A Pizza Safari

Mike Cook

Pizza, like biological life, is everywhere. It grows in the cracks, sprouting up on menus in fine restaurants and at lunch counters. While other menu trends go extinct, pizza persists. It comes in wide variety, from paper thin crusts to doughy deep dish, and lives in all climates. In a healthy ecosystem like Baltimore, it's ubiquitous. Let's take a safari through the verdant plains of pizza in Baltimore.

First on the list (I'm heading North to South, roughly) is an example of a growing subspecies, the pizza-focused-bar. Bars have long reheated pizza for hungry drinkers, but these are trendy bars with simple menus that focus on quality pie. Joe Squared is a great example. No longer new to the scene, Joe Squared has made its mark with a great beer list, constant live music, and of course some tasty, thin crust pie.

A turn down Charles Street leads us to the Owl Bar. Their giant brick oven may put the nicest char on a crust of any pizzeria in Baltimore. The toppings are classic, and you get to watch the pizza chefs pull the pies out with those big wooden spatulas.

Next, a rare breed indeed: Iggies. This idiosyncratic BYOB pizza joint finds itself in constant combat in Baltimore's hearts and minds for best pizza in the city. They succeed at strange toppings (like potato, pears, or duck) better than anyone else.

The youngest animal in the pizza ecosphere is Chazz, a full restaurant that nonetheless touts its brick oven pizza. The question is whether swanky Chazz can ever control its territory. Just up the street in one direction is Isabella’s, whose brick oven and super-fresh ingredients puts it at the top of best-of lists consistently. There are too few tables to eat-in at Isabella's, but carry-out is perfect for pizza anyway. Bagby Pizza Co is the already popular casual pizza place just around the corner from Chazz. Territorial fights are sure to ensue.

Down the road from the fracas in Little Italy and Harbor East is another of the pizza-focused-bars. Johnny Rad’s is a skater-inspired temple to good pie and good beer, very much in the vein of Joe Squared, but with far fewer MICA grads hanging around.

Don't be dissuaded by the simple exterior of Matthew's Pizza. Inside is not only the best deep dish pizza in the city, but a continual contender for best pizza overall. Established in 1943, Matthew's claims to be Baltimore's first pizzeria. Perhaps their skill at making deep dish is why no one else even tries.

Crossing the water, we find Barfly's on Fort Avenue has just opened up with a pizza-heavy menu, but they'll have a hard time winning territory from the mighty pizza-focused-bar Pub Dog. A simple, but nearly perfect version of the pizza-focused-bar, Pub Dog has been serving house-brewed beer and pies for going on a decade, which may be why everything seems to run so smoothly here. Not only is the pizza good, you can get two of them smashed together into a giant sandwich-like monster.

These are just a few of the big players; the elephants and lions of pizza in Baltimore. Add to this list the ever present delivery chains, the pizza spots I missed (no doubt there are many), the mundane pie at corner and convenience stores, and the fancy flatbreads on nearly every upscale menu, and you'll see that pizza really is food's dominant species. That's OK. If we have to share this Earth with another species, we can at least be grateful it's as tasty as pizza.

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