A chicken, corn and apple pizza, (left) and a bacon and clam pizza… (Karl Ferron, Baltimore…)
Since opening in 2005, Joe Squared has been a Baltimore favorite for pizza.
With its free live music and a long rum list, the Station North restaurant has won a place in many a hipster's heart. A month ago, Joe Squared opened a second shop at a location that seems almost directly at odds with its underground ethos: the slick, mainstream Power Plant Live.
The new Joe Squared, like the old, has an enjoyable outdoor seating area for people-watching. Inside, you'll find a coffee house-meets-sushi-bar vibe, with long counters at the bar and along the art-covered walls. The night we went, there was even a guy playing a ukulele in the corner (live music is featured most nights).
For us, the real entertainment began when we realized a counter in the back has a great view of the kitchen. Partitioned by a long piece of Plexiglas, the back counter gives you a front row seat for Joe Squared's inner workings. There, you can watch the cooks roll the dough into rounds, put a square sheet pan on top to cut the dough into the signature shape and slide the square pizzas into the oven.
The pizzas themselves come in 10-, 12-, 14- and 16-inch sizes. One problem: Joe Squared sells slices only on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Most people are used to eating slices on weeknights and at lunch, and if forced to eat an entire 10-inch pizza, which can feed two easily, they might be less inclined to try it.
To keep things simple, we tried only 10-inch pizzas. Joe Squared serves other fare such as risotto, sandwiches, salads and appetizers — but most people come for the pizza.
Choosing a pizza is a daunting task. If the 19 pizzas on their signature menu (10 meat, 9 veggie) aren't enough, you can build your own, choosing from more than 80 toppings. We went with some of the signature pizzas and were not let down. Our tough-looking but super-funny server helped answer all our questions.
The chicken, corn and apple pizza ($15) seemed like a good starting point. On the menu, it looked light and not too forward with overpowering flavors. Boy, were we wrong. The pizza, which also featured red sauce, three cheeses, Vidalia onions and rosemary, blindsided us. It was spicy hot from the crushed red pepper — a pleasant surprise. Mixed with the mild corn, chicken and apple, the heat kept the pizza well-rounded and not bland. The apple is totally lost in the mix, though. A sweet apple, such as a Gala, would have countered the pepper's kick.
Unlike most Baltimore pizza joints, the crust at Joe Squared is thin — more like Mediterranean flatbread when it comes out of the oven. The pizza is served on a grate to maintain crispness, but it doesn't stay that way for long. So eat it fast.
The sopressata pizza ($15) wasn't as successful. By themselves, we liked all of the ingredients, including sopressata salami, roasted eggplant, green olives and sun-dried tomatoes. But for some reason, they just didn't gel. We chalked it up to too many ingredients competing for prominence.
While tasty, the ginger basil mojito ($11) wasn't worth the price and needed a little refinement. The house-infused ginger rum was there, but it was overpowered by the cane juice and the basil. In normal mojitos, the mint is muddled (mashed in the glass) and it infuses the drink while remaining supple and leafy. In this version, the basil did add flavor, but it became limp and slimy. The only way to keep from getting bits of bruised basil in my mouth was to drink it through a straw.
The surprise of the night, the bacon and clam pizza ($17), was also our favorite. Covered in rich clam slices and featuring a white sauce base, this pizza was clean and smoky at the same time. The bacon was used sparingly, and added flavor but didn't overpower the pizza. The crunchy, but not raw, Vidalia onions added sweetness.
Joe Squared doesn't offer dessert, but with all of the rum drinks on hand, who needs dessert?
Hopefully Joe Squared can make converts from the Power Plant Live crowd. It's worth a trip just to watch them make the pizza.
Back story: This locally loved purveyor of pizza in Station North recently expanded into a space in Power Plant Live.
Parking: There are lots of parking garages around the Power Plant Live complex.
Signature dish: Covered in rich clam slices and featuring a white sauce base, the bacon and clam pizza was clean and smoky at the same time.
Where: 30 Market Place, Power Plant Live
Contact: 410-962 5566, joesquared.com/
Open: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Monday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Delivery: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday
Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover, Amex
Pizza Prices: $15-$24
[Key: Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]