Best Pizza

It’s the ultimate comfort food, and we’ll tell you where to find the best.
Edited by Suzanne Loudermilk. By Jess Blumberg, Janelle Erlichman Diamond, John Farlow, Henry Hong, Suzanne Loudermilk, Amy Mulvihill, Karen Nitkin, Evan Serpick, Bianca Sienra, and Martha Thomas - October 2011

Best Pizza

It’s the ultimate comfort food, and we’ll tell you where to find the best.
Edited by Suzanne Loudermilk. By Jess Blumberg, Janelle Erlichman Diamond, John Farlow, Henry Hong, Suzanne Loudermilk, Amy Mulvihill, Karen Nitkin, Evan Serpick, Bianca Sienra, and Martha Thomas - October 2011

Myriad gourmet toppings add flair to Iggie's pies -Christopher Myers

For a town not known for its pizza, we sure have a lot of pizzerias. The pies show up on a number of restaurant and bar menus, too. And while we don't have a signature pizza style a la New York or Chicago, we have so much variety that you can just let your taste buds lead the way. Want classic? Go for a straightforward Margherita. Traditional? There's pepperoni and sausage everywhere. Gourmet? Choices abound—from crab and roasted duck to mac and cheese. (Yes, on a pizza.) Nowadays, the type of preparation is important, too, as we're seeing more coal-fired pizza places showing up, as well as those with fancy specialty ovens. So how do you decide where to go? We sent out a troop of pizza-loving scouts to search for the best options in town, from A to Z. Warning: Grab your car keys as you look at the list.

We know you're going to want a hot-from-the-oven pizza soon after digesting our 34 picks.

Alexander's Tavern
This Fells Point tavern has been a favorite brunch spot of ours for years. But tucked away in its lunch/dinner menu are delicious pizzas, about 10 inches, with cracker-thin crusts in nine varieties. We couldn't get enough of the mac-n-cheese pizza ($9.50) with bow-tie noodles in a creamy smoked-cheddar, Gouda, and mozzarella sauce; spicy jalapeños; smoky slabs of bacon; and a coating of chili powder. This pie is sure to cure any hangover. Also, the Buffalo chicken pizza ($9.50)—with tangy hot sauce, tender chicken, juicy cubed tomatoes, and blue cheese—was a perfect balance of flavors. A tip: Go on half-price pizza Thursdays. 710 S. Broadway, 410-522-0000.

Alonso's
"Alonso's has pizza?" Yes—and it's delicious! For as long as the Roland Park staple has been open, it's been known for its big, juicy hamburgers. But right there on the menu, under the burgers, are the pizzas. The crispy, 12-inch pies are full of flavor with a tangy sauce and a four-cheese blend (mozzarella, Asiago, Bel Paese, and Parmesan) that serves as an excellent base for specialty pies like the "BBQ Chicken Pizza" ($15), with fresh tomato, roasted red onion, and roasted red peppers along with big chunks of chicken. And if you can't leave the burgers alone, try "Alonso's Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza" ($15) with ground beef, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and marinara. 413-415 W. Cold Spring Ln. 410-235-3433

BOP Brick Oven Pizza
Depending on the time of day, you can find everyone from hungover revelers to families to business workers waiting in line for the brick-oven pies with a slight char on the bottom. Pair a thin, hearth-baked crust with the "Greek" ($12.95-21.95)—garlic sauce, onions, green peppers, green and black olives, tomato, and feta. The "Lucky 7" ($15.95-24.95) combines traditional cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, provolone, Romano, and fontina) with the nontraditional (feta, Gorgonzola, and cheddar). BOP also lets you create your own slice, and passes the ultimate pizza test—everything tastes awesome cold the next day. 800 S. Broadway, 410-563-1600

Birroteca
At this Clipper Mill spot tucked away in a beautifully restored millhouse, the tempting crudos, salumi, cheeses, and pastas are terrific. But you don’t want to miss the selection of stone-fired pizzas. The menu lists classic Margerhita and spicy Italian pies, alongside original specialties like the "White Locavore" (squash ribbons, fava beans, scallions, asiago, fontina, peas) and the fan-favorite "Duck Duck Goose," ($23) topped with duck confit, fig-onion jam, balsamic, fontina and asiago, and a duck egg for good measure. If you want to mix and match, add shrimp, duck eggs, or any salumi item to any pie on the menu. 1520 Clipper Mill Rd. 443-708-1935

Chef Paolino Café
The sign on the front door says cleats are not allowed, and it's easy to understand why. This cavernous restaurant, with murals of bucolic Italian scenes, is just the place to celebrate a winning game. Sicilian-style pizza ($13.95-18.95, 16 inch-square) is available here, but the 14- and 18-inch New York-style pies ($9.95-17.95) are exemplary, with crusts that have substantial crunch and fluffy interiors, sauces that fill the mouth with garlicky flavor and just the right amount of cheese. Toppings include richly flavored sausage nuggets that turn even a single slice into a meal. Multiple locations including 726 Frederick Rd., Catonsville. 410-747-4949

Coal Fire
The spotlight at this pizzeria is on the crust, which is paper thin, crisp, and deeply charred along the edges. A sparing swirl of sauce and a dappling of translucent mozzarella circles seem intended to highlight that crust not hide it. The 16-inch pies ($13.95) are offered with a choice of three house-made tomato sauces, ranging from slightly sweet to gently spicy and an expected roster of toppings. The restaurant has a stylish dining area plus outdoor seating (though it overlooks a busy road) Multiple locations, including 5725 Richards Valley Rd., Ellicott City. 410-480-2625

DiPasquale's Marketplace
A humble storefront in Highlandtown, DiPasquale's exudes authenticity. There's a full-blown Italian grocery and deli in the front, but at lunchtime, the dining area in the back is the place to hang. The eight brick-oven, 10-inch pies ($10.95-11.95) are thin-crusted and topped with mostly traditional, fresh Italian ingredients. The "Roma," for example, is a full-flavored beauty loaded with homemade sausage and mozzarella, tri-color roasted peppers, and a not-too-sweet tomato sauce. For a Middle Eastern take, the "Lorenzo of Arabia" beckons with a pleasing combo of eggplant, feta, Kalamata olives, roasted peppers, and rapini. Bonus: Pick up some chocolate-dipped cannoli for later. 3700 Gough St. 410-276-6787

Giovanni's Tutti Gusti
Canton residents have a pizza-lover's gem in Tutti Gusti. Thin crust is the specialty, and you can build your own or pick from their menu of signature pies. We love the "Campagnola" ($14.70-16.95), which practically overflows with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and roasted eggplant—all smothered in generous plops of fresh mozzarella. The crust is light and airy, providing just enough of a platform for all the fresh toppings. We also appreciate Tutti Gusti's large and comfortable dining area, just the ticket if you've got a large party that needs to get its pizza on. 3100 Fait Ave. 410-534-4040

Hersh's
The ever-changing menu at this Riverside restaurant features mouthwatering antipasti (think pork, veal, and pancetta meatballs and a tomato crostini on crispy foccacia), chopped salads, housemade pastas, and, of course, authentic wood-fired pizzas that arrive uncut—just like in Naples. You can't go wrong with the "Kale and Pistachio" ($15) fusing fontina, garlic, crushed red pepper, and pecorino. Other specialty pies to look out for include the "Miles Davis" (mushrooms, housemade ricotta, arugula, and lemon) and the "Salsiccia," ($18) topped with Italian sausage, soppressata, mozzarella, provolone, and roasted red peppers. 1843 Light St. 443-438-4948

Iggies
Given the staggering array of gourmet toppings at this hip and wildly popular BYOB hole in the wall—everything from artichoke pesto and pistachios to roasted duck—the best way to experience Iggies is to bring lots of friends so that you can share several of the brick-oven, artisanal, thin-crust pies, available in small ($8.50-11) and large ($16.50-18.50) sizes. The delicate, toothsome crust is judiciously topped with primo ingredients like house-made mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, Castelvetrano olives, and fresh vegetables. Eat in, carry out, or opt for Take n' Bake, a ready-made pie you finish in the oven at home. 818 N. Calvert St. 410-528-0818

Isabella's Brick Oven Pizza and Panini
This corner deli in Little Italy may not seem like much at first, but Isabella's Italian offerings are about as authentic as it gets. While they have a dozen brick-oven pizza varieties, the Margherita ($10.99-16.99) is the real winner. This 15-inch pie has a thin, chewy crust heavily seasoned with oregano. The sauce is thinly applied, letting the toppings really sing. A thick layer of the house-made mozzarella is spread evenly on top of thinly sliced, juicy tomatoes. And the basil—immediately aromatic—tastes like it was freshly picked from the garden. But what gives Isabella's bonus points is that it offers three-quarters-baked pizza for carryout, so it can just be popped in your personal oven and enjoyed right at home. 221 S. High St. 410-962-8888

Italian Gardens
This family-friendly neighborhood institution inside The Shops at Kenilworth mall is beloved for its New York-style, thin-crust pizza, which has just enough crunch to go with its minimal sauce and ample mozzarella. The pizzeria is also one of the few casual places in town that offers traditional, round, Chicago-style deep-dish pies (not Sicilian, which is more common in these parts). A plain Chicago-style ($12.95) comes in at a doughy two-plus inches. A specialty pie, like the ingredient-packed "Momma's" (small, $15.95) with mushrooms, onions, black olives, pepperoni, and sausage, is over three inches, and a large slice is a delicious, filling meal. 814 Kenilworth Dr., Towson
410-821-0292

Joe Squared
The square-shaped pizzas at Joe Edwardsen's Station North restaurant would be nothing more than a good gimmick if they weren't so darn tasty, with fresh and plentiful toppings piled on top of a delicate thin-crust foundation, slightly charred from the coal-burning oven. Try the flag pizza ($16-24), a tri-colored medley of red sauce with mozzarella, provolone, Romano, Parmigiano, and Asiago; garlic sauce with mozzarella, cheddar, and ricotta; and pesto sauce with fresh mozzarella, which has earned kudos in Food Network Magazine.Two locations, including 33 W. North Ave. 410-545-0444

Johnny Rad's
The expectations for bar pizza are inherently low—get drunk enough and almost anything tastes good. But Johnny Rad's in Upper Fells Point raises the bar significantly with its Neapolitan-style, thin-crust pies, which come in 11 and 15-inch sizes. The "Primo" ($11-16), with generous slabs of fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, olive oil, and sea salt, is one of several options with a salty edge—a perfect accompaniment to ice-cold brews. The "Trainwreck" ($13-18), with mushrooms, baby spinach, black olives, olive oil, mozzarella, and sea salt, is a heartier pie, able to sate a big appetite. You won't go home hungry. 2108 Eastern Ave. 443-759-6464

Ledo Pizza
Ledo has been a Maryland favorite since the first one opened in Adelphi in 1955. The menu includes salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes, but the rectangular pizzas ($5.49-13.24 plus extra for toppings) are what set the pizzeria apart. The crusts are thin and flaky, almost like pastry, and the sauce is more sweet than savory. Atop this delicate palette sits a thick layer of mozzarella, toasty brown in color and dappled in oil. Instead of being cut into wedges, the slabs are divided into small squares. Several locations, including 8480 Baltimore National Pk., Ellicott City. 410-750-7087

Matthew's Pizza
Matthew's has been cranking out pizza pies in Highlandtown for more than half a century, occupying its current location on Eastern Avenue since 1943. The tiny restaurant is decorated with maps of Italy and dozens of kudos from local publications. On busy nights, the attentive staff whisks through the room, delivering pizzas with perfectly crisped crusts and toppings that range from classic pepperoni to a thick layer of backfin crabmeat and caramelized onions dusted with Old Bay (market price), or "Fra Diavolo" ($9.25) with Thai chili and a choice of shrimp ($13.95) or chicken ($12.95). Matthew's is as classic as the painting of its founder, who eyes the place from a perch above the cash register. 3131 Eastern Ave. 410-276-8755

Pasta Mista
If you're weary from shopping at Towson Town Center, we heartily recommend popping across Dulaney Valley Road to Pasta Mista. It offers a plethora of pies, both thin and thick crust, to satisfy any craving. If you're in a tomato place, go for the 16-inch "Mondragone" ($15.95). It's a thick-crust interpretation of the classic Margherita pie—tomato, mozzarella, basil, and, in this case, oregano. The tomatoes are fresh, the cheese is bubbly and nicely melted, and the fresh basil is mouthwateringly fragrant. Wash it all down with San Pellegrino lemon or orange sodas in their cheerful, no frills eat-in area. Multiple locations including 822 Dulaney Valley Rd., Towson
410-321-8855

Pizza Blitz
Pizza Blitz lives up to its name, offering a full battery of pies with classic toppings. And while Luigi Starace, the chef and co-owner, hails from Naples, the pies are pure New York—thin crust, a swipe of tomato sauce, and thick cheese. The pies come in three sizes, 10, 14, and 16 inches ($5.95-10.95, unadorned), with an additional cost ($1-1.50, depending on size) for add-ons such as black olives, pepperoni, pineapple, and onions, or deluxe toppings ($1.50-2.50) that include ricotta cheese, meatballs, and anchovies. Pizza Blitz, which shares a name and one business partner with a parlor in Frederick, has been open at Quarry Lake for less than a year, and while it doesn't yet deliver, it's a convenient carryout option if you're in the 'hood when a craving hits. 2622 Quarry Lake Dr., Pikesville. 410-415-5644

Pizza John's
When you've been around for 45 years, customers come not just for the pizza but also for the history. The Coruzzi family first started slinging pies in 1966. The pizza is hot and fresh with a nice sauce and perfectly crispy dough—unless you order the softer Sicilian crust. The pepperoni is Hormel, but the sausage and meat sauce are both homemade and delicious. Try "The Works" ($13.50-20.95)—a specialty that combines fresh veggies (black olives, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms) and yummy meats (sausage, meat sauce, and pepperoni). 113 Back River Neck Rd., Essex. 410-687-7733

Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse
Late-night Federal Hill carousers swear by this boutique pizzeria tucked away on the top floor of this row-house bar—and who can blame them? With 22 creatively named pies, ranging from the "Atomic Dog Pizza" ($10) with hot sauce, hot cherry peppers, smoked Gouda, mozzarella, smoked bacon, pepperoni, and red onion to the "Stinking Rose Pizza" ($9.50) with tomato sauce, olive oil, garlic, basil, mozzarella, and Parmesan, plus build-your-own options available until 2 a.m. daily, this is the place to satisfy your post-pub pizza predilection. Two locations, including 20 E. Cross St. 410-727-6077

The Red Zebra
The colorful mobile truck serves up personal pies with inventive toppings from a roaring wood-fired oven. The short menu of pizzas ($8-10) is determined by what's seasonal and available from local vendors. You might find a breakfast pizza with quail eggs, bacon, and potatoes, or a pie that sprouts fresh micro-greens and cilantro with sliced cherry tomatoes, corn, and Havarti cheese. Another pizza has a smattering of sweet lamb sausage and goat cheese with mint pesto. (The Red Zebra also makes pizzas on Thursdays at the FRESHFARM Market near the White House in D.C.)

Squires
The sprawling Dundalk restaurant, which has expanded several times over the years from its origins as a small tavern in the 1950s, is a reliable place for heaping platters of spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, and Caesar salads large enough to share. It's also the perfect spot for pizza and an ice-cold beer. The pies are offered with New York-style or thick Sicilian crusts. The Squires special ($13.50-23.50) is piled with pepperoni, meat sauce, sausage, mushrooms, and peppers—plus capicola ham. The ham, along with sliced almonds, is also a key to the salty-sweet Hawaiian pizza ($9.75-16.35). 6723 Holabird Ave., Dundalk. 410-288-0081

Stalking Horse
Smack in the middle of the booze-fueled chaos of Cross Street in Federal Hill is unusually good pizza. The Stalking Horse menu offers compelling options ($8-12), including Buffalo chicken, ground beef, and a signature three cheese blend. And these nine-inch pies are loaded up—the "Meat Lovers Pizza" ($12), for example, is saddled (sorry!) with a layer of homemade tomato sauce, pepperoni, bacon, and sausage. Luckily, the crust is substantial enough to handle the load, slightly yeasty, with good crunch and nicely browned patches throughout. 26 E. Cross St.410-244-6722

Uno Chicago Grill
Okay, it's a chain, but Uno's Inner Harbor presence shouldn't discourage a visit. The franchise pretty much brought Chicago-style deep dish to the masses. Uno remains au courant, offering options like a "Farmer's Market Pie" ($11.29) with eggplant, pesto, caramelized onions, feta cheese, and other yummy ingredients. There's even a nod to the thin-crust crowd with artisanal pies topped with glazed figs, broccoli, and goat cheese ($16.95). The deep dish, with its crispy, slightly oily crust, is just as we remember: decadent and delectable. Multiple locations, including 201 E. Pratt St. 410-625-5900

Verde
Pull apart Neapolitan pizzas at this bustling Canton hangout that features communal tables, Edison light bulbs, and marble accents. In addition to the authentic antipasti, paninis, salads, and calzones, the expansive menu lists an array of signature pies that are charred in a wood-fired oven at a blistering 850 degrees for 90 seconds. Favorites include the "Tartufo" ($18) with homemade mozzarella, truffle cream, parmigiano reggiano, basil, and extra virgin olive oil, and the "Pistacchio e Salsiccia" ($20) topped with fresh pistachio pesto, sausage, pecorino romano, and basil. 641 S. Montford Ave. 410-522-1000.

Vito's
With glistening pies on display behind glass, formica booths, and a wide selection of Neapolitan pizzas, along with subs, sandwiches, salads, and pasta, Vito's could be any neighborhood takeout joint in America. But this eatery is a cut above, serving New York-style pizza with a satisfying crunch that few local outlets can muster, and just enough oregano sprinkled on top. There's nothing fancy here, but if you're looking for something hearty, try the "Gourmet" ($10.95-13.95) with pepperoni, mushrooms, and sausage. 6304 York Rd., Towson. 410-323-8486

Zella's Pizzeria
Situated in the rough-around-the-edges Hollins Market neighborhood, Zella's serves as all-around watering hole and gathering place for locals who come for the decent roster of boutique brews and excellent pizzas ($7.50-17.75). The medium-thick homemade crust is first-class—crisp and lightly doused with good olive oil, and so tasty you could eat it plain and be happy. But why stop there? Add on any of the staggering array of "build your own" toppings (34 and counting) and choose from six sauces (from traditional tomato to unorthodox barbecue) until you've created your own perfect pie. 1145 Hollins St. 410-685-6999


Go Gluten-Free

Pizzerias keep dietary concerns in mind

By Christine Boyd

It's been hard to miss the surge of gluten-free foods claiming valuable real estate on grocery-store shelves and even some restaurant menus lately. And pizza hasn't been left out of the trend.

We went in search of gluten-free pizzas and found several places offering them. (Not all pizza sauces and toppings are gluten-free. Be sure to check.) Here are some pizzerias to consider.

BOP Brick Oven Pizza: Most BOP pizzas can be made on its gluten-free crust. Check out the "Lucky 7" white cheese, chicken feta, and "Margarita Lisa," starting at $17.49. 800 S. Broadway, 410-563-1600.

Cheezy's Pizza and Subs: Cheezy's gluten-free pizza starts as a New York-style, thin-crust pie with sauce and cheese for $15.99. Customize with toppings of your choice for $1.99 each. Gluten-free breadsticks and cinnamon sticks are also available for $5.99. 1637 E. Joppa Rd., Towson, 410-337-4992.

Pazani Trattoria Italiana Pazani keeps it simple with a thin-crust, gluten-free pizza with sauce and cheese for $12. 6060 Marshalee Dr., Elkridge, 410-540-5777.

Seasons Pizza: At Seasons, wash down a gluten-free cheese pizza ($9.99 before adding your choice of toppings) with a gluten-free Redbridge beer. Multiple locations, including 10010 York Rd., Cockeysville, 410-666-2660.

Sweet 27 Bakery and Restaurant: Sweet 27 offers cheese, Caprese, vegetable, and barbecue chicken pizzas ($9-11). Dairy-free pizza is also available. 127 W. 27th St., 410-464-7211.


Flatbreads Rule

By Suzanne Loudermilk and Max Weiss

Woodberry Kitchen
Go for brunch and get the "Morning Flatbread" ($14) as an entree. With its homemade sage sausage, cheddar cheese, potato, and a fried egg that you are encouraged (nay, obligated) to smear over the whole pizza, it's a perfectly filling meal. 2010 Clipper Mill Rd. 410-464-8000

B&O Brasserie
The classic white flatbread ($14) is a symphony of winning ingredients: roasted garlic, fontina, torn basil, and just the right amount of olive oil. A word of warning: If you are planning on sharing this with any more than two people, do order two flatbreads. 2 N. Charles St. 443-692-6172

The Brass Tap
It might be a craft beer bar, but this Bolton Hill hangout delivers some top-notch snacks. Its flatbreads are especially mouthwatering, in varieties like Southwest chicken, classic caprese, and a five-cheese option. 1205 W. Mt. Royal Ave., 888-901-2337


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