stood out.  With the meat lovers, it’s just not my thing.  This is more of a reflection on me than on the pizza itself.  The ground beef was great but it’s a bit too much for me.

There was a major highlight though.  Overheard on the loudspeakers was this Sinatra gem. How fitting with the events that would follow that evening.   Yes this visit was the same day this happened.   Maybe someone was a clairvoyant.  Maybe it was a sign.  Maybe it was a special moment I hadn’t planned for. That’s the point to all this.  Something as enjoyable as the pizza experience should happen organically and not always with plans or expectations.

But this is only the beginning.  My hunch tells me that their pizza in full pie form may be the iconic za I’m expecting and I’ve been told they’re capable of. This is a place where I’d want to be surrounded with good company and enjoy life.   I’ve exhausted the going at it alone part with this place.  Yes the staff was all friendly and hanging out.  But this needs another go with a friend or two.

This is a place for friends.  I’ve seen many of the staff enjoy themselves in the back (assuming they’re on break) acting like regular fellow in a New York Style restaurant.

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There’s a lot of good going on here.

More good to come.

Ideen

Word To The Wiseguy Version 2.0

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This is one of those once-in-a-while posts where the pizza experience was so fascinating, that it had to be sliced into two parts. No puns whatsoever. Last week’s posr can be found here.

I’ll cut (oops) right to the chase.  Wiseguy NY Pizza has some of the best slices I’ve had some time.  I know we tend to heap praise and glamorize while in the moment, and after the dust settles and we’ve had a few minutes to process, we come back down to reality. It’s been a couple of weeks and I’m still thinking about these slices.

While last week at the DC location had one incredible slice, the visit to the Arlington had a one-two punch that is up there with the best of them.

We’ve all had those meals and those experiences that resonate with us.  We do tend to romanticize those events from the past as being much better than they were.  But then there’s those times you knew something was special and that over time, it was going to feel just as awesome (if not more) now than it did then.  Ah who am I kidding, it’s just pizza, or is it something more?

After that build-up this better be good right?

A drive through Arlington isn’t anything visually inspiring, unless you like big buildings, corporate entities, and people moving fast trying to look important.  But nestled in the heart of all this commotion, was my inaugural trip to Wiseguy.

I never have presumptions when it comes to food.  Several factors such as, price, location, atmosphere, my mood, and the universe dictate my feeling of the pizzeria and the pizza itself.  I don’t ask for much.

But to say certain biases don’t shine through when I’m near our nation’s capital would be a lie.  However, when you find a parking spot right in front of the place, you know it’s going to be a good day.

When I waked in I had no idea what I was going to get.  And fortunately I was in a short line (unlike visit two)  at lunch hour, so everything was available.

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And the first thing I saw was those squared shaped, Sicilian Style, cheese falling from the sides and some of it fried from the way it was heated in the oven.  I knew this was going to be remarkable.

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I didn’t even know there was Feta immersed in this gem until I perused the menu again. Feta on a white pizza, feta when done right is perfection.  It’s one of those cheeses I’ve appreciated since I was a kid, thanks in part to my parents and my background.  I don’t have it enough or maybe I have it just enough to appreciate it and look forward to it more.   And of course you have your appropriate cheeses, fresh motz and mozzarella, and fontinella, to make one of the best slices I’ve had in a long while.  This is bordering on five stars.  The roasted garlic makes it five stars. Garlic and feta on a white pizza, who knew? Yum!  And even for a thicker style dough, I loved every minute of this.  I’m crazing a slie now.  Just as I’m craving…

…When I thought it couldn’t any better, I up and get the Mushroom Truffle.  You would think that eating two slices like this in concert with each other, that the flavors would overpower from one pizza to the other.  I took my time, I ate them separately, and I savored every bite I could.  The mushrooms tasted fresh out of the garden, and the inclusion of truffle, goat cheese, and basil makes this pure insanity.  How is this slice even possible?

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the crust.  This was one of the best thin slices I’ve had in a while.  Something about the soul and character behind this slice is second-to-none.  That and I love mushroom.

For my pals in the area, you can also order online.  And for pals in Arlington there’s the Door Dash option.

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I think I painted the right picture of my two experiences at Wiseguy.  If not, I think the paintings, I mean pictured above tell the story.  This is a nice segue into November. What that means I don’t know but I’m looking forward to continuing this ride.

Stay warm,

Ideen

 

Word To The Wiseguy

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I had never heard of Wiseguy NY Pizza until just a few weeks ago.

My first experience at the Arlington location was magical and I didn’t know until after I left.  I’ll save that for the end.  I had all the intention of getting around to recapping this experience by the end of November, but as all things nothing goes as planned nor should it. Especially when blogging and having fun.   A chance visit to the Washington, DC location within the past few days brought about a second helping of some dynamite slices. And the experience was something else.  It was something different. It’s DC. I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Speaking of which,  I’ll start backwards like they do in some cinemas.

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It was lunchtime and the line was 20 people deep.  It moved fast and fortunately I wasn’t in any rush, nor should I truly ever be.  But I’ve been the guy who’s paced back and forth and obsessively stared at their phone, hoping I still had time to get my food and rush back to work, without management being upset.  That’s the sense I got from most of the folks around me.  It wasn’t laid back but would you expect anything less?   The guy behind me especially seemed very programmed that if I hadn’t ordered my slices right away, he may have interjected and started that sighing and whining you see in the cinemas.   See I knew I mentioned cinemas earlier for a reason.

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That’s the end of the negative.  I ordered the Backyard Veggie and a Chicken Ranch.

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I said that was the end of the negative but I’ll quickly state the veggie was the one slice I had a hard time eating.  Of course I did but it was a bit too spicy for me.  Ingredients for all slices are shown above. The chili peppers were incredibly aggressive.  And I’m not one to complain about spices. In general I’d like it hot.But it didn’t work here.  And I feel the tomato sauce does not complement any of these vegetables.  It felt like too much and everything got lost.  The olives were good though.  I picked those off.  This is also where the crust seemed not to matter.  And the NY Style thin crust was wonderful on the next three (wait, hold that thought) slices across the board.

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The Chicken Ranch Melt was divine.  It more than made up for the previous slice. The crispy chicken slices and that house made ranch sauce were perfect to eat enough by their lonesome but wait, there’s more.  Throw that on top of a white pizza, and we have a winner.  But the true standout is the parsley. It added something that is too good for words.  If you love parsley you know what I’m talking about. But seriously, this made the slice when it was already made.

wiseguyslices3

I wish I could end the post here and split this into two parts.

Actually that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  Arlington, next week.  Trust me, it’ll be well worth it.

Here is more about this less-than-five year old pizzeria, their menu, and online ordering for those local.

wiseguydcdisplay

More next week,

Ideen