Four local restaurants recently ranked at the top of their categories for food in the Zagat survey, an international restaurant rating and review guide.
Di Pasquale’s was voted Best Italian. The Black Olive was voted Best Seafood. Johnny Rad’s was awarded Best Pizza, and Samos was voted Best Greek.
Di Pasquale’s, an Italian market and restaurant located in Highlandtown at 3700 Gough St., has been in business since 1914. Joe Di Pasquale, manager and co-owner, says the secret of Di Pasquale’s success and longevity is its food–and its adaptability.
“We’re not the same place we were in 1914. We’re not the same place we were when I was a kid [30 years ago] working here, selling cases of pasta and tomatoes to women who cooked all their own food at home,” said Di Pasquale. “Today, there’s less cooking being done at home. We sell a lot of prepared foods and food to people who cook as a hobby.”
Di Pasquale says that their food quality has helped them stay in business while other Baltimore-area Italian market/restaurants have folded over the years.
“The only way to compete is by finding your niche. We are famous for our pasta dishes. We are also known for making a lot of our own products. We make our own sausage, our own soups, our own mozzarella, our own cannoli cream. You can buy our cannoli cream and fill your own cannolis at home,” Di Pasquale says.
Pauline Spiliadis, executive chef and co-owner of The Black Olive, in Fell’s Point, at 814 S. Bond St., echos Di Pasquale’s sentiments and says that homemade food also sets The Black Olive, a standard bearer in the Baltimore restaurant scene, apart.
“Everything at The Black Olive is made in-house. We make our bread, our desserts, even our mayonnaise,” Spiliadis says, adding that The Black Olive is also an organic restaurant.
Spiliadis says that eating at The Black Olive is a unique experience because it is one of the few fish tavernas in the Baltimore area.
“Customers come in and we tell them about the fish we have available: the fish’s origin, its qualities (texture, flavor, oiliness, flakiness). Then they walk over to our fish case and make a selection. For the customer, seeing the fish, smelling it, makes for more of a market experience. Once they choose their fish, we fillet it table side before grilling. This is not the way most people experience buying and eating fish in America.”
Johnny Rad’s, located at 2108 Eastern Ave., in Canton, also gives customers something they can’t find easily find in Baltimore.
The restaurant-bar, across the street from the Patterson Bowling Alley, is known for its not-quite-Neopolitan pizza, termed “Baltipolitan,” according to Rad’s owner Rich Pugh.
“The Baltipolitan has a thin crust center with a soft puffy cornice (the part people typically call the crust), fresh bright tomato sauce with little seasoning and spotty fresh mozzarella. It is baked at temps close to 650 degrees on a stone in a stone lined oven. It’s not pretending to be Neapolitan, but its pretty darn close,” says Pugh.
Another characteristic that sets Rad’s above its competition—and competition for best pizza in Baltimore gets stiffer all the time—is its vegan pizza.
“We offer several vegan [pizza] options like soy mozzarella cheese and vegan ‘steak,’ ‘chick’n’ and ‘sausage,’’’ Pugh adds.
Samos restaurant in Greektown, which was ranked at the top for Best Greek (also Best Local Favorite and Best Quick Bite) at 600 Oldham St., was not available for comment in time for The Guide’s deadline.
Apparently they were doing so much business they couldn’t return our phone calls.
by Danielle Sweeney