Talking about pizza spikes people’s heart rates, as I learned from the deluge of responses to my colleague Jamyla Krempel’s recent column, “Baltimore: The Greatest (Pizza) City in America.” Her list of the best slices inspired a separate piece made up of readers’ own suggestions.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of our polarized times. In the past few decades, we’ve seen renewed interest in true Neapolitan pizza, but also something of a backlash to it. No, Neapolitan isn’t the best; it’s New York-style. No, it’s Detroit-style. Yes, pineapples are an acceptable topping. Wait, no, try pickles on your pie instead.

But who gets to make the rules when it comes to pizza?

This week I’ll introduce you to three different people who are changing Baltimore’s pizza game, including an artist turned baker, a tour guide and a chef who’s finding his path after working for perhaps the world’s top pizza maker.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Baltoz Bakery & Cafe brings pizza to York Road

Thanks to the readers who alerted me to the arrival of Baltoz Bakery & Cafe, which launched at 6709 York Road earlier this month. Named for Balto, the famous sled dog, it’s bringing sourdough pizza to the Anneslie neighborhood just north of the city/county line.

Owner Vlado Petrovski moved to Baltimore to study at the Maryland Institute College of Art. After graduating from a master’s in painting program, he stuck around. “I just loved the city,” he said.

In addition to painting, pizza has been a longtime passion. A native of the Republic of Macedonia, he first tried the food in Rome — a vegan version he called “a life-changing experience.”

He’s been working on his own recipe for more than a decade, and said he is puzzled when people ask him to describe what kind of pizza he sells at Baltoz. “My pizza is my pizza,” Petrovski said.

Whatever it is, it’s popular. After just a few weeks open on York Road, the response has been overwhelming: The company’s Instagram page has grown from 40 to 1,000-plus followers in less than a month, and Petrovski has been inundated with messages. The shop owner said he is sometimes getting more orders than he can fill on time.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Baltoz Bakery & Cafe, which sells pizza, babka and more, has been overwhelmed by demand from customers since opening on York Road. (Christina Tkacik)

For now, he’s doing all the baking himself, working 18-hour days to hand-roll the dough for pastries and pizza, while his partner, fellow artist Redeat Assefa, handles everything else. Petrovski calls her “the artery of the business,” but is hoping for relief with the addition of new staff members.

Maybe you’ll have to wait a few extra minutes if you order in the thick of Friday night dinnertime, as I did last week. But the generously portioned spicy pepperoni with pickled chiles was well worth it.

The shop is a work in progress. Eventually, Petrovski hopes to add seasonal food specials and a patio outside. Open evenings-only at the moment, morning hours are coming any day now. An espresso machine and barista will eventually allow for coffee service.

The bakery also sells bread and pastries including chocolate babkas, like the kind Petrovski’s grandmother used to prepare for him back in Macedonia.

And he’s not leaving the art world behind. Baltoz’s wall is adorned with a piece by Petrovski, who had a recent show in New York, as well as work by some of his friends from MICA.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Bob Hanlon leads pizza tours in New York City and, now, Baltimore. (Christina Tkacik)

Bob’s Pizza Tour hits Baltimore

It may gratify Baltimore boosters to know that Bob Hanlon, who launched his first pizza tour in New York City, decided to bring his operation to Charm City.

OK, OK, it wasn’t just the pizza that brought Hanlon to Baltimore. It was love. The New Jersey native and his girlfriend relocated here during the pandemic to be closer to her family as well as her master’s program.

I learned a little about how this all happened over — what else? — pizza with Hanlon at Paulie Gee’s in Hampden, the neighborhood Hanlon now calls home.

We each ate slices of the restaurant’s trademark Hellboy pizza, which Hanlon explained is pepperoni drizzled in spicy honey. The trend, now common across the pizza world, originated at Paulie Gee’s first branch in Brooklyn, New York.

“Pizza debates get intense,” Hanlon said. It speaks to people’s passion for it, which only intensified during the pandemic. “Pizza was probably the hero of the pandemic when it comes to food.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

An advertising expert who spent five years working at Twitter, Hanlon started the pizza tours as “Airbnb experiences” in New York City, and recently added legs in Baltimore. He hopes they’ll eventually be as much of a draw to visit the city as ballgames and sporting events.

In Baltimore, Hanlon breaks the city down into neighborhoods to ensure that the tours are walkable. Another stop in the Hampden area includes Arthouse, which features unique toppings such as spicy blueberry and brie as well as French onion. Elsewhere in the city, restaurants such as Underground Pizza Co. — which concert promoter Evan Weinstein started as a ghost kitchen during the pandemic — are highlighted. Serving Detroit-style pizza, Underground now has three locations, including one in Towson and another near the Inner Harbor.

In addition to trying different styles of pie, tour guests get to hear stories about the pizza’s origins and tips for photographing their samples.

Overall, Hanlon isn’t big on rules when it comes to pizza. “Pineapple is allowed. Ranch is allowed.” But he does have one mandate: “Phone eats first,” Hanlon said, whipping out an LED light to photograph our Hellboy slices before before diving in.

The Midwestern-style clam pizza is a special served only on Wednesday evenings at Little Donna's in Baltimore. Creator Robbie Tutlewski, who previously worked for world-renowned pizza chef Chris Bianco, says he wants to chart his own path in the world of pizza-making. (Christina Tkacik)

After pizza revolution, Little Donna’s chef charts his own path

The first episode of the Netflix series “Chef’s Table: Pizza” is all about Phoenix-based Chris Bianco and his mythical pizza, which one critic said started the “pizza revolution” in the United States. Among Bianco’s innovations is using flour from Arizona wheat, which happens to be the same stuff that’s exported to Italy. He also ditched Italian-grown San Marzano tomatoes, instead launching his own line of California-grown tomatoes called Bianco DiNapoli.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“It’s a fantastic tomato,” said Robbie Tutlewski, who spent 12 years working with Bianco. This might sound blasphemous to Italians, for whom San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, are a source of national pride. But the California-grown variety, Tutlewski said, are much more consistent and have a better flavor than their Italian-born counterparts.

At Little Donna’s — the restaurant he opened in the former Henninger’s Tavern — Tutlewski uses those same Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, but otherwise, he’s not serving anything resembling what you’d get at his old boss’ shop.

Instead, the Gary, Indiana, native is cooking up what he calls Midwestern-style “tavern pies” — thin-crust pizzas cut into squares. He likes his pizza to sit a little bit before eating. Customers can order dipping sauces such as homemade ranch dressing. Sauce goes to the edge of the crust, something Tutlewski called “a big no-no for a lot of pizza cooks.”

But such pizza rules were made to be broken. “I had to work hard to really find my own voice in the pizza that I’m making,” Tutlewski said.

New and coming attractions:

The Spice & Tea Exchange has opened its storefront at 1635 Thames St. I’ll have more details about the business in this week’s Dish email newsletter. (Have you signed up?)

Faidley’s Seafood is one step closer to opening its new location inside the revamped Lexington Market. The business has applied to transfer its liquor license from the old market, where it is still operating, to the new complex next door.

Easy Like Sunday opens this spring at the Villages of Cross Keys. The complex has been lacking a restaurant since the departure of the Village Square Cafe, which shut down in 2021.

According to an application submitted to Baltimore’s liquor board, Cross Keys will also be adding a gourmet market by this September. A seafood concept and Latin concept are set to launch by March 2024 and May 2024, respectively, while an Asian concept should arrive by September 2024.

Levy Restaurants, which has replaced Delaware North as Camden Yards’ concession vendor, has submitted an application to Baltimore’s liquor board for a new arena license. Here’s hoping that officials can get this one on the March hearing docket and get a new license issued by Opening Day — or that spectators don’t mind watching the ballgame sans beer.

More From The Banner