It's just a quick trip for a slice of New York heaven

Thin, rich crust at Vito's brings big-city taste home

Eats

March 13, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Some say the secret to the pizza crusts found in New York City is in the water. Maybe that's why people who grew up on New York pizzas are rarely satisfied with what they find in the Baltimore area.

But my friend Laura took one bite of the pizza at Vito's Gourmet in Pikesville and announced that the pizzas of her youth had met their match. The crust is thin yet substantial, tender yet chewy, with a rich flour flavor and no grease at all.

And that's no accident. "Pizza dough is really pretty technical," said Greg Adelman, one of the restaurant's owners. The mix of ingredients, the temperature of the water and even the outside humidity must be taken into account, he said. "There's a little bit of artistry involved."

Vito's makes its dough fresh twice a day, and cooks its pizzas on stones, he said. It's a formula that has worked for the other two restaurants in the chain - Vito's Pizzeria on Reisterstown Road and Vito's Express on Owings Mills Boulevard.

With Vito's Gourmet, which opened in August, the owners have added more entrees and attempted to elevate the restaurant past a simple pizza-and-sub shop, Adelman said. The menu includes such Italian staples as baked ziti, chicken marsala and spaghetti and meatballs, as well as a lengthy list of hot and cold subs, calzones and strombolis.

The result is still a pizza-and-sub shop, but a nice one. A few pieces of artwork hang on the walls, and the tables and chairs are an attractive sage green with cute little pizza-man decorations. However, customers still order from the counter, and the overly bright interior and the loud hum of the refrigerator case detract from the ambience.

In addition to excellent pizzas, Vito's serves a nice manicotti, with tender-firm noodles, plenty of cheese and a sprightly marinara sauce that's made on the premises. It was served with a slice of garlic bread that was too greasy and chewy. Opt instead for the garlic knots, made with the same excellent dough and served with a foam container of the house-made tomato sauce.

The meatballs in the meatball sub were fine, but would have benefited from a little more seasoning. However, the overall package, with the toasted sub roll, the excellent mozzarella cheese and the same tomato sauce, more than made up for the blandness of the meat.

A Greek salad appetizer was the usual mix of iceberg lettuce, crumbled feta and cucumbers, but it was elevated slightly by the excellent feta and the mix of both black and green olives. It was served with packets of salad dressing.

Another appetizer, a tomato and mozzarella salad, simply should not be served in the winter. In this simple dish, the tomatoes need to shine, and that's almost impossible this time of year.

Desserts, which came in individually packaged servings from the humming refrigerator case, were not made in-house and were nothing special, especially since they were too cold. The cheesecake, with swirls of raspberry jam and a chocolate cookie crust, was so dense it stuck to the roof of my mouth. The chocolate layer cake was serviceable. A rice pudding with a dusting of cinnamon was the best of the bunch.

While we were eating, a man came in to pick up an order for the firehouse. That might be an even bigger endorsement than a nod from a New York pizza eater.

Vito's Gourmet

Where: 25 Hooks Lane, Pikesville

Open: For lunch and dinner daily

Prices: $3-$6.75 for salads; $6.75 for a small plain pizza; $9.50-$11.95 for entrees

Call: 410-653-5553

Credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard

Food: * * *

Atmosphere: * *

Service: * *

Excellent * * * *; Good * * *; Fair * *; Poor *

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