Exactly one day after I committed to the South Beach Diet's grueling, 14-day regimen of consuming only protein and greenery (for the fourth time this year), my editor assigned me this carb-filled critique of Fells Point's Brick Oven Pizza (aka, BOP).
At first I thought I could get away with just reviewing BOP's delicious Greek salad...
The minute I entered BOP's cheerfully decorated room, the aroma of sizzling garlic and baking bread hit my nose. My stomach groaned like that creepy ghost from "The Grudge." I realized this was going to be tough.
I scanned the menu several times, marveling at the more than 50 available toppings I could have on either a slice, or a whole pizza. Would it be shrimp, pepperoni, sausage, chicken or all four? Would it be a classic, marinara-based sauce, or a more upper-"crust" pie with white sauce? And the vegetables -- didn't they count as diet food?
I wrestled with my conscience until, minutes later, I punked out and ordered a Greek salad. As I waited for my meal, I watched college students, families and suited yuppies lick orange pizza grease from their fingers. The only thing worse than knowing I would not have that same gratification was finding out that BOP was BYOB.
"You can bring your own beer in here," said Michael Mai, 31, who's been coming here since he was 18. He handed me a Belgian Piraat beer, and told me to live a little.
Alas, beer is against South Beach rules, too, so I declined and dug into my salad. It turned out to be quite delicious.
A week later, at my editor's polite urging, I altruistically gave up my diet for the cause. I returned to BOP, to the great amusement of many of the employees.
"Back for more salad?" one of the cooks joked.
"Nope," I said as I leaned on the counter. "Give me two slices of shrimp and spinach pizza with white sauce, and a Coke."
"That's more like it," one of the other cooks said.
Five minutes later, as I dug in, I vowed never again to go on South Beach. This was pure heaven.
Dish: Shrimp pizza with spinach and onions. I also had a very non-South Beach Coke on the side. Don't judge.
Damage: My concoction cost $10.31, but typically you're charged according to how greedy/creative you are with your toppings. Slices start at the base price of $2, with an additional $0.50 for each veggie; $0.60 for each meat; and $0.75 for seafood. A whole, 10-inch pizza will run you $8.95. If you're feeling really high-class, you can order BOP's $170 pie featuring all of the restaurant's 54 toppings. Owner Mike Beckner says he sells about four per year.
Decision: The unique taste of a brick oven pizza is almost indescribable. It's a smoky flavor that isn't easily replicated. When other places do try to cop BOP's style, the result is paltry, much like George Foreman Grill grub that never quite catches the flavor of authentic charcoal-grilled fare. Apparently Kevin Bacon agrees with me, because he and a bunch of other famous people have autographed accolades all over the walls. But perhaps the most useful testimony is the packed room of smiling, greasy faces.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun