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Baltimore: As Good as Greek Pies Get at Matthew's Pizza
3131 Eastern AvenueBaltimore, MD 21224 (map); 410-276-8755; matthewspizza.com
Pizza style: Baltimore style (aka Greek)
Oven type: Gas-fired Deck
The skinny: Awesome Greek style pizza. Hot, greasy, old school, and delicious.
Price: $4.95 to $11.95 small, $5.95 to $12.95 large
Things I always believed didn't exist outside of New England: Good lobster rolls. Molasses-related circus animal deaths. Sammy the Central Square bum. Decent Greek pizza (in fact, any Greek pizza, quality be damned).
Alright, so Matthew's Pizza in Baltimore doesn't actually refer to itself as Greek pizza, but given its close adherence to the form and its close proximity to Baltimore's Greek Town, I'm going to go out on a limb and call it out for what it is, regardless of what they call it there. Baltimore-style? Pan pizza? It's all Greek to me.
The space is about as old-school as a pizzeria gets. There's something about simplified recreations of famous Italian works of art that just makes sense on Formica tabletops. If Botticelli had painted his Venus in tempura colors, he probably would have found his pizza to be way more delicious.
Newspaper cutouts and old-fashioned tchotchkes line the walls, and the clientele is equal parts old dudes occupying tables, awkward first-date couples, and double-parked moms picking up takeout orders. Takeout orders, by the way, come with your pizza placed on a stiff disposable plate, the whole thing wrapped up in a butcher-paper package. Yep, Matthew's shuns the box (read a bit more about the history of the pizza box here).
But I'm jumping ahead of myself here. What exactly is Greek pizza, and more importantly, what makes for good Greek pizza?
To make Greek pizza, the cook stretches a disk of dough and lays it into a deep, straight-sided pan with a significant amount of olive oil pooled at the bottom. After letting it rise in this pas, it gets topped with a chunky cooked tomato sauce, and a ton of cheese before being baked.
It spends about 15 minutes in a hot oven, and emerges with a well-browned, dark, cheesy crust on top (preferably with a few burnt bits near the edges where the cheese comes in contact with the pan), while the base fries in the olive oil to a crisp, slightly greasy, foccacia-like finish. Above this crunchy bottom is a half-inch-thick layer of soft, chewy, flavorful dough.
It's a pizza experience completely unlike most others (and frankly, it's not for everyone—my younger sister doesn't like that "burnt cheese" flavor), and unfortunately, it's the one pizza style that unless it's executed perfectly, can be downright awful (defying the old adage that like sex, even bad pizza is still good). Matthew's, fortunately, executes perfectly.
The big problem with bad Greek pizza is dull sauce and a blanket of rubbery cheese. Matthew's sauce is bright and fresh tasting, with sizable chunks of tomato and cheese that remains stretchy and moist, despite the ample browning it receives.
The real key here, though, is the dough. It's way softer and more flavorful than any Greek pizza I've ever had, and according to Pizzablogger, the secret is lard. If I had to guess, it's what keeps the crust so pliant and tender, even during it's long bake/fry time.
I ordered a two-cheese (mozz and Parm-style, $9.25 small, $9.95 large) with pepperoni on half of it. Next time I might get full pepperoni. It curls, crisps, and releases little pools (ok, big pools) of spicy grease into the absorbent dough, flavoring each bite.
Best part: a large pie is a dollar or less more than a small pie, so you've got no excuse not to share. And if anyone's heard of molasses-related circus animal deaths outside of New England, I'm all ears.