Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit 2013: Chazz A Bronx Original

The rules of The Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit are simple.  Each category is worth 2 points (allowing for half points). The only pizza I'm considering is the basic slice of cheese. At the end of the year, the highest score wins the coveted Baltimore Bistros and Beer's Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit title. This week's entry is Chazz: A Bronx Original. Click here to see how the last entrant fared.

Droop Factor - If you look at the picture above you can tell there is some serious grease going on. I haven't seen anything that shiny since I took in my reflection after 9th grade football practice. Chazz makes a dense greasy pizza so it was a nice surprise when the crust held up. Droopy mess denied!

Score - 1.5

Greaseification -  We're back to that fine line greasy pizza likes to walk between sloppy mess and unhealthy deliciousness. Unfortunately, the pizza I had on this day was a bit too greasy. Normally, I have no problem mowing through a pizza but in this case I was full after only a slice or two.

Score - .5

Aroma - I used to think that I loved the smell of sauce, herbs, and toppings but this Pizza Pursuit has taught me that I also long for a quality bready crust smell. Chazz has that in spades. The smell of a coal fire oven baking a pizza ain't so bad either.

Score - 1.5

Cheese - The cheese on this pizza is what I like to refer to as "Ninja Turtle Cheese". If you're my age and a dude there is no doubt you know what I'm talking about. It's that cheese that is super stringy....something every Ninja Turtle pizza had back in the day. Little Doug was digging the stringy cheese. It was creamy and salty, but there might have been a little too much for my taste to bump the score up a notch.

Score - 1

Sauce - Chazz has an excellent sauce. The tomatoes are bright and acidic and they top it with just the right amount. However, the high dosage of cheese overshadows the awesome sauce. A little more balance between cheese and sauce would go a long way with me.

Score - 1.5

Crust - I was really disappointed by the crust. Yes, it held up when I gave the droop test and it's not that the crust tasted bad. It's just that everything on top kind of ruined it for me. The crust was weighed down with so much cheese and sauce that by the time I was eating my way through the pizza the crust was falling apart rather than breaking and giving me that cracker bite I expect from a coal oven baked pizza.

Score - 1

Overall Score - 7 out of 12

Please note that this score only reflects my views of their cheese pizza and not the restaurant as a whole. In the future I plan to review my entire experience and you'll be happy to know that the rest of my visit was better than expected and has me intrigued for future visits.

If you're a fan of Chazz's and you're baffled at the mediocre score you should know I'm baffled as well. I went in expecting to LOVE the pizza, but it just didn't turn out that way. Perhaps it was what I call the "Jurassic Park" effect. As a kid I hyped that movie up in my head so much that when I saw it for the first time I was nothing but disappointed. That Raptor being smart enough to open doors pissed 12 year old Doug off. But I gave the movie another chance and over time it became one of my all-time favorites. Perhaps, Chazz will follow the same pattern, but for now they fall to the middle of the pack in The Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Potbelly Sandwich Shop

What are you doing for lunch?

I think I'm going to hit up Subway real quick.

If you're anything like me you've probably had that quick lunchtime back and forth a million times in the last decade. You're probably sick of always having the same answer and moreso you're tired of the same flavors. Fear not, for I have a solution and it goes by the name Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

Despite the fact that I was tired of eating the same old sandwiches on repeat, my craving for a good sub never abated. There were other options for a good sub local to me, but when you factor in turnaround time and price (almost as important as the food itself during lunch) my choice for a good sub were slim indeed. However, about once a week I venture into Towson to have lunch with my lady and that's how I first came across Potbelly.

As soon as you enter Potbelly you realize that this isn't your average fast food sub spot. The staff is always happy to serve you and the products they serve are quality. The bread is chewy and ends up with a nice toasty flavor when it finally makes its way through the conveyor. The meats themselves are always tasty. Turkey tastes like turkey. Ham tastes like ham. And the meat isn't weightless like some of the stuff you might be used to. You might not end up with a 12 inch sub at Potbelly, but you won't need it because you're eating real substantial food. My favorite part of any sub at Potbelly are the condiments. Without fail, I order lettuce, Italian Seasoning, Oil, and what they refer to as Hot Peppers. The Hot Peppers are basically a giardiniera and they bring a flavor to the sub you won't find anywhere else. Man, I can't wait until my next visit! The vinegar tang and spicy peppers are addictive.

What makes Potbelly especially unique is how they show they value the customer by repeating your order back to you in order to ensure that they are preparing exactly what you're asking for. It probably drives them nuts to endlessly repeat orders all day, but that small attention to detail really pays off. And it might sound like a small detail, but the fact that they offer chips that aren't your typical gas station stock also pays dividends with a guy like me.

I'm not one of those people who get so wrapped into work that they skip lunch or eat something insignificant just to hold them over until dinner. I need a good lunch and if I'm going to eat I want it to be worth my while. Potbelly has my back and they have made the idea of eating another sub for lunch exciting once again. The food is way above average and the staff is top notch. So today, when you're debating if you have time for lunch do yourself a favor and see if there is Potbelly nearby. Your tastebuds will thank you and before you know it you'll be looking forward to lunchtime again just like me.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: Hit 'em up on your next lunch break.
What to Order: Turkey Breast w/ Swiss, lettuce, Italian seasoning, oil and hot peppers.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Just Beer Project Just IPA

The timing of the now infamous Slate article and this beer coming to my knowledge happened perfectly. Not two days before that article came out (in which they basically ripped into hop heads for being obsessed with hops) I was contacted by the Just Beer Project asking if I'd like to sample their new beer Just IPA. Of course, I said yes and began reading up on just what the Just Beer Project is. Since they went through all the trouble of putting out a mission statement, I'll quote the part I feel best describes their goal.
The Just Beer Project's mission is to deliver beer drinkers un-complicated, world-class craft brews that are delightful in their simplicity - nothing too complicated or exotic and with all natural ingredients. Our beers are sessionable, staying in the 5% ABV range, and focus on a great balance between malt and hops. 
I don't know about you, but that's something I can get behind. No, I'm not saying I wholeheartedly agree with the Slate article, but there is some merit in what they said. Many times I've found myself wishing there was more innovation in areas not concerning higher ABV and IBU counts.

So, did their initial offering Just IPA live up to the credo? Let's find out.

It's not 2000 IBU's. The hops weren't harvested from the grounds of a temple in the heart of a jungle that you've never heard of. This beer won't change your attitude. We're not trying to scare you or numb your tongue.
Style: IPA
ABV: 5.2%
IBU:  45

Appearance: Golden in color with about a fingers worth of head. It's a pretty beer and it's got a look that says "hey, it's hot out! Drink me!".

Nose: Not incredibly complex, but don't let that or their mission statement fool ya. There is a lot going on here, even if the aroma isn't super complex. They hop with Chinook, Ahtanum, Citra, and Cascade. And then they dry hop it with citra, simcoe, and cascade. Personally, I felt like the Cascade hops came across most prominently.

Taste: Just IPA does what it set out to do. It's an easy drinking IPA. You don't have to sit around developing a coronary because you're trying so hard to spot some specific taste in the background. It is what it is. Just IPA is just an ipa that goes down smooth and is palatable enough that you can go back in for more than one. The hops hit you up front, but not in an overwhelming astringent  manner. And the finish is dry but the hop impact is diminished quite a bit.

Final Verdict: This beer goes down so easy. In fact, I finished my beer long before I was done writing this post and that almost never happens. There is no doubt it's an IPA and it lives up to the Just Beer Project's stated goal of sessionablity. It's not available everywhere just yet, but if you do come across this beer be sure to find out what it's all about. Right now, Just IPA is available on draft in Pittsburgh, Virginia Beach, and Baltimore. Come June 1, the fine folks of Central New Jersey will also be able to find Just IPA.

For those of you in my neck of the woods, if this sounds like a beer you'd be into you can find it at JD's Smokehouse Bar & Grill, Plug Ugly's Publik House, Freddie's Ale House, Mother's Federal Hill Grille, and Social Pub and Pie.

Monday, May 20, 2013


"Do you want Chinese?"

"Eh, not really."

Sigh. "Okay. But you know I had to try". 

And so goes the weekly conversation with Deana in regards to Chinese food. For whatever reason, I rarely find myself excited about eating Chinese. I've lived all around the Beltway and no matter where I find myself I'm rarely pleased when it comes to what Baltimore offers in the way of Chinese food. It always surprises me that I can live so close to a city and the pickings can be so slim. I'll never understand it....especially when I can drive to my hometown in podunk nowhere and find Chinese that is better than 95% of what I've tasted around here. And now that we have all that negativity behind us, let's talk about one of the restaurants I've actually made return trips to. I'm talking about Orient in the center of Towson. 

Because I haven't fallen in love with Chinese food at this point in my culinary adventures, I'm always willing to try something new in hopes of sparking a match between tastebud and food. On the night of our visit I decided to get a little adventurous and ordered Cold Noodles with shredded cucumbers. Yes, they were literally cold noodles and they were topped with some sort of peanut sauce and cucumbers. I won't be ordering that again and I can't recommend it either. I always joke that I could eat peanut butter off of cardboard, but I can confidently declare bullshit on myself now. It wasn't literally peanut butter, but it just wasn't appealing. It was too sweet and the peanut sauce was much too thick. Oh well, I gave it a shot. 

We had much better luck with our main courses. Deana went with Kung Pao and I went the spicy route with Szechuan Crispy Beef. I loved mine. I don't know how they do it, but the way they get the outside of the beef so crispy while keeping the inside tender is one of the world's great mysteries. At least to me, but I'm sure there is a perfectly understandable cooking technique behind it all. The sauce is a spicy sweet concoction that would have Guy Fieri all jammed up about the sweet and the heat. But for me, this meal is all about the texture. The beef and crunch veggies on top of tender rice is where it's at. 

Deana's Kung Pao was also a clinic in texture. The chicken was some of the most tender chicken I've come across and it played really well against the peanuts. Personally, I've never been a huge fan of Kung Pao sauce so my opinion doesn't mean much, but Deana gave it high marks. As a Kung Pao connoisseur from way back you can take her endorsement to the bank. 

And there you have it...a review of Chinese food from someone who admittedly isn't the biggest fan (at least in regards to that of Baltimore). Feel free to dismiss this or do what I hope you'll do and take into consideration that Orient is one of only two or three Chinese restaurants in the area I'll visit more than once.
Orient on Urbanspoon

Price: Average
Recommendation: Worth a shot
What to Order: Crispy Beef

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tavern on the Square

I just realized earlier today that I have a serious stockpile of reviews to get through. It was 3 days before Xmas when we visited Tavern on the Square and I can remember gingerly walking through the snow the night we visited. I always mean to reel back on the new restaurant visits until I catch up with my reviews, but it's so fun eating my way through Baltimore I inevitably find myself buried neck deep with future reviews. It's visits to places like Tavern on the Square that make it so hard to keep myself from finding more good food.

The night of our visit Deana and I were in share mode. I'm normally a you eat your dinner and I'll eat mine kind of guy, but on this night we ordered a bunch of stuff and split it. We started off the night with Pecan Crusted Chicken Fingers (which isn't showing up on their online menu) and they were delicious. Chicken Fingers are such a simple thing, but way too often people go the easy route and serve the frozen garbage. You can tell the kitchen used fresh chicken and breaded the chicken themselves. The chicken was tender and the addition of pecans gave them that little something extra to make them interesting. For dipping, they were served with a honey mustard that was above the board as well.

The second item we decided to share was the Roast Beef Grinder. I'm a sucker for any type of sandwich like this and I was not let down. The meat was juicy and cooked to a proper medium temperature. The bun was nice and soft. And the provolone cheese and horseradish kept everything nice and moist (not that it needed the help). There isn't much else to say about it, but don't let my lack of eloquence trick you into passing this by. It's a damn good sandwich.

To round out our dinner we added the Blackened Chicken Pizza to our table. Deana and I really enjoyed the pizza. The chicken warmed us up on this snowy night with a spicy Cajun rub that was nicely counterbalanced by sweet caramelized peppers and onion. Most intriguing of all was the white sauce they used in place of traditional red pizza sauce. It was a creamy garlic sauce and it also helped mellow the spice from the chicken. Because I'm only looking at cheese pizza in the Great Baltimore Pizza Pursuit this doesn't qualify, but as far as pizza is concerned I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one. In fact, this was the pizza that sparked the idea about a Pizza Pursuit in the first place.

Overall, our meal at Tavern on the Square was a success. The food was good, the prices were nice, and we were able to enjoy it all in a cozy little restaurant that we'll be sure to head back to in the future.

Price: Very affordable given the quality
Recommendation: Give them a try
What to Order: I think you'd be safe ordering anything I talked about above. They did a great job of putting a new spin on something you're already very familiar with.

Tavern on the Square on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 13, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up

Wanna hear a shocker? I eat out a lot. As a food blogger and quasi beer whatever it is I am, I eat and drink a lot of different things all of the time. I don't expect to like everything that finds its way into my mouth. If I am served something I don't like or that tastes just okay I don't feel like it's necessarily the chef's fault, or in the case of beer the brewer's fault. Some things just aren't going to translate to my palate and that's fine. Because I think that way, I almost never complain about my meal and when it comes to beer I never ask for a new one just because I don't like the taste. If I ordered something I don't like then shame on my tongue for being so stupid.

Well, the other night I was visiting a restaurant that features the beer of a prominent local brewery. I've eaten there before and  the beers they produce are some of my favorite. Needless to say, I think very highly of them. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to withhold their name. The point I want to make isn't about how Brewery XYZ served a bad beer, rather, that it's okay to speak about it without feeling like you're being picky (or even worse a beer snob)!

Deana actually ordered the beer. She wasn't familiar with it, but I've had a few in years past and I enjoyed one about two weeks ago at another restaurant. In my head, I knew how this beer was meant to taste. As per usual, after sampling my own beer I reached over to taste Deana's as well. The first clue I had that something was off was the smell. Instead of being met with the familiar smell of hops I was semi put off by a buttery smell. It's allergy season so I thought maybe my less than clear nasal passage was screwing with me. I sniffed again but still it was off.  Eventually, I went in for a taste. "Eww. This doesn't taste right. It smells like butter and tastes like nasty movie popcorn butter", I told Deana. She didn't like the flavor either and we sat there wondering what to do. As I mentioned before, we aren't prone to return things and I was feeling a little self conscious about returning a beer in an establishment that proudly displays the name of a popular local brewery. The last thing I wanted was to sound like some guy who read a beer article and was anxious to show off my new vocabulary. But, I also didn't want Deana to sit there and suffer through a beer I knew tasted different than they ever intended it to. 

So, when the waiter came by I said "I feel like a real ass saying this, but her beer just doesn't taste right. I think there is some diacetyl going on because it tastes and smells buttery." And then I braced for him to mock me, but the mocking never came. He took the beer and replaced it with another. He also must have passed the news on to his manager who went on to try the beer in question. At the end of the night, she came over and thanked me for pointing out that the flavors were off. She told me that they want every beer to taste perfect, especially, since they are bearing the name of a local brewery. She also agreed with me that it tasted off.

The fact that she came over and thanked me for speaking up and agreed that something was wrong came as a great relief. Until then, I was wondering if they were all standing behind the bar pointing at me for throwing around my supposed beer knowledge like a big shot. But instead, their reaction to my complaints and these events taught me an important lesson. Trust your palate and don't be afraid to speak up. Bars that care don't want to serve beer that tastes bad. They know they might only have one night to win a customer over and if they are consistently putting out bad stuff they might lose the opportunity of repeat visits. And more importantly, as craft beer fans we should know that brewers don't want their beer being served under not so favorable conditions. With so much competition out there, they are going to want to put their best foot forward at all times. If you taste something off, do them a favor and let someone know. Don't do what I almost did and let your fear of coming across as a complaining know it all scare you from doing what's right. You want a proper beer as bad as bars and brewers want to serve them. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pale Ale (1)

Around the time I turned 21 the idea of writing came to me. Up until that time I imagined writing as something they do. I never thought writing was something attainable for someone like me. As far as I was concerned, writing was for the creative and I couldn't remember an ounce of artistic inspiration ever being produced by my fingers or sportscentric brain.

In my young and provincial mind a writer was someone who sold millions of books about fantasy worlds or they had some deeper understanding of life I’d yet to attain.  Neither of those descriptions fit me, so why try writing? I was so close to a degree in Information Technology, it would have been daft of me to switch tracks again. I feared my Dad would have a conniption fit if I told him I was having yet another change of heart. He supported me while I shifted my majors between Biology to Undecided and then to Elementary Education. And he kept quiet when I transferred schools and awkwardly changed gears to IT. I didn't have it in me to tell him I was thinking of a change again.  So, I didn't. I graduated, got a job, and reached for a Pale Ale. 

I can remember tasting that Ale and feeling quite intimidated. Until that point, my idea of quality beer was Blue Moon (with an orange at that). I still laugh at myself when I think about that. But this new beer, Pale Ale, was intriguing to me. The powerful presence of bitter hops wasn't something I knew how to appreciate at first. In fact, I’m sure I didn't even truly enjoy my first few soirees with Pale Ale. The bitter flavors took over my palate like nothing I’d ever tasted before. And yet, I kept ordering them. Why, I can’t say for sure, but I assume it had something to do with coming to the realization that there was actually beer in the world that had the ability to transcend the yellow water typically used to get drunk. Beer wasn't just beer. Hell, Pale Ale wasn't just Pale Ale. There were India Pale Ales, American Pale Ales, English Pale Ales, Blonde Ales, and the list goes on. Slowly, I learned to love Pale Ales in all their variations. They weren't just a bitter beer anymore. They were complex, sometimes historical and other times forward thinking beers, and my new found respect for them opened me up to the world of craft beer as a whole. 

Over time, probably with a little bit of Pale Ale induced optimism inside me, I decided I needed to write. My first few attempts left me frustrated and I didn't know if I wanted to continue. It was a struggle to find my place within this new hobby. The words didn't flow as easily as I thought they would and my ability to convey a clear thought wasn't always successful. But just like my first taste of Pale Ale, I didn't let the bitter taste dissuade me from pushing through and finding things out about myself I might have never known otherwise. My love for Pale Ale has directly led to this blog you’re visiting today. I developed such a passion for beer I wanted to write about it and the food I was eating. The satisfaction I derived from writing actually led me to beginning a kids book recently. I have no idea if the book will be good or if anyone will ever read it, but I do know that I’m infinitely happier behind a keyboard finding new things about myself one keystroke at a time.  I don’t know about you, but I think that calls for a cheers. Usually, we do cheers with a drink, but I think in this case it’s appropriate to do a cheers for the drink itself. For if I never reached for that first Pale Ale, you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now. Cheers!

I wrote this as part of a Writing Contest hosted by Literature and Libation. Check his site out. It's excellent stuff.

If you happened to enjoy this post and are reading it prior to May 13th, 2013, please vote for my piece here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

BBB Beer of the Week: Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout 2012

I decided a few weeks ago that I wanted to start homebrewing a lot more often. I want to do this not so much for the beer, but for the practice. Five gallon batches take quite a bit of time to get rid of so I came up with a semi-solution that goes a little beyond giving away all of my booze. Obviously, in addition to drinking my own stuff, I also like to sample goods from the craft world at large. My commercial stock piles never get too big, but it gets big enough that it prevents me from making a quick enough dent into my homebrew stock. So, I decided that the only beer I will purchase for drinking in my house will be beers brewed in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and DC. Of course, when at a pub I'll gladly partake in whatever my little heart desires. With all that said, Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout came from my current stockpile and was something Deana gave to me for Valentines Day.

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10%
IBU: 51

Appearance: Good lord this beer pours thick. I was amazed how thick it looked coming out of the bottle. For a second, I thought someone turned the gravity down in my house. What else could explain a pour that looked like it was happening in slow motion? Once poured, there wasn't much of a head to speak of. There was maybe half of a finger that was khaki colored and thick.

Nose: The nose on this one wasn't anything you haven't smelled in a stout before. There was the roasted malt, coffee,chocolate, a little black licorice/anise. You're also reminded how this stout earned the title imperial as the booze shines through.

Taste: The initial taste of Black Chocolate Stout was a bit overwhelming.  The mouthfeel was thick. Not surprising after the pour, but you definitely feel it while it's going down as well. I love letting Deana take a sip of my beers to get an idea of what she thinks. Most times, she goes in without any preconceived notions of what a beer should taste like. Her reaction to this stout was that it was "almost like you could chew it". Initially, I felt like the booze could have been hidden a little better and that the booze taste combined with the anise flavor came on very strong. However, after couple more sips it wasn't so shocking to my palate and I was able to manage it a bit better. Oddly enough, with this being called a chocolate stout I didn't see the chocolate playing a starring role. There was a touch of sweetness up front, but the finish was dominated by booze and it completely wiped away all the previous flavors I was experiencing. .

Final Verdict: Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout just seems to be one of those beers that was never meant to be friends with me. I didn't hate it. It just came across as not incredibly balanced and it won't be a beer I'll seek out again in the future.