Pop-ups are often used as a way to test the waters for a concept that aims to develop into something more. But sometimes, a pop-up that’s only meant to be temporary turns out to be such a great idea that it can’t help but stick around.
That’s the case for Limoncello, the Locust Point Italian restaurant that started serving pizza to-go during the COVID-19 pandemic and ended up sparking a pizza craze in the neighborhood. Now, Limoncello’s owners have plans for a new pizzeria and I have the details.
I also have the story of Dreamers & Make-Believers, a new comic-book store and coffee shop in Highlandtown that got its start by holding pop-ups at a local brewery.
Plus, food is on its way to Pariah Brewing Co. in Hampden, and the owner of Towson’s popular Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro is opening a new restaurant. And, inspired by last week’s personal stories about food, I have a new highlight to introduce that shares the stories behind some local restaurant dishes.
Pizza by popular demand
Locust Point restaurant Limoncello specializes in the cuisine of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, and until the pandemic, pizza wasn’t on the menu.
That changed during the dining room shutdowns in the winter of 2020, when restaurants were looking for takeout-ready options that could travel easily and appeal to a wide range of customers.
[ Bits & Bites: Ammoora brings Levantine fare to Baltimore ]
Limoncello added a few pies to its menu, and they took off right away, said general manager Vincenzo Schiano. The restaurant served up pizzas until the spring of 2021, when regular business started to pick up.
“The business was at a turning point,” he recalled. “We couldn’t have maintained consistency — we would be dropping the ball either on the restaurant side or the pizza side.”
So the restaurant took pizza off the menu, but sparked something of an uproar among neighbors who had grown to love Limoncello’s Tuscan-style pies, which feature a crust that’s thicker than New York-style pizza and thinner than the focaccia-like Sicilian pizza. A one-day Limoncello pizza pop-up at the Locust Point Festival last fall sold more than a thousand slices.
“It was a calling from the neighborhood,” Schiano said, “and we listened.”
Last year, the Limoncello team signed a lease for an additional space in the Anthem House development where the Italian restaurant has been serving customers for three years. Limoncello Pizzeria will open around the corner from Limoncello, in between Taco Mama Cantina and Polished Day Spa.
Schiano said the new space will have its own kitchen and room for a few tables and booths. The pizzeria will serve Limoncello’s popular pies, including the “Vinny’s Grandma,” modeled after the thick grandma pies sold at Umberto’s Pizza in Long Island, New York. There will also be pizza by the slice, as well as a menu of Italian subs and paninis.
Schiano said Limoncello Pizzeria is pushing for a spring opening.
Pariah Brewing Co. to roll out a food menu
In other pizza news, Hampden’s Pariah Brewing Co. plans to start serving pies of its own soon.
Co-owner Christa Mitchell said she and her Pariah co-owner and husband Brian Mitchell have launched a catering company called Pariah Pizza and hope to begin offering food at their Union Avenue brewery in the first quarter of the year.
The couple started the new business “based on the demand for food” at Pariah Brewing Co., Christa said, adding that pizza is her husband’s “culinary love child during the pandemic.”
The pizzas will be prepared off-site at culinary incubator Bmore Kitchen and then cooked at the brewery. Brian Mitchell’s recipe has a special twist: he uses brewer’s yeast to make the pizza dough. The result is a lightweight, pita-like crust that the couple plans to top with add-ons like hot peppers, mushrooms, red onion and chorizo. Or you can go for the Pariah original pizza, a simple pie with cheese and basil.
Plans to add food service come as Pariah Brewing, which got its start in San Diego, celebrates its sixth anniversary. The brewery recently marked one year in Baltimore and consolidated its operations in Charm City last fall. A weekend of anniversary festivities is planned for Feb. 10-12 and will feature themed events like a Hawaiian luau and a costume party.
There’s a new Sichuan restaurant in town
Fans of Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro, take note. Ping Wu, the restaurateur behind the Towson spot with a focus on authentic cuisine from China’s Sichuan Province, is opening the doors to a new restaurant in Ellicott City’s Normandy Plaza shopping center.
Tea Horse Sichuan Bistro, which opens this month, will highlight Sichuan dishes from Chef ZheXin Zheng. “Tea Horse” is a reference to the ancient Tea Horse Road, which connected the Sichuan province’s capital, Chengdu, to Tibet.
The 6,000-square-foot space is about twice the size of Red Pepper and will have seating for about 150 people. A soft opening is scheduled for Feb. 2.
In addition to Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro, Wu also owns Orient Express in Charles Village.
A space for Dreamers & Make-Believers
Highlandtown has a charming new comic book store and coffee shop.
Dreamers & Make-Believers Books opened late last year on Highland Avenue after about a year and a half of pop-up appearances around town, including weekly meetups at Mobtown Brewing Co.
Owner Miranda Nordell said she was inspired to open the brick-and-mortar store to fill a void in comic shops in the area. Comics helped her through difficult times in her past, Nordell said, and she wanted to help others find a similar haven in their pages. Dreamers & Make-Believers has a particular focus on books written by and for women, people of color and queer people.
Grab a coffee while you browse the store’s extensive comic collection or take a seat in the cafe, which carries brews from Vent Coffee Roasters, kombucha and mate tea from Mobtown Fermentation and pastries from Stone Mill Bakery.
The story behind the dish: Apple bourbon pork chops at Church
Chef Melanie Kerr’s grandmother isn’t known for spending lots of time in the kitchen.
“My grandmother is not a traditional grandmother: she is an on-the-go, on-the-move person,” the chef told me recently. Instead of staying at home, Kerr’s grandma is usually busy bowling, playing cards or traveling the world.
But when she does cook, she sticks to four staples, done well: breakfast, fried chicken, chicken noodle soup and a pork tenderloin with apple sauce that Kerr has adapted for her chef’s residency menu at the Old Goucher bar Church, which debuted last month.
“It’s a very fond memory of something that I remember eating growing up, and feeding my kids now,” Kerr said. “It’s my ode to my grandma for all her lack of cooking growing up.”
The chef’s adult spin on her childhood classic adds an apple bourbon chutney, charred peaches and a cornmeal cake topped with honey syrup and pomegranate seeds. I tried the sweet-and-savory dish on a recent visit to Church, as well as bites of “An Interesting Salad,” a chilled mix of mussels steamed in Thai curry and served over carrots and bell peppers.
Kerr, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, was formerly the executive chef at Moveable Feast and a contestant on the Food Network TV show “Chopped.” She now owns her own spice line and catering business, Chauncey’s.
Do you know of any local restaurant dishes that have an interesting backstory? Do you have favorite dishes at local restaurants that you want to learn more about? Send me suggestions at email@example.com.