Restaurant review: Tasty pies, tempting cocktails at Hersh's Pizza

Hersh's Pizza & Drinks is exactly as its name advertises — a low-key restaurant and bar serving good Neapolitan pizza and simple pastas alongside old school cocktails and a wide selection of beers.

Brother-and-sister duo Josh and Stephanie Hershkovitz opened the spot last November, inspired by their mutual love of good food and throwing fun dinner parties. Stephanie runs the front of the house while Josh, who earned his chops in the kitchens at Charleston and Petit Louis, handles the food.

With a focus on fresh ingredients and homemade preparation, plus service that's prompt and on the ball, the Herskovitz siblings have turned their parties into a fun restaurant with great food and excellent drinks.

Lit by a neon sign — a lady with a beehive chowing down on some pizza — the outside of Hersh's is hard to miss. The inside is an ode to city chic, with steel gray paint and exposed brick walls. Metal chairs and wooden benches add to the industrial vibe, and though they don't look it, they're pretty comfortable.

At 7 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, the sparse crowd mostly included couples in their 20s and 30s. The hostess joked that we obviously didn't need our reservation, but was quick to add that some nights do get busy early.

During our visit, the restaurant's second floor never opened. Downstairs, the focal point is the bar itself — fitting for a place called Hersh's Pizza & Drinks, which boasts an appropriately extensive and thoughtful beverage selection.

The drink list includes only a few wines, but lots of interesting beers (Mama's Little Yellow Pils, anyone?) and a handful of cocktails that draw inspiration from the Prohibition era, but are dressed up with modern flair.

The bartender, also a Charleston veteran, was dapper in his vest and tie and carefully measured the ingredients for each drink. The extra attention to detail was worth it — the cocktails were nicely balanced and very tasty.

We tried a New York Sour ($9), an intriguing mix of Rittenhouse rye, lemon juice, simple syrup and malbec. The cocktail was sweet but, thanks to the lemon juice and wine, not cloying, and the rye added depth without dominating the drink.

The Genever Grey ($10) is a trendy yet vintage take on the martini. Genever, an old timey spirit that's getting some revival attention, is best described as gin's oak-aged ancestor. The Grey combined genever with dry vermouth, lemon juice and orange marmalade for a refreshing, citrusy drink.

The rest of the menu is brief, but inspired. On the recommendation of our waitress — who was friendly and knowledgeable about everything from the kitchen's cooking methods to the provenance of the liquor — we started with the braised chickpeas ($7) and the sage and anchovy fritters ($6).

The fritters were whole anchovies wrapped in sage leaves, dipped in batter and lightly fried. The anchovy flavor was noticeable, but not overpowering. A bright lemon aioli neatly balanced the savory fish and crunchy batter, keeping the dish from feeling heavy.

Arriving in a warm bowl, floating in rosemary-spiked olive oil and topped with crumbled feta, the chickpeas seemed pretty but plain. But their looks were definitely deceiving. Spread on a thick piece of lightly toasted bread, the beans picked up the rosemary's flavor and the feta added a touch of tang, making the dish surprisingly interesting and sophisticated.

Wood-fired, Neopolitan-style pizza takes center stage on Hersh's menu, which includes a few suggested combinations, plus options for toppings. We stuck with a traditional cheese pizza ($10), topped with house-made sausage ($3). The pizza was lightly dressed, with a smattering of cheese and a thin smear of tomato sauce providing a great base for the juicy (not oily) sausage, which had just enough spicy bite.

The toppings were good, but the crust was the highlight. Thin on the bottom, crispy on the outside and chewy in the center, the crust was a treat on its own, much more than just a vessel for toppings.

For diners who aren't in the mood for pizza, Hersh's also offers a small selection of pasta dishes. Monday is "Gnocchi Gnight," and during our Wednesday visit, the gnocchi ($15) was still available. The potato pasta came dressed with a Bolognese sauce, heavy on the ground veal and spices and counterbalanced by just a little tomato. Topped with thickly-grated Pecorino Romano, the sauce was traditional and first-rate. Don't panic if the serving looks small — the fluffy little pillows of pasta made for a filling dish.

After the gnocchi and pizza, we nearly groaned when our waitress started describing the dessert options, but couldn't say no to a trio of warm risotto doughnuts. They came rolled in cinnamon, sugar and shortbread, served with an orange and star anise sauce ($6.50). The topping was just sweet enough to complement the tangy, creamy ricotta center, and the sauce's citrus-licorice flavor turned the dessert into something special.

By the time we left, the downstairs portion of the restaurant was hopping and the bar was filled with people having a drink and a snack — and a lot of fun. Just another great dinner party at the Herskovitz's place.

An earlier version of this article misidentified the risotto doughnuts. The Sun regrets the error.

Hersh's Pizza & Drinks

Back-story: Hersh's Pizza & Drinks is a South Baltimore pizza joint run by the brother-and-sister team of Josh and Stephanie Hershkovitz. It focuses on great ingredients, old school cocktails and a fun atmosphere.

Parking: Street parking is pretty much your only option.

Signature dish: Wood-fired, Neopolitan-style pizza takes center stage at Hersh's. The crust is the highlight: Thin on the bottom, crispy on the outside and chewy in the center.

Where: 1843-45 Light St.

Contact: 443-438-4948,

Open: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; 5 p.m.-12 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Credit Cards: All major

Food: ✭✭✭1/2

Service: ✭✭✭1/2

Atmosphere: ✭✭✭

[Key: Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]

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