After 53 years, Matthew's knows pizza

September 12, 1996|By Laura Rottenberg | Laura Rottenberg,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Most of the decor dates from before the end of World War II. Nine tables dressed in red and white checkerboard vinyl flank the long, narrow room. Fading Italian travel posters line the walls, and at the back of the restaurant a fully stocked vintage soda cooler hums quietly.

The recipe for Matthew's pizza also dates from the same era, and it's probably not about to change. It seems that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" has been the philosophy behind Matthew's tomato pies for 53 years. That's fine with me because Matthew's -- across from the defunct Patterson Theater in Highlandtown -- turns out some of the best deep-dish pies in the Baltimore area.

Grab a soda from the cooler (if you want beer or wine you'll have to bring your own) and take a seat. You'll be presented with a short menu and a smile by one of the waitresses. These women, although young, are also throwbacks: No one in this day and age is quite as warm and friendly as they are.

As old-fashioned as Matthew's seems, its pizzas can hold their own with those coming out of contemporary kitchens. By this I don't mean that you can get Thai barbecued chicken as a topping, or that the crust has been injected with molten cheese, or even that a wood-burning oven has infused the pies with heady applewood smoke. It's just that the ricotta pie, for instance, could have come from the most chichi of today's pizza emporiums. This pizza (listed on the specials board, not the menu) features chunky, fresh-tasting tomato sauce, a rich slather of ricotta and bubbling grated Italian cheese in a chewy, yeasty crust.

The pies are not huge, but even a small is filling enough to feed two people as an entree. They come sandwiched between two paper plates, and when the top plate is removed, a big puff of fragrant steam billows up. Matthew's specializes in simple deep-dish pies, adorned only with cheeses and tomato sauce, although building your own is also a fine option. Our choice one evening, a tomato pie with sweet caramelized onions and slithery button mushrooms, proved to be a difficult lesson in sharing with others.

Matthew's Pizza also purveys an admirable house salad -- red cabbage and iceberg dotted with green and black olives, pepperoncini, white onion and tomato chunks tossed in a cheesy house vinaigrette. The antipasto salad is also nice. It's the house salad gussied up with rolls of salami, provolone and mortadella.

Spaghetti and subs also take up quite a bit of the menu, and while a veal Parmesan sub was enjoyable, and the spaghetti was ample and hot, both paled by comparison to the pizza.

Desserts are a dairy lover's bliss: Breyer's ice cream, lush New York cheesecake and gooey, nutmegy cannoli.

The one-page menu ends with an underlined, boldface imperative: "If you are not 100 percent satisfied for any reason, please ask to see the owner." No complaints here.

Matthew's Pizza

3131 Eastern Ave.

(410) 276-8755

Open Mondays through Saturdays for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: None

Prices: appetizers, $1.25-$4.75; entrees, $3.25-$8.50

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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