Friday, January 16, 2009

Pizza in Howard County

If you want to search for hidden gems, then pizza is a tasty item to make your gustatory grail. It's not that expensive. It is offered in almost every strip mall from Columbia to Ellicott City, and joints offer up an endless number of styles and atmospheres.

As I'm updating this in April 2009, my favorite pizza in Howard County splits between Pazani Trattori in Elkridge and newcomer Coal Fire in Ellicott City.  You need to know that I'm a thin-crust, thin-cheese kind of guy. 

Pazani Trattori serves a crisp, greaseless crust with exceptional, unusual toppings. Too many pizzas taste like canned sauce and bland toppings -- where you couldn't tell if that was
mushroom or chicken with your eyes closed. The flavors at Pazani Trattori are fresh, and they taste like someone picked out deliciously-salty olives and sauteed the peppers there in the store. The restaurant -- which is almost impossible to stumble across but very convenient from Rtes 103 and 100 -- also serves pastas, desserts, etc.

Coal Fire opened just off Rte 108, and it immediately leapt to the top because it pulls off the basics so perfectly.  Thin crusts with slight chars and crisp bite.  Cheese that looks like melted balls of mozzarella, not the shredded stuff you get in a bag.  And sauce that provides the real flavor, especially the sweet and spicy "signature" sauce.  Mrs. HowChow picks Coal Fire without a second thought.  She values crust and sauce over any flashy toppings.  I love the new place, but I'm still holding out for Pazani because I remember some vegetable toppings that tasted so unusually fresh.

Either way, this is an excuse to try those places and to continue the search.  Your tastes may run Chicago-style or exotic like "Peking duck pizza," and there has never been a consensus when people leave comments. For example, I always enjoyed Luna Bella Ristorante in Columbia, although the toppings and cheese can be so thick that slices are actually difficult to lift. I would love more comments because there are just too many HoCo pizzerias to try them all. Highlights in the prior comments included:
  • Gateway Pizza in Elkridge off Rte 108 for a soft, thick crust and mild, gooey cheese. An anonymous poster said it was the best pizza he had had outside of New York. I had to visit. I actually went that same day, and the pizza was perfectly described -- and the white pizza with chicken was a really nice pie. Now, I already said that I like crispy crust, but the poster is right that Gateway makes a uniquely soft crust with good toppings.
  • Bella Mia in Ellicott City on Rte 104 has had fans every time that I ask. I haven't been yet, but it first came recommended by Nina of Yet Another Food Blog. Last week, an anonymous poster touted the chewy crust and the buffalo chicken variety.
  • Trattoria e Pizzeria da Enrico in King's Contrivance also gets recommended. I thought it was nice, and it certainly makes a great warm-weather night out with an ice cream at Rita's. Thin-crust as noted by the most-detailed poster, who also wrote  "The sauce is tasty, a little sweet with an herby aroma. The cheese is very flavorful, a bit on the salty side. They've got a decent-sized list of toppings but don't offer anything exotic like pineapple. I particularly recommend the sausage, which is crisp slices of a spicy Italian sausage instead of bland lumps of pork."
Is there deep dish anywhere near? The Baltimore Beer Guy talked up Uno's. I haven't had pizza there in years, although my nephew loved making his own pie the last time that we went.

I'm still exploring to find pizza worth driving past a half-dozen strip malls -- places with pizza on the level of the best burgers or best Chinese. Based on comments from prior posts, my next stops look like Chef Paolino's, Bella Mia and Vennari's.

If you're looking for more about local pizza, check out the Howard County reviews from the Pizza Blogger -- and look around that site for reviews and tips on making your own pizza.

This is part of the "What I Learned" series of posts. They're organized in rings. See below to continue on the ring about different cuisines. Or click to switch to the posts about shopping in Howard County or posts about areas and ideas.

PREVIOUS: Indian Restaurants in Howard County
NEXT: Barbeque in Howard County (and Kabobs!)


Anonymous said...

I agree gateway pizza is great. they have a website btw:

Tim said...

Definitely a fan of the Buffalo Chicken Pizza at Bella Mia - a little greasy - but great for a Sunday of football and beer...

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Waterloo Pizza in the same strip as Parsa Kabob? I haven't tried it yet--although I love that they've been a "mom and pop" for 20 years--but I got takeout last night from Parsa and an owner/manager kind of guy kept popping in and out, and when I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw him behind the counter at Waterloo. Wondered if the 2 were run by the same people...? (PS--kabobs were great! thanks for the write-up!)

HowChow said...

I haven't tried Waterloo, although it makes sense that someone might have opened Parsa in the same place that they owned a pizza joint. Those are tough jobs. I hope they're both popular.

Anonymous said...

I started a thread on pizza in ec, columbia on chowhound and this is my 2nd post which is a reply to howchow's post:

I'm not sure if I'm a good barometer for judging pizza places. However try Pastino. you never know. hmm thick slices. no idea.
I'm not so sure I'm big on NY pizza. at least judging by Pazani and what is probably the best place for ny pizza in Orange co, CA. lol ill have to try real nyc pizza.

thick slices hmm I don't know try the costco at gateway overlook (108 and 175) 775 calories a slice lol. for an actual pizza place I dunno.

I think I like thick pizza better.

bella mia wasn't bad either.
i'll have to try waterloo. I saw the blog comments about it. and indian with the pizza is awesome. expeciallly since i'm a 2nd gen indian

HowChow said...

Vivinator --

Great idea to link to Chowhound. Definitely post here about what you think of Gateway. I think that is the one next to the Food Lion that also serves Indian food. If I'm right, Waterloo is a little closer to Lowe's next to Parsa Kabob

Tixi said...

I love the pizza at The Tomato Palace near Columbia Mall - brick oven fired, good sauce/cheese/crust, and the garlic knots you get while you're waiting for your food are just phenomenal.

Tixi said...

Trattoria e Pizzeria da Enrico in King's Contrivance has pretty good slices. I've never had a fresh pizza, but I would imagine it would be even better.

Anonymous said...

I am from Philly and really love a good slice of pizza. I've become a little obsessed with Venarri's - probably the best pizza I've had in Maryland - thin crust, sweet sauce, perfect cheese/herb blend. It is without a doubt a complete hole in the wall, and usually lacking in customer service, but if you can get past that you're in for a real treat. I really suggest you order a pizza for yourself though instead of taking the premade slices there unless they look fresh out of the over. It really makes a difference with this pizza. It's in Oakland Mills next to the Food Lion - 5865 Robert Oliver Pl Ste D Columbia, MD.

Unknown said...

anyone try Gianni's in Severn?*&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=gianni's+severn+md&fb=1&gl=us&hq=gianni's&hnear=severn+md&cid=5352911098743273492

Anonymous said...

With respect to Gianni's:

NY style, that is just pretty average... Not bad to grab one or two for the office, but I don't think I'd go for it otherwise. There sandwiches are about the same.

Overall, it's fair value, just of average quality.

Jeff said...

Went to Coal Fire today. The signature is sickly sweet. I loved the crust and everything else, but was not a fan of the sauce at all. Pazani is way better.