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April 16, 2010

RoCK savors North Avenue

Joe SquaredRobert of Cross Keys sheds his preconceptions about North Avenue in this week's Free Market Friday post. Full disclosure: When RoCK ate at Joe Squared, I was not present. And I didn't put him up to the Sheila Dixon reference either. Honest. As for Rob Kasper ... Looks fishy. He'll have to account for himself. Here's RoCK. LV

So last week I said that this week I would be talking about how I was wrong about North Avenue. It was probably pretty obvious that I intended to talk about Joe Squared.

Anyway, what do I see in the paper this week? A review of Joe Squared by Rob Kasper.

See, this is why I need to start getting invites to the staff meetings. Now people are going to see two stories about Joe Squared in the same week. It's going to look like when all those hack bloggers write a slew of rave “reviews” about Milan.

Well, I’m still going to write about Joe Squared as well, because I can’t see myself coming up with two ideas in one week. Also, I think it is a really great place, a place that I really should have visited years ago.

I lived in Mount Vernon for years, but I normally wouldn’t venture past Tapas Teatro. The exception was the one time my car was towed to some part of North Avenue that seemed more like Northern Ireland or Beirut than America. That experience, plus all the talk I would hear about the dangers, allowed me to dismiss Joe Squared. Sure I heard they had good pizza, but I figured I could get good pizza in another neighborhood.

A few months ago -- and years after I moved away from Mount Vernon -- I finally got over myself and went to Joe Squared. Yes, the pizza is really good there: a thin, sourdough crust with loads of fresh toppings that run from the familiar to the unique is cooked in a coal oven. I wish the crust could be a little crisper, but that is a small quibble. The important thing with a pizza is that quality ingredients work together to produce good flavor, and that’s what I’ve found, from a basic Margarita with fresh, buffalo mozzarella to a mushroom pizza that I augmented with some seasonal morels.

This attention to flavor is also present in other items I’ve tried, including a carrot, fennel and sausage risotto and an avocado and shrimp salad. I expect an avocado and shrimp salad to taste good if the shrimp is fresh and the avocado is ripe, but I didn’t have a good feeling about the carrot risotto. I thought it might be too sweet, but it ended up being well balanced and quite tasty.

As far as beverages, the bar features an extensive rum selection. Rum, how cool is that? Scotch is for snobs. Vodka is for tools. Rum, however, is for swashbucklers.

The biggest surprise about the place was how much I like the vibe of the place. I was expecting a rough neighborhood on the outside with a bunch of aloof hipsters on the inside. Instead I found a neighborhood that has more to offer than I thought, and an atmosphere that was devoid of attitude and pretention.

I’m struggling with how to describe the scene without sounding pejorative, but it is the kind of a place where it is OK to be a dork. Where else can you find events like an art show featuring works about Sheila Dixon, a drunk spelling bee competition, and a mustache and mini-skirt costume party? Now, wouldn’t you rather be sporting a mustache, eating some pizza, drinking some rum and spelling some words than say sitting at a table in a Ed Hardy t-shirt with a bottle of overpriced vodka and some cans of Red Bull?

Hawaiian Pizza with crushed tomato, bacon, Canadian bacon, coppa, mozzarella, provolone, cilantro and pineapple at Joe Squared. Sun photo by Algerina Perna

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 11:36 AM | | Comments (18)


If you'd like to see some photos of Joe Squared's tasty stuff, our experience there, and also, more on the ambiance, check out here and here. I don't do staff meetings unless good snacks are served.

You two are like a Möbius strip of self-shilling. Bazinga!

Ah, don't blame RoCK. He doesn't even know when/if I post. He just likes to write.

Just playing with you.

Owlie, I can't control my wife; I can only hope to contain her.

RoCK, Remember the Pennsyltucky!

While I love the food at Joe Squared I agree with Kasper that it makes no sense for the bar to not serve locally brewed beer with the excellent choices available. Their mushroom lover's pizza is perhaps the best I have ever eaten.

Thank you RoCK for the excellent words. on putting some Baltimore brews on the beer list. So far I'm thinking Heavy Sea's Loose Cannons, Flying Dogs Raging Bitch, and Stillwaters Stateside Saison. I'd like to add more but I just can't decide. If anyone has any suggestions I'd be very appreciative.

Arrrrr... Loose Cannon, matey.

I just have got to have the mushroom lovers pizza! Right now!

Yay for rum!!! I love Joe Squared's drink menu!!!

The Owl Meat Consortium will be heading there en masse in the near future.

Owlie, doesn't your ankle bracelet alert the Constable of Little Italy if you cross Pratt or President?

I'll vote for Flying Dogs Raging Bitch. Flying Dogs Gonzo Imperial Porter is another great local beer. If we expand the region a little any of Victory's beers are superb as are those of Dogfish Head. Now why not really push the envelope and have a local product on cask?

very timely, I'm heading there for dinner tomorrow night. thanks for the double review :)

Definetly going with the Raging Bitch and the Imperial Porter. We keep the Dogfish Head 90 minute on tap. A cask would be awesome, I'll try and figure something out with it.

Why drink beer when you can have a Dark n' Stormy?

So, just got home about an hour or so ago from Joe Squared.
I had to try the carrot risotto after the review in the sun and knowing RoCK had it too. It was everything I had hoped for...just fabulous. We gave the risotto a 9 out of 10. We also had the fried ravioli but they were an afterthought because we were so busy focusing on the risotto. I dont even think we ranked them- but I'd say a 5 out of 10- a non event, really.
Unfortunately, my white pizza lacked flavor and was almost...bad, dare I say. the greens on top were burnt and that burnt taste overwhelmed the whole pizza. It just missed that mark and was kind of bland and this coming from someone who is obsessed with ricotta - maybe with the addition of some salt and garlic it would have been better? We gave it a 2 out of 10.
The two guys I was with got the apple, chicken and corn pizza- they raved. it got a 9 out of 10.
We skipped desert to head over to Golden West for freshly baked cookies but before I close, I should mention that the bartender whipped us up a concoction, i think he called it the Istanbul. It was basically a modified mojito with basil. Now that got a 10 out of 10- I hope they eventually add it to the menu as a specialty drink.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was hopping on a Sunday evening. The parking situation was a little sketchy- it'd be great if they could use that MICA lot next door, because walking the distance to our car was a little nerve wracking after dinner.
Overall, I think I'll be back, I may skip the white pizza and just do the Istanbul and the risotto and I'll be happy. It's worth checking the place out.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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