Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pizza Extraordinaire: A Restaurant Review

Come on, grab your coat. No, not that one, it's too thin. Yeah, your black pea coat with the high collar is perfect, more sophisticated. Grab your grey scarf too. Fold it in half and loop it through around your neck. No, that's too tight. You look like you are choking. Loosen it up a bit. Aww, there you go. Perfect. Do you have the keys? ID? Wine? Alright, come on! Lucky, lucky you my friend is going on a date with me. To Iggies. Let the night begin!

Another Friday night in Baltimore and it's time to explore another promising restaurant. This time Iggies Pizza is the destination and it is conveniently located right around the corner on Calvert Street. Understated and clean,the storefront of Iggies tells me that this is a place where good food, and not fancy frills, is a priority.Large picture windows let me gaze directly in at laughing and relaxed eaters gathered around long tables enjoying wine, pizza, and each other's company. Illuminated with small lights hanging from the ceiling, Iggies is like a glowing pot of gold on the dark street. I am more than willing to enter inside. 

As I enter Iggies, yeasty air embraces me in a warm hug. I feel as if I am entering into a best friend's kitchen where I feel completely at ease. The maitre d' greets us with a smile and asks how many people are in our party. Pointing at two empty seats wedged in the middle of a long table, she tells us we can sit there and takes our wine for a placeholder. Seeing our somewhat apprehensive faces, she also asks if we have been here before. When we say no, she says "welcome!" and explains the "rules" to us. Iggies isn't an ordinary restaurant. They do seat you and give you plates, but from there on, it is self-serve. Wine glasses, water glasses, silverware, napkins, and corkscrews sit on a small sideboard in the heart of Iggies, and we grab what we need. Easy. Choosing which intriguing pizza to order from the chalk-written menu on the wall is not quite as easy. Orange squash, silky pears,creamy mozzarella, salty pancetta, tangy olives: the extensive list of ingredients delightfully goes on an on. So many possible tastes to savor. We deliberate, and finally decide to go half and half on our pizza with one side the Alioe, and on the other the Diovolo.  

After placing our order at the small counter, we make our way over to our seats. Fellow guests sit directly next to us family style at the long wooden table and we squish ourselves into our chairs carefully trying not to bump our neighbors. To our left sit a young man and his mother who have already finished eating but are still sipping their wine and enjoying a quiet conversation. To our right sits a couple who is chatting quickly and loudly and perhaps a bit nervously. A first or second date? They start holding hands across the table. I think it's a second. An Asian group of students at the far right-end of the table asks the maitre d' to take a photograph of them eating cheese, and saying "cheese." So cheesy, I love it. 

 The close quarters at the table might be too close for some diners, but I enjoy the camaraderie of the table. I love catching quick glimpses into the lives of those sitting next to me as I hear bits of their conversation. Something about a mean girl at work. Something about an art show. Can you pass me the hot peppers? I relish the fact that even though I am sitting amongst complete strangers who can hear everything I'm saying, I feel entirely uninhibited to say whatever I want. I know my conversation isn't really private, but it feels like it is because of the surrounding noise. I know that no one is really listening to me because they are focused on their own conversation. If they do tune into mine, they will probably just laugh and enjoy it, just as I enjoy hearing theirs, and continue on.  

When the chef calls our order, we are ready to eat. The pizza that waits at the counter for us is a beautifully crafted masterpiece. On one side, bubbling mozzarella and parmigiano lay over a bright red tomato sauce finely supported by a thin pita-like crust. Sizzling spicy sausage and fiery hot peppers add a kick and a punch, and another kick. On the other side lies a brilliantly green coating of pesto dotted with vine-ripened tomato, steamy garlic spinach, and buttery goat cheese. Each piece that enters our mouth is an applauding testament to the duo of fresh ingredients and crispy crust. We eat every last chewy cheesy crumb of this pizza, and long after it was gone, savor its taste on our tongues.

The delicious food at Iggies does more than satisfy my stomach: it satisfies my soul. I am reminded to value the small moments of life as I eat my pizza. The apparent appreciation for good food, good friends, and good times that permeates the air at Iggies is why I will be back and why I heartily say, 
"Bravo Iggies! You sure got a good thing right!" 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Friday in Fell's

The taxicab. It's amazing how this unique combination of sticky leather seats, smudged windows, lingering cigarette smoke, and static radio is the perfect ticket to a night of adventure in a new city. Where else but in a taxicab can you get a real tour of a city that won't bore you to death and will cost you only ten dollars cash plus a tip? That's right my friends, nowhere else.

Now Baltimore isn't the largest city, but it does have its fair share of taxis roaming the streets, especially on a Friday night. A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to snag one with a group of friends and headed down to Fell's Point. For those of you who don't live in Baltimore, or have just moved to Baltimore, Fell's Point is seriously charming. Visiting Fell's Point feels like visiting one of those historic preserved towns like Williamsburg or Pioneer Village except that there is no yellow caution tape or souvenir stands. A little history. Fell's Point was founded in 1763 and officially became Maryland's first National Historic District in 1969. So it's super old, and super cool. Most of the buildings in Fell's are made of red brick and are super narrow. The streets are tight and cobbled and finding a parking spot is equal to winning the lottery. If you visit Fell's, expect to park at least one or two blocks from you destination, or be smart and take a taxi.

My favorite thing about Fell's is that it is so close to the water. It is a beautiful thing to smell the harbor as soon as you get out of your car in Fell's. Now one of the trendiest places to live in Baltimore, someone told me that Fell's Point used to be one of the worst places to live because of the strong fish smell coming off of the water. Because of the fish and dirty water stench, real estate used to be cheaper in Fell's and this is why many poorer immigrants ended up living there. Today, the fish smell has left(lucky for us), but the sturdy row homes and all their history remains.

As our taxicab excursion showed us, Fell's Point is loaded, and I do mean fully loaded, with bars, bistros, restaurants, and boutiques. What I call the "main square" of Fell's is located on South Broadway. The restaurants and bars on South Broadway nest together like eggs in a crate with barely any space between. Until further excursions allow, Max's Taphouse is one of my new favorite places in Fells. This corner bar is definitely a favorite of many Baltimorians because it was packed when we pushed in through the old wood doors. Crammed with exhilarated Friday night partyyers, we finally  made our way to the taps. I have never seen so many beer taps in one place. Max's boasts having 140 rotating drafts, which makes for some tough decision making. After some nail biting and chin scratching we finally choose a perfect brew and took it to the upstairs lounge which was a bit less crowded. 

The atmosphere at Max's is laid-back, crowded, medium-loud, and totally fun. Small four pane windows overlooking South Broadway let the city air and occasional siren light into Max's and grow the Friday night excitement. I watch randoms meet and bump into each other right and left and chat up the night. With such good brews and good company it is easy to have a great night at Max's. Needless to say with 140 rotating drafts to choose from, we will definitely be back, soon.

By the time we leave Fell's Point on this Friday night, the streets are even more crowded than when we came. Taxicabs troll every alleyway and pick up fares at every curb. We dart into a steamy little pizza place and grab a cheesy slice. So good. The sidewalk is bursting and it feels like everyone in Baltimore is with us in Fell's. We find a taxi driver who says he doesn't mind if we eat in his cab, and head home. 

Adieu Fell's Point, until next weekend. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Beginning

 Baltimore, Smaltismore, what to make of you? 
 First night in the city, I crawl into bed (a super small mattress plopped on the floor) and listen to the shrill sound of sirens wailing out the window. An ambulance light glares through our makeshift curtains of hammocks and towels and lights up our room with a red glow. Someone shouts in the street. My husband and I look at each other and shake our heads. Welcome to the Charm City?Yet there's no turning back now, we are here to stay. Time to embrace our future. We open up a bottle of wine and toast the city with styrofoam cups.  
 The morning paints a prettier picture. Sunlight streams into our  bedroom. No sirens yet, only a few birds that can't wait to be heard. I usually love staying in bed for as long as I can, but this morning, my desire for coffee is too great. I force myself to emerge from a mountain of blankets and throw on my warmest clothes. Time to find a a local coffee shop! Hmm, where to go? I decide to walk north and pass a few dogs pulling their still yawning owners along. I spy a few people drinking coffee out of paper cups that aren't from Starbucks and I know a delicious coffee shop is just around the corner, somewhere, if only I can find it.
 This early morning coffee run in Baltimore is the first of many I can already tell. There is something truly magical about an early city morning. I have always felt this magic whenever I have ventured out into the city for school or work or travel. I think the magic steams off of a mostly empty sidewalk stretching out in front of you and all the places it can take you to. The magic comes with the excitement of wondering who you are going to meet today and what conversation you will have that could change your view from horizontal to vertical. 
 As I walk past strangers on my coffee expedition, I wonder where they are going and what they are thinking about. Even though I don't talk to these strangers, we do acknowledge each other as we pass by sometimes with a nod, smile, or step to the side.Inside my head I wish them well on their journey today.I love the simple fact that no matter what the differences are between myself and these strangers, we are all experiencing the same beautiful city morning together.
 Ta da! I finally find an awesome coffee shop which is clean and modern and filled with happy patrons sipping their coffees, reading the paper, and chatting and laughing. I pick up two steaming cups of java and after fixing them with cream, head out the door. After one sip, I am sold. I cannot wait to come back here and settle in with a paper myself one future morning. As I walk home, a guy on the street shouts "You must REALLY love coffee" at me as I pass by him holding an extra-large coffee in each hand. I laugh, and reply "Yes, I do" and we both laugh again. I walk the final blocks back to the apartment and ring our doorbell so my husband can let me in. Waiting on the front stoop I think "yes." Yes, I am beginning to like Baltimore, and yes, this is just the beginning.