Lovers of thin-crust pizza are well served at new Iggies

February 09, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Iggies, a new must-try destination for thin-crust pizza lovers, is named for the owner's beloved dogs, Milo and Mico. They're Italian greyhounds, or IGs. Get it?

Local foodies may not know Milo and Mico, but they've probably heard of Lisa Heckman, their owner. Most recently, Heckman helmed Soigne, a swank Asian-fusion establishment in Locust Point. After she lost her lease in March, she decided to open a place selling the pizzas that she used to make for her restaurant staff, she said.

The result is Iggies, which opened on North Calvert Street at the end of November and sells terrific Neapolitan-style pizzas.

Heckman says she hasn't been to Naples, but she's done her pizza research. Her crisp crusts are made with flour from Italy, and the sauce relies on San Marzano tomatoes. Elegant toppings include pesto, goat cheese, spinach and duck confit.

Manager John Wood - known as Woody - noted that Iggies has to rely on a gas-fired pizza oven instead of the wood-burning one that would be even more authentically Neapolitan, but the results are still pretty terrific. The crusts are thin, crispy and ever so slightly charred, the toppings are fresh and flavorful.

Woody, formerly a Soigne cook, also said the goal was to do a few things well, then perhaps expand the offerings. Three cheers for that. The menu at Iggies is limited to the pizzas, plus a smattering of pastas, salads and soups. Desserts are cannolis - chocolate chip, plain or pistachio.

We had the "Alice" ($13.95 for a 14-inch pie), topped with a layer of garlicky pesto, globs of goat cheese, slices of tomato, spinach leaves and a coating of parmesan, as well as the Margherita ($12.95), a simpler concoction of tomato sauce, rounds of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. Both were crunchy, mouth-pleasing delights.

The Iggies salad ($6.95), bright green spinach and arugula topped with goat cheese, mushrooms and a warm pancetta dressing, was flawed only by a few past-their-prime leaves, but the combination of flavors couldn't be beat.

Pasta choices include puttanesca ($5.95), made with anchovies, capers and olives, macaroni and cheese ($6.95) with four cheeses, and the one we tried, aglio olio (5.95), with olive oil, herbs, roasted tomatoes and Italian tuna. It was light, the bowtie noodles gently splashed with oil and topped with the tuna and tomatoes.

The cannolis are made in-house and filled only after ordering, so the shell stays crisp. The chocolate-chip version was delicious, with a hint of orange in the filling that added a needed dimension to the sweetness.

With lots of paint and a few oversized pictures of Italian greyhounds in evening attire, the former site of the Combalou cheese shop and bistro has been transformed into an offbeat, welcoming space, with mismatched chairs (some with paw prints painted on the seats) and plenty of bright colors. The delightful centerpiece is a communal table that can seat 18, inviting plenty of conversation and sharing.

Wood said the restaurant doesn't take tips, and any that it receives will go to charity, most likely animal-related organizations. The service at Iggies had some flaws - our salad was forgotten at first, a requested cup didn't arrive right away - but the overall ambience was so friendly and upbeat that we couldn't complain.

A few cheeses and other items are sold at a small counter in the back of the restaurant. My dining companion, who happened to be my mom, asked about an item written on the blackboard, called Woody Crack Corn. Before the woman at the counter could explain, there was Woody himself, bearing a plastic tub of popcorn, which he gave us. (He later explained that the name refers to its addictive quality.)

We munched the popcorn, which was coated with a peppery spice mixture, as we walked along Calvert Street. Even without it, we would have left Iggies with a good feeling. But Woody and his popcorn only increased the sense that Iggies is a special place - one that cares about its food and its customers in equal measure.

Iggies

Where:

818 N. Calvert St.

Call:

410-528-0818

Open:

Monday through Thursday, noon to 9 p.m., Friday, noon to 10 p.m., Saturday, 2 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Credit cards:

MC, V

Prices:

Appetizers $3.95-$6.95, entrees $9.50-$14.50

Food:

*** 1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)

Service:

*** (3 STARS)

Atmosphere:

*** (3 STARS)

[Outstanding:**** Good:*** Fair or uneven:** Poor:*

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