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Free Range

Hersh’s Pizza and Drinks

Baltimore’s newest heartthrob is a pizza joint

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden


Hersh’s Pizza and Drinks

1843 Light St., [443] 438-4948, hershspizza.com

More at weekly.citypaper.com

I’ve got a crush on Hersh’s Pizza and Drinks.

Like all good crushes, mine stems from a combination of the physical and the intangible. I’ve been seduced by the Neopolitan-style crust of Hersh’s wood-oven pizza and the silky ribbons of house-made pappardelle laced with melting Berkshire pork ragu ($13.50). I’ve been surprised by the unexpected: two-for-one drafts, like Sixpoint Otis, a nitro oatmeal stout from Brooklyn, or DuClaw’s X-5 IPA, during happy hour; the chalkboard in the (unisex) bathroom with its erasable graffiti; and inspired pizza toppings like pistachios and kale, fried eggplant, or mortadella. (The lazy urbanite in me is also happy that it is fairly easy to park this far south on Light Street.)

I’m pleased with the cocktails—classic concoctions like a Negroni, Moscow Mule, or Sidecar and a strong, slightly sinister Fernando: Fernet Branca, Galliano, Cinzano, all dark and mysterious served up in an old-fashioned coupe glass with a sprig of mint.

And I like the cosseting from the staff, the way the servers, decked out in black-checked shirts, and the more sedately styled bar staff are enthusiastic about your business and patient taking orders and the way co-owner Stephanie Hershkovitz seems genuinely delighted when we gush over the food. “This is our first restaurant,” the former lawyer says of her and her chef brother Josh’s venture. “We’re glad to hear we’re getting it right.”

Truly, they are. Housed in the former Rub space, Hersh’s is both bar (first floor) and restaurant (second floor), though you can certainly eat in the bar, as we did. The interior, bathed in gray and natural wood neutrals feels cozy, yet modern. So does the compact menu.

There are two pasta dishes (the aforementioned super-swell pappardelle and fettuccine with lemon, red onion, and pistachio) and two crostini offerings: one with whipped ricotta, the other, two slices of toast overflowing with mahogany-colored mushrooms interlaced with a smattering of crispy prosciutto bits ($7). It’s ample enough to share, but would have been easier to do so with smaller bread slices.

Fritti, small plates, and salads are offered in portions of three. Our table was split on the sage and anchovy fritters ($6). The die-hard anchovy lovers were less impressed with the tempura-style batter that coated the marinated anchovies, but those who normally didn’t like the salty fish loved these. Go figure. We all decided that we would follow the example of most of the other tables in the bar and order prosciutto balls next time.

It’s hard to choose among the small plates of ricotta meatballs, kale papa, and braised chickpeas ($7), but those beans are hands-down heavenly. Full flavored and nutty and mixed with tiny nubs of feta, you’ll not want to share. Make sure, however, that you have enough bread to soak up the rosemary-accented olive oil.

Salads, too, work hard to be out of the ordinary. The antipasto salad offers a celery and fig relish, but the orange and fennel salad ($7.50), though petite, packs good crunch and bright flavor tempered by the spicy heat of arugula.

And then there is Hersh’s raison d’etre: pizza. Stephanie Hershkovitz explains that the restaurant is not open for lunch because the pizza starter takes 24 hours to develop. Those hours are well worth the investment, and yield a crisp crust that nonetheless has a depth that keeps it from being simply a base for toppings. Hersh’s offers its signature combinations, including clam, prosciutto and arugula, a margherita ($10) topped with artisanal cheese from Wisconsin to which we added house-made sweet fennel sausage ($3), and the kale and pistachio combo ($12) with fontina, lots of garlic, a little pecorino romano, and, in our case, an order of mortadella, which was like adding the best fried bologna you ever had to pizza. I doubted it too, but it works.

Hersh’s offers several desserts, including risotto doughnuts ($6) that arrive piping hot and taste like fried rice pudding. And as we sat at the table, finishing each crumb, with Feist warbling through the sound system and the family across the room packing their infant into a car seat, a friend declared in a satisfied tone, “I like everything about this place.” Me too, though with one exception: It should be in my neighborhood.

Hersh’s Pizza and Drinks is open for dinner Wednesday-Monday. Gushing welcome

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