Spike Mendelsohn Doesn't Make Tiny Pizzas

If variety is the spice of life, then D.C.'s pizza scene is bland.

In fact, it's boring.

Want a pizza in D.C.? Here's what you'll get: an over analyzed 8 inch pie, cooked to a crisp in a 7,000 pound stone oven hand carved by Sicilian grandmothers, blessed by the Pope and shipped to America by the decedents of Amerigo Vespucci. The toppings, what few there are, will be sustainable, local and if you're lucky, "interesting."

The foodie culture - in which I am a participant - has transformed the simple pizza pie from a meal into social discourse. And every now and then, that's fine. I like the pies at 2 Amy's and Pizzeria Paradiso (to say nothing of the pizza at RedRocks, Matchbox, Pizzeria Orso, Ella's, Lost Dog, Seventh Hill, Il Canale, Comet Ping Pong or Pete's Apizza), but I can't tell the difference between a Neapolitain-style, New Haven-style and a thin crust pizza (if there is one). And every now and then I want a slice of pizza that I don't have to think about and can't finish in two bites. Sometimes I just want a slice of pie and a cold beer.

Spike Mendelsohn gives me that.

94770023Instead of precious pizzas for one, Mendelsohn's Capitol Hill pizza shop, We, The Pizza, peddles in large pies and large slices. The pizzas are the size of traditional New York style pies, but thicker, which the Top Chef alum refers to as Capitol Hill style. Although he likes New York-style pizza, the additional thickness helps support the toppings. Yet, they're not so thick that you can't fold them.

The toppings range from cheese and pepperoni to roasted potato and pancetta. And while Mendelsohn is quick to note that he sources locally, uses fresh ingredients, makes his sauces in-house, etcetera, etcetera, his slice of pepperoni glistens with enough pork grease to make me not care. The 30 kids lined up at the register don't care, either. It doesn't matter to them whether Mendelsohn pronounces mozzarella correctly or whether the cheese came from a grass-fed buffalo or cow. They want pizza, not a culinary experience (unless you count gawking at celebrity chefs).

Pie2 What I like most about We, The Pizza is that it manages to be different by being familiar. They're not cranking out the best pies I've ever had (Geno's East), but they are producing solid, tasty pizza. Look at the photo to the left. Where's that pizza from?* RedRocks? Pizzeria Paradiso, maybe? 

That's the problem, isn't it? When everyone is making the same pie, the only thing that separates them is quality (which is relative), location (which is relative to where you are) and for me, beer selection (that's why I like Pizzeria Paradiso so much). Otherwise, there's no damn difference between most D.C. pizzerias. Their pies are as redundant as they are flimsy. After a while, I get tired of the delicate little pizzas that cost me $20 a pop (and if I'm dining with my wife, let's make that $40, because I'm 6'2", 195 pounds, so the one pie ain't going to cut it).

I'll say again, I like the many of the pizzas served around town (sit down Jumbo Slice and Pizza Mart, you make mediocre pizza for twentysomethings too drunk to know better). I just want a few options, and that's what We, The Pizza gives me.

94770020Mendelsohn agreed that the District is oversaturated with Neapolitan-style pizzas, which created a market for his New York-cum-Capitol Hill pies. Although his pizzas are considerably bigger than the Neapolitan-style pizzas, his stainless steel ovens are easier to use and maintain than the wood-burning pizza ovens that are de rigueur for the typical D.C. pizzeria. Besides, for all the fire and fuss, Mendelsohn said most Americans don't like the Neapolitan-style pizza's soggy, soft crust.

He's right. Most folks aren't as wrapped up in the authenticity of the pizza experience. They just want a good slice of pie.

Every Friday night, my wife's parents enjoy a couple of beers and a pizza at ABC Pizza, a small pizza chain in Florida that's as authentically Italian as Popeyes. It's their thing. While they've enjoyed the pizzas at 2 Amys, and my mother-in-law raves about Pizzeria Paradiso, they still love their Friday night pizza at ABC. Sure it's familiar. Sure it's simple. But it's good pizza, and that's what keeps them going back every week.

94770001"When you go into the pizza business everyone thinks you have to be Italian. We have a few Italian touches here and there," Mendelsohn said, "but this is a true American pizzeria."

It is a true American pizzeria. It may have taken a Top Chef to give D.C. a simple, American pizzeria, but we're better for it. 

We, The Pizza
305 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003
(202) 544-4008

*Comet Ping Pong

Fire Works: Arlington's New Pizzeria and Beer Bar

FIREW- OUTSIDE1 It was out with the old pizza and in with the new in the Courthouse last month. Sadly, after many years of selling classic Italian-American fare, Listrani's has closed its doors for good, with its location being taken over by nearby Chez Manelle and converted into a hookah bar. Old-style Italian eateries are on the outs in metropolitan Northern Virginia, and are rapidly being replaced by cutting edge, trendy pie joints like Z Pizza and American Flatbread. The most recent addition of this ilk is Fire Works, a high-concept pizzeria and beer bar, which recently opened up in the Marriot Residences on Clarendon Boulevard.FIREW- BAR1

Fire Works is an expansion from the original Leesburg location of the same name, a local fav known for its sizable beer list and wood-fired, toppings-loaded pizzas. I have visited the new location two times since their opening back in late August.

FIREW-PATIO1 The space is pretty big on the inside, with a sizable 25+ seat bar, and some 60 or so seatings in the spacious, high ceilinged, diner-meets-trattoriaesque main room. Surrounding the building on two sides is Fire Work's HUGE patio space, which I roughly estimate could seat 60 to 80 guests comfortably. Both times I visited, the place was decently full, but not packed, so our party was seated promptly.

  In the drinks department, Fire Works has a lot of options. In addition to some 30 beers on draught (including one "real-ale" cask), they offer 10 or so wines by the glass, including several from Virginia, in the range of $7 to $13 per glass, and a two-page beer bottle list. Though the draughts are impressive in number, I was rather disappointed by the FIREW-MARG selection; everything was kinda run of the mill. Flying Dog IPA, Victory Lager, Bell's Two Hearted... they had a lot of the usual customers, many of which overlapped, and could have been excised for something a bit more esoteric, or perhaps a seasonal beer, which were completely lacking.

  Between our visits, there were some major changes made to the food menu, which they openly admit is a work in progress. Generally speaking, the menu features an array of 15 specialty pizzas, wood-oven fired, and available at 10" or 14", along with a smattering of salads, sandwiches, and starters. 

FIREW- SOPRANOSOn our first go my companion and I split the small Classic Margherita ($11), and the small Sopranos ($11), which featured "Mushrooms, Wood Roasted Onions, Nitrate Free Sausage, Organic Tomato sauce, Cheese and a Dash of White Truffle Essence." Though the outer crust of each had that chewy / crispy  combination that lovers of the Neopolitan style exalt, the rest of the affair was kinda lacking. The Sopranos fell into that trap as so many truffled foods, allowing the oil to overpower every other ingredient in the dish. Where the Sopranos was overly rich, the Margherita was just kinda "meh," offering up little kick from the basil, and very little flavor from the mozzarella. Both were also unfortunately wet in the middle, making them difficult and a little unpleasant to eat.

FIREW- DIP Our second visit also started out on the disappointing side. This time, we sat on the patio, which was lovely, and started with the Spinach Dip ($7), which was not. Though beautifully toasted on top and well presented, the cheese itself was mealy and flavorless, as was the accompanying garlic bread. That said, the main course was a lot more appealing. My friend got the small Segundo ($11), a white FIREW- SEGUNDO pizza topped with "White Sauce, Crisp Bacon, Smoked Mozzarella, Granny Smith Apples, Roasted Onions and Parsley," which had a delightful combination of sweet and salty flavors, and an appealing combination of disparate textures. This time, the pizza was also consistently chewy and firm, so they seem to have fixed that problem in the interim. For my main I eschewed the pizza for the " Three "g's" Grilled Cheese" ($7), a  combination of smoked gFIREW- GRILLEDCHEESEouda, goat cheese and gruyere on crusty Italian bread, served with tomato jam. This sandwich was outstanding, with all three cheeses adding something to the mix, the bread of perfect texture, and the tomato jam a wonderful tangy/sweet accompaniment. Though I was puzzled when I was told the sandwiches come with pasta (they do not), I quickly got over it.

Regarding the menu, I should also note that Fire Works does not offer you the option of choosing your own toppings -- it's their way, or the highway. This was not the case on our first visit, and when I asked the server about it on the second go, he said this option was removed because it "caused confusion in the kitchen."

Fire Works is definitely a work in progress, but I have high hopes. Prices are generally reasonable, and though the food has been hit or miss, the preparation definitely seems to be improving. Also, though the beer program is rather weak right now, having 30 draught pulls behind the bar could open up tons of possibilities to the right program director. All in all, Fire Works has a great infrastructure in place, and I really hope they live up to the potential. Though, with Rustico -- a known quantity in the beer and pizza world -- opening up a location in nearby Ballston, they better step up their game quick like.

Fire Works
2350 Clarendon Boulvard
Arlington, VA 22201

Hey Hop Heads: Paradiso Presents JulyPA Days!

6a00d8345244ce69e20120a595b347970c-800wi With Restaurant Week and DC Beer Week in the offing, some really cool events are bound to slip through the cracks. Chatting with Greg Jasgur of Pizzeria Paradiso last night, I learned about just such an event! Call it Christmas In July for hopheads; PP has just kicked off JulyPA Days!

Starting this morning, both Pizzeria Paradiso locations will be dedicating ALL of their combined 30 draught lines to those biggest and boldest of beers, the India Pale Ale. This style, once relegated to the back burner of American brewing, is now the fastest growing segment of the microbrew market, with the heft and power envelope being further pushed everyday.

Now, you can find an embarrassment of IPAs at any reputable beer bar, but you won't find anything quite like what Greg and his cronies have cooked up. Some really rare gems, almost completely unavailable at this time, will be tapped today. Amongst well known local stalwarts like the Dogfish Head 60 Minute and Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, relatively unknown treasures like the Scottish-born Brewdog Hardcore will be on the menu. For those that love "Real Ale," Bell's Two-Hearted Ale and PA's Victory Hop Wallop will be available on hand pull. If you miss seasonal favorites like the Bell's Hopslam, gone some two months now, a held-back keg will be tapped tomorrow, along with TWO offerings from the much-sought Three Floyds brewery, the Alpha King and the extremely rare Apocalypse Cow.

6a00d8345244ce69e20120a53ec387970b-800wi To accompany these ballsy beers, the chef has cooked up a couple of themed specials. The "I-nsalata P-aradiso A-ppetizer" (har!) is a strongly flavored salad of  arugula, sweet peppers, cucumber, pine nuts, and blue cheese, dressed in a lemon vinaigrette. The "I-Pizz-A" (double har!) features roasted local peaches and apricots, prosciutto di Parma, ricotta, goat cheese, and basil, on the restaurant's classic Neopolitan crust.

Greg says that they are gonna keep the kegs tapped till they are kicked, but you can't expect some of those suckers to stick around for very long. For a full list of featured beers, take a look at Paradiso's website here. If you call yourself a hophead, or are possessed of a similar affliction, you cannot miss this event. And remember, each restaurant will be featuring it's own particular selection, so call ahead for the lineup, or better yet, hit up both!

Pizzeria Paradiso

3282 M Street NW
Washington, DC


2003 P St. NW
Washington, DC

Rustico: Best beer bar or church of the hopped and malted? Both, actually.


I am not a man of faith, but I have heard the word. I have gotten religion.

I have spoken with Greg Engert.

If ever there was a revivalist pushing the gospel of quality hops and barley, Brother Greg would be that man. His church would be Rustico.

For the past three years, Greg has been beer director for the Alexandria restaurant. In that time, his passion for beer -- craft and otherwise -- has turned the neighborhood eatery into one of the area's best beer bars.

Rustico5 The day I arrived to talk to Greg, he was getting the restaurant and his staff ready for Rustico's Oktobeerfest and the 3,000 eager beer drinkers who would descend on the place the next day. It looked like they were gearing up for a military campaign. Kegs, many, many kegs, of pumpkin beer and other fall seasonals were double stacked in the walk-in and along the bar's back wall. Out back, tables, coolers, taps and tents were stacked in the parking lot, ready for assembly.

This is the third year Rustico has put on the event and Greg was expecting the masses. He knows these people. So in addition to the Maerzens and harvest beers, Greg set up a couple cask condition ales. He was gilding the lily. The beer geeks and drinkers who'd show up the next day would be more than happy with 14 craft beers, but the two cask ales would put them over the top.

Greg knew this because it would put him over the top, too.

Rustico2 I realize Rustico is a restaurant, but look at the beer menu. Actually, when I sat down with Greg to talk about Rustico's beer program, he popped out of his chair to show me the menu. Rather than organize beers by style (pilsners, stouts, IPAs) or geography (British, German, etc.), Greg organizes them by flavor. Want something crisp? Try a Brooklyn Lager. How about a beer with a roasted flavor? Have a Founder's Breakfast Stout.

In fact, Greg's fingerprints are on all of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's (NRG) properties. So if you like the beer lineup at Columbia Firehouse, thank Greg. EatBar? Thank Greg. And then there's the much-anticipated Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, an incredibly ambitious beer bar NRG is opening in D.C. Its success or failure will depend mightily on Greg.

Though these outlets, Greg has quietly spread the word about good beer. Beer enthusiasts who trek down to Rustico know there's a lot of craft beer to be had. But the people heading over to Vermillion can opt for craft over cocktails. The guy who'd be just as happy to have a Bud with his burger at Columbia Firehouse can try a better American beer instead.

And soon, all of us will have a lot more access to a lot more quality beer when Birch & Barley and ChurchKey opens on 14th Street. In a way, Birch & Barley and ChurchKey is the result of Rustico's success and Greg's meticulous work as beer director (Speaking of ChurchKey, check out the blog Greg launched. There's 2,000 words on glassware. This guy is into beer).

Talking to Greg about beer is like talking to Baptist minister about sin and Jesus Christ. He wants you to know why he does what he does. He wants people to enjoy the beer and Rustico as much as he does. Birch & Barley and ChurchKey may be the next big thing, but Greg fully intends for Rustico to remain a destination for beer geeks and regulars.

Although Rustico was launched in March 2006 as a restaurant and beer bar, for the first few months there wasn't consideration given to the beer selection. It lacked focus. The NRG folks recognized this and recruited Greg from the Brickskeller to improve the lineup.

He did.

Rustico3 Today, Rustico has 24 American crafts and imports on draft, as well as a beer engine, because they know from good beer. Local beers regularly find their way onto the taps (Clipper City's Big DIPA Double IPA was on the hand pump the last time I was there), but Greg doesn't necessarily emphasize them. Again, it's about the flavor.

In an effort to strike a balance with Rustico's beer line up, Greg maintains a steady rotation of flavors on draft and in the cooler. So the Hop, Roast, Malt, Smoke and other flavor categories may feature Troegs, Flying Dog and Starr Hill one day. And they may feature Samuel Smith, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, and Left Hand the next. It all depends.

Speaking of Rustico's cooler, there's a lot of beer in there. More than 200 different beers as a matter of fact. And the cases of beer stacked on an upper shelf near the ceiling in the back? They haven't been forgotten. Rustico rigged the air conditioning system to keep the rare reserve bottles cool.

All this is well and good, but Birch & Barley and ChurchKey will have 50 beers on draft, and four different beer coolers will be kept at different temperatures to ensure that the beer stored inside will be at the optimum temperature, and the draft-line system will look like a great big beer organ. So why the hell would anyone in the District hump down the damn George Washington Parkway when they have all that right there?

Because it won't all be at the ChurchKey.

Sure, there will be a lot of different, very special beers at the new D.C. spot, but some things -- like the beer Greg brewed at the Sierra Nevada brewery -- will only be available at Rustico. And events like Oktobeerfest, brewer's dinners, private beer dinners and launch parties, will continue at Rustico. So will Greg.

Birch & Barley and ChurchKey is a big project, which Greg is personally and professionally invested in, but he plans to continue overseeing the beer lineups at all of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's properties, including Rustico. And as long as Brother Greg is at the pulpit of the beer bar he made grand, that place is going to be alright.

Rustico4 Now, Rustico might be a great beer bar, but it ain't perfect. First, Rustico is a restaurant. As I've said before, I like my beer bars to be bars. Chef Steve Mannino might be doing some good work in Rustico's kitchen, but I'd prefer more division between the bar and restaurant. As it happens, Greg and Steve work to bring them together. In fact, Greg is quick to acknowledge the fact that Rustico is a restaurant first and a beer bar second.

Then there are the bartenders. This might be where the most work can be done. One night, the bartender is eager and friendly, introducing himself and attentive to our questions and needs. Another night, another bartender meanders behind the bar. When he gets around to taking our orders or to check our drinks, the 1,000 yard stare is locked in place. The guy may be there, but he's definitely not there. If Greg had a cadre of bartenders working as hard as the first guy, he'd have a hell of a team. As it is, he has a pretty mixed group: some mediocre, some outstanding.

Finally, there's the beer. Certainly, Rustico has one of the best selections of taps and bottles in the D.C. area. But I do have a few quibbles. Let's take the beer engine. My love for this machine is a matter of record. It's one of the greatest devices Western Civilization has ever created. However, it does require a skilled hand to operate. That might explain why during one visit when I ordered a cask ale, the bartender poured half my pint from a pitcher in the refrigerator and finished it off with the pump. When I asked why he did that, I was told it was to reduce waste. That didn't make sense to me then and it still doesn't now.

Also, I don't understand why there isn't a more specific focus on local breweries. One of the great things about the craft beer movement is the emphasis that's placed on supporting local brewers. To Greg's credit, I've always found a few local beers on draft, if not in the bottle. However, being local doesn't assure a brewery a spot in Rustico's lineup. I would hope that it would.

Score: 16 of 20 (beer: 7 of 8, atmosphere: 3 of 5, bartenders: 4 of 5, other elements 2 of 2)

The Best Beer Bars so far: Birreria Paradiso (17 of 20), The Galaxy Hut (16 of 20), and Franklin's (14 of 20)

Want to see more photos of Rustico? Check them out here.

Pizzeria Paradiso: The New Dupont Location is Open for Business!

Paradiso1 Way back in 1991, a small restaurant called Pizzeria Paradiso opened up on P St in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and quickly made a name for itself. Featuring wood-fire baked, Neapolitan style pizzas of unusual quality, the pizzeria soon outgrew its meager floorspace, and so was born Paradiso 2 in upper Georgetown. With continued acclaim, and the addition of one of the city's finest beer programs, business kept rolling in, and soon little Paradiso 1 just couldn't handle the crunch. So, after a year's construction and the usual cadre of setbacks, please welcome the new Paradiso, which opened up last Saturday in a custom-built space right up the road from the original. I wandered over around 8:00 that night to meet some friends and scope things out.

Paradiso5 Those familiar with the Georgetown Pizzeria Paradiso will feel instantly at home in the new space. Clearly designed with a similar mindset, the new space is all exposed brick, cream-colored walls with wood accents,and big windows -- even those cute, rustic pizza-pie sculptures aligning it's sister's basement feature here along the bar partition. The space appears to seat about 75+, and will accommodate another 24 once the large, seasonally-heated patio is opened later this month. The bar is a good deal larger than either of it's predecessors, and will seat a 15 or so in relative comfort.

Paradiso3 Opening night was packed: over the course of my two hours there, I saw many a party turned away at the door, which is both encouraging and not surprising given Paradiso's cache. As I had other things to attend to (binge drinking is "other things;" don't judge), I did not sample the food that night -- that said, rest assured that if you love Paradiso's formula of thin, chewy crust, fresh mozzarella cheese and myriad meat and veggie toppings, it does not appear that you will be disappointed. If my nose and eyes are any judge, the food at the new Paradiso is exactly what you might find at the other locations. If you are at all concerned, grab a table in back, and watch your pizza being flipped, topped and baked in the restaurant's open kitchen.

Paradiso2 Of course, no offense to the pizza, but to me, Paradiso is all about the beer. As previously stated, Paradiso has one of best beer programs in town, featuring an eclectic, well-document collection of brews from every style available. In addition to an extensive bottle list, the new Paradiso has 11 draughts, one of which, like the flagship bar, is dedicated to cask-conditioned "real ales." Though lacking your macros like Miller and Bud, a Paradiso list is never wanting for diversity, so lovers of any style are bound to leave satisfied. That night, I had the good fortune to sample (amongst others) the Brouwerij Bockor Cuvee Des Paradiso4 Jacobins Rouge ($8), a Belgian Flanders red ale whose acquaintance I had not yet made. My friend Tim described it as "SOOO Good," so I chanced it, and he was right. The Jacobin is a full-bodied, heavily cherry accented beer, with a complicated nose of sour cherry, wheat, and spices, and a pleasantly dry finish; thank God for it's reasonable 5.5% abv, as I drank two in absolutely no time. In recognition of the bar's opening, beer-guru Greg Jasgar has created a couple of unique, beer-centric cocktails. I tried the Cosmoplambic ($10), a unique blend of vodka, lime juice, Grand Marnier, and raspberry lambic that really hit the spot, and pretty much put a bullet in any of my plans to drive home.

Paradiso7 For burgeoning beer lovers and snobs alike, the GT Paradiso has one of the best happy hours in town, featuring half-priced draughts from 5-7 PM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The best news in all of this is that the new Paradiso will offer the same deal, albeit with a different selection, and a lot more standing room. If frantic crowds of sweaty beer nerds have kept you away in the past, make a point of checking out the new Paradiso's happy hour before they catch on! Alternatively, to you regulars out there, check out the new space for an airier, more Metro-accessible dose of what you've come to love and crave.

Pizzeria Paradiso
2003 P St. NW
Washington, DC

Grilling Pizza: Easy or hard, it's all up to you

Image022 When two American icons meet, there is much joy.

There is also much prep work.

America might be the land of cheese burgers and apple pie, but if we were honest, we'd admit that our true culinary love is pizza. There's just something about tomato sauce, baked dough and cheese that makes us happy.

So it was only a matter of time before I got around to writing about grilled pizza. That time came a couple weeks ago in the form of an e-mail that said: "Hey, when are you going to write about pizza on the grill?"

The e-mail was from Jason Storch, the guy behind this little Web site. Admittedly, I'd been considering a grilled pizza post for a while. My friend Eldora makes great pizzas on the grill, many of which I've devoured greedily. But the idea of whipping up dough bothered me. I'm not a very good baker. It's too precise, too unforgiving. I like a little room for adjustment should I work myself into a corner.

You screw up something on the grill or the stove and you can probably fix it. You screw something up in the oven and you're starting over.

Well, I'm here to say that my fear of baking was unfounded, at least as it applies to pizza dough. Relying on a grilled pizza dough recipe Steven Raichlen included in his BARBECUE! Bible cookbook (which I doubled), I was able to produce six reasonably good pies. And with a little more practice, I'll be the Papa Effing John of the grill.

There are three things to know about grilling pizzas: few things are more bad ass than pulling hot pies off a Weber, never use more than three toppings, and prepare everything ahead of time. Everything. The actual act of grilling pizzas is very fast and very easy. It took me all of about five minutes per pie. Preparing to grill a few pizzas, however, took me two days.

Image007 I will say that grilling pizza can be as easy or as complicated as you like. If you're like me and seem to enjoy doing everything the hard way, you'll make the pizza dough, you'll make the sauce, you'll plan on making "unique" pizzas, you'll make three different "unique" pizzas, etc. etc. If you're sane, you'll make the dough and buy some jarred pizza sauce, pepperoni and decent cheese. The route you take is up to you.

And let's face it, when you pull a couple hot pies off the grill, no one will care about your homemade sauce or the thought you put into the toppings. Why should they, you just produced an American icon from a grill that's usually relegated to cooking chicken breasts?

You, my friend, have just done something bordering on magical.

Image043 To celebrate my accomplishment, I cracked open a couple Gordon beers from Oscar Blues. Gordon is a big, bad double IPA. It's hoppy, boozy and in a can. For anyone who hasn't joined the canned beer movement, now's the time (Hell, even Esquire and the Post are on board). The enemy of beer is light. It converts some of the hop chemicals into 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol, which creates that skunky flavor that ruins beer. That's why so many beers come in dark brown bottles. Although brown glass isn't terrible at filtering light, aluminum is better. And those old fears that the aluminum affects the flavor of the beer can be put to rest. Modern cans, such as the ones used by Oscar Blues, include a liner that protects the beverage from its container. 

Oscar Blues was one of the first craft brewers to use only cans in their production, but other brewers are beginning to follow.

Grilled pizza three ways
(Makes four servings)

For the pizza dough
Rather than plagiarize the great grill master, I will simply say that a Google search of "Steven Raichlen grilling pizza" will produce his dough recipe and a video demonstration by the man himself. That said, if you don't own a copy of his BARBECUE! Bible and consider yourself a grilling enthusiast, you are missing out on a valuable resource of techniques and recipes.

For the sauce
1 16 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
1 tbs. of basil, dried or fresh chopped finely
1 tbs. of oregano, dried or fresh chopped finely
1 tbs. of thyme, dried or fresh chopped finely
2 tsp. of sugar
6 heads of garlic, minced very finely
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

For the Sopressata pizza
1/4 lb. of thinly sliced Sopressata
6 oz. of sharp cheddar cheese (I used aged English cheddar, but buy what you like), shredded

For the breakfast pizza
2 strips of bacon, diced
1 egg
2 tsp. of chives, diced
6 oz. of gruyere cheese (or Swiss), shredded

For the lamb and goat cheese pizza
1/2 lb. of ground lamb
6 oz. of goat's cheese, divided into four disks
2 tsp. of mint, dried or fresh chopped finely
2 tsp. of thyme
2 tsp. of salt
2 tsp. of cracked black pepper
1 yellow bell pepper, roasted and sliced very thin

Prepare the sauce the day before. Although it can be whipped up in a few minutes, a couple hours on the stove deepens the flavor. Combine the ingredients, bring to a boil, taste, and add salt and pepper. Cover and cook at low heat for an hour. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Cover and cook for another hour. Taste again. If you're happy with the flavor, let the sauce simmer for another 30 minutes with the lid partially off so some of the steam can escape, allowing the sauce to thicken. Stir, taste one final time and if the sauce is still a bit soupy, simmer on low heat for another 15 minutes. Once the sauce is done, stick it in the refrigerator until you need it.

Image033 If you're planning to make the Sopressata pie, the only thing you need to do is shred the cheese, get the Sopressata out of its package, and warm up the pizza sauce on the stove or in a microwave.

When you're ready to grill, drizzle some olive oil onto a baking sheet and spread the pizza dough out on it, making sure to coat both sides of the dough. When the dough is spread out (it'll look a little like a Rorschach test) and the toppings are next to the grill, toss the pie on to the hottest part of the grill. After a minute, check to see that the bottom is baking by feeling (with a spatula) for firmness and looking for grill marks. At about a minute and a half, you should be able to flip it over. Add the cheese (adding it to the hot dough ensures that it melts) and close the lid. After about a minute, check the underside for doneness and slide the pizza to a cooler part of the grill. Add the sauce and the Sopressata, and close the lid for another 2 minutes. Remove the lid, remove the pizza.

Image039 If you're making the breakfast pizza, you need to shred the cheese, fry the diced bacon and crack the egg into an egg cup or bowl ahead of time. As with the Sopressata pizza, make sure you reheat the sauce before you begin.

When you're ready to grill, drizzle some olive oil onto a baking sheet and spread the pizza dough out on it, making sure to coat both sides of the dough. When the dough is spread out and the toppings are next to the grill, toss the pie on to the hottest part of the grill. After a minute, check to see that the bottom is baking by feeling (with a spatula) for firmness and looking for grill marks. At about a minute and a half, you should be able to flip it over. Add the cheese (adding it to the hot dough ensures that it melts) and close the lid. After about a minute, check the underside for doneness and slide the pizza to a cooler part of the grill. Add the sauce and bacon, and close the lid for another minute. Using a spoon create a small well in the middle of the pizza for the egg yolk to rest in, and if you own a brulee torch get it out. With the torch at the ready in one hand and the egg cup in the other, carefully lay the egg into the well. As the white begins to run for the edges, hit them with the torch, they'll cook immediately (if you don't own a torch, I wish you luck). Close the lid and allow the pizza to cook for another three minutes or until the egg white is cooked. Remove the lid, remove the pizza.

Image035 And if you're planning to make the lamb and goat cheese pizza, do as I say not as I do. For this post, I decided to make a few startlingly big lamb meat balls. They're impressive to look at and they remind me of the first meatball pizza I had years ago, which had nothing more than cheese, sauce and a gigantic meatball in the center. Well, I'm here to tell you that the giant meatball works better on paper than in practice. So enjoy the picture, but brown your lamb meat off in a pan or make several bite-size meatballs.

To get started, brown the lamb with the mint, thyme, salt and pepper, or combine those ingredients and form them into tiny meatballs (really folks, trust me). If you're making meatballs, preheat your over to 350 degrees. Brown a couple sides of the meatballs and then stick the pan into the oven for 15 minutes. For the bell pepper, toss it on a gas grill whole for 15 minutes, or until a char forms on the skin. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. After 10 minutes, the heat from the pepper will have steamed it enough that you can easily remove most of the charred skin. Now, cut the pepper into long, thin slices. (If you don't have a gas grill, cut the pepper into long, thin slices and sauté over medium heat for about 10 minutes.)

When you're ready to grill, drizzle some olive oil onto a baking sheet and spread the pizza dough out on it, making sure to coat both sides of the dough. When the dough is spread out and the toppings are next to the grill, toss the pie on to the hottest part of the grill. After a minute, check to see that the bottom is baking by feeling (with a spatula) for firmness and looking for grill marks. At about a minute and a half, you should be able to flip it over. Add the sauce and close the lid. After about a minute, check the underside for doneness and slide the pizza to a cooler part of the grill. Add the goat cheese and lamb, and close the lid for another 2 minutes. Remove the lid, remove the pizza.

Ricotta, Mushroom and Shallot Pizza

Blue Ridge Dairy Products I took away quite a haul upon my first visit to the Falls Church Farmers Market (a testament to how much I enjoyed the market I suppose).  One of the best finds in my humble opinion was Blue Ridge Dairy.  I will shamefully admit I had never tried anything from Blue Ridge Dairy before.  Although they sell their products at several markets I frequent (including Penn Quarter and Dupont Circle), there is usually quite a line around their stand…and I hate standing in lines.  But after one taste of their Greek style yogurt, I fully understand people’s willingness to stand in queue waiting for a tub of the stuff.  It’s texture and taste are far superior to anything Fage could ever produce and there isn’t a trace of graininess to it. 

Since it was my first time trying Blue Ridge Dairy, I opted to get a small sampling of their products.  Besides the aforementioned yogurt, I also got some of their fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheeses.  The intent was to make a lasagna, but laziness and hunger took over on Wednesday (and a desire to watch Top Chef, which for the record pissed me off).  In the interest of time, I opted instead to make a quick pizza using the ricotta cheese and portobello mushrooms I got from the market and some shallots and garlic from my CSA share.  The resulting meal was more of a rustic hearth bread but just as delicious.  Since I hadn’t made the pizza dough ahead of time, I got the brilliant idea of calling Matchbox to see if they sold their dough.  Sure enough, they did!  I picked up a pound of it after work and headed home to throw together my own personal pan pizza.

Ricotta, Mushroom and Shallot PizzaFinished Pizza
1 pound pizza dough
¾ cup ricotta cheese
4-6 shallots (depending on size), sliced
1 large portabella cap, sliced julienne style
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  If you have a baking stone, place it in the oven.  If not, use a nonstick baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with a small amount of salt and pepper.  Set aside. 

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat.  Add the shallots and garlic, cooking until they are browned and softened.  Make sure to stir this mixture regularly to prevent it from burning.  Add in the sliced mushrooms and cook for an additional three to five minutes, or until the mushrooms soften.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Roll out the dough to the desired thickness and place on a baker’s peel sprinkled with corn meal.   Top with the ricotta cheese and the mushroom and onion mixture.  Shimmy the pizza onto the pizza stone (or place it on the baking sheet) and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the dough is a golden brown. 

Oro Pomodoro

Dsc00174UPDATE 5/10/2009: Stay away from this place if you can at all help it. After a couple recent visits, I have sworn never to return. How many times do people have to send pizzas back at this place for the chefs to realize that they're not cooking the pizzas long enough. I saw at least two other tables around us send their pizzas back. I felt like calling the manager over and asking him to pick up one of my slices to try to eat it. The pizza was a soggy mess and it was impossible to pick up a piece without all the cheese just sliding off. I had a caesar salad that had ONE crouton and was missing the parmesan cheese. The dressing had way too much acid in it and the cold chunks of chicken were like eating leather . Anyway, just a warning. Now on with the original review...

Back in May, on one of my numerous trips to Rockville Town Square, I noticed this new Neapolitan Pizza restaurant called Oro Pomodoro right by the fountain that my son likes to play in. People seemed to be enjoying the pizza and pasta they were eating and it peaked my curiosity right away as I'm always looking for a good Neapolitan pizza place. Up until now I've dined there five times, and I'll probably continue to go back, mostly out of convenience.

The first time I visited Oro Pomodoro, I instinctively ordered a pizza. A good Margherita is a tell tale sign of a good Neapolitan Pizza place and will quickly tell you if the restaurant you're at knows it's shit or is just another 2 Amys wannabe. The pizza was brought to our table and I immediately noticed a pool of water/oil/undersirableness in the center.  Basically, there was too much cheese. There should not be a solid layer of cheese on a Neapolitan pizza, especially if they're using buffalo mozzarella.

In subsequent visits, despite ordering the pizza "well done", "extra crispy", "extra  charred", "burnt", (I literally tried all of those ordering techniques) the pizzas have come out the same way. Now I'm no pizzaiola, but this says to me that the oven is just not hot enough or the kitchen isn't cooking the pizzas long enough.

The pizza's saving grace a basic flavorful sauce and the dough, a perfect combination of salty chewiness that I've come to expect in a pizza crust. For those of you that are crust fiends like me, it's as good if not better than 2 Amys. No joke. Unfortunately, the crust and sauce can't make up for the overloading of cheese and under cooking. I really think if the kitchen gets the cheese and cooking time/oven temperature correct, Oro Pomodoro will produce excellent pizzas.

Oro Pomodoro received big points for their delicate, yet rich eggplant parmesan (although they need to  reduce the amount of sauce), saffron-flavored risotto balls, fresh yellow tomato salad, and plentiful cheese plate with a variety of Italian cheeses, but the rest of the menu, falls short of greatness. 

While the mozzarella bar is a noble attempt to gather favor among cheese heads like me, the portions of cheese are too small. I once ordered a melon and burrata salad of the cheese bar menu that was loaded with melon but had 6 small clumps of burrata. When you're paying an extra $3 for the burrata, you expect a little more than that on the plate. The bites that I had with the cheese were phenomenal, but I can't ignore the portion size. I wish they'd take some cheese off the pizzas and put it on their salads.

Pastas are mixed too, so order carefully. A ziti with pancetta and fava beans was a greasy mess (actually wasn't on the menu that last time I went), but the pears and robiola cheese ravioli topped with mascarpone cream was original and flavorful. I also thought the homemade rigatoni with a veal ragu is one of the better pastas I've had in a while.

Last, but not least, something new for the DC-Metro restaurant scene...Charging For Olive Oil. BWAH?! You can get samples of olive oil from different regions of Italy, varying in richness for about $3 each or a sampler for $6. Oro Pomodoro is very generous with bread because you get it with just about every dish, but what happened to just putting a bottle of olive oil on every table?

From the front of the house to the bus people, everyone seems rushed, but also attentive. What that means is that you may wait a while for that glass of wine, but they'll also notice when you only eat half of your salad. Along those same lines, the servers seem very willing to do the right thing when something comes out miscooked or wrong. 

I'll plan to keep returning to Oro Pomodoro with the deepest hopes that the pizza improves. In the mean time, I'll order carefully and carry a blow torch around with me.

Oro Pomodoro
33A Maryland Ave
Rockville, MD
No Web Site Yet, but looks like it will be

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Plenty of parking in the town square parking garages. No valet.
Not Allowed in Montgomery County
Closest Metro:
 Tables are first come, first serve. The bar is usually empty.
Baby-Friendly Rating: 3 out of 4 diapers. It's a pizza place in the 'burbs, so Oro Pomodoro is very kid friendly. I'd give it 4 diapers if it wasn't for that a couple times I've had to go and find my own child seat.

The Italian Store: Mangia!

Img_5120_2 A few months ago, I wrote about A. Litteri, a traditional Italian grocery store hidden among the warehouses of Northeast DC.  I praised its sandwiches, its deli counter, and its wide variety of Italian packaged goods.  Hopefully you've taken my advice and checked it out by now.

If you liked Litteri but found its hours inconvenient or its cluttered interior less than welcoming, then I would encourage you to check out The Italian Store, on Lee Highway in Arlington.  For almost thirty years now, The Italian Store has been bringing the same old-school vibe to Virginia in a brighter, more open space - one of the shops in a strip mall that also houses a Giant, a Starbucks and Wasabi-Sito.

Img_5121The Italian Store was opened by the Tramonte family in 1980, and they have been serving up delicious Italian subs as well as New York style pizza by the pie and the slice ever since.  To order a sandwich, guests take a number at the deli counter (which also offers a range of traditional deli meats and cheeses available by the pound).  When your number is called, you place your order from a list of eight "Philly style" sandwiches named after Italian destinations (the exceptions are the Muffuletta, which is a faithful recreation of the New Orleans delicacy, and the Philly).  Sandwiches come on hard or soft rolls with peppers, lettuce, tomato, onions, oregano and Italian dressing as standard condiments.  Prices for halves run either $6.69 or $6.99, and whole sandwiches are only a dollar more.

Img_5124If you want to skip the line, you can fax your order in ahead of time.  Or, if you'd simply prefer a slice, you can move to the back of the store and place an order at the pizza counter.   There you can choose from seven options that are available by the slice at all times, including a white pizza, a suprema, and even a pizza topped with chopped chicken breast.  Prices are a bit steep for a slice, ranging from $2.75 for plain to $3.99 for the suprema, but the portions they offer are enough to satisfy most appetites at lunch time.  If you want to satisfy multiple appetites, whole pies run $14.99 to $20.99 for a 16" large.

Img_5123_2Like Litteri, The Italian Store also serves as a terrific source for Italian specialty products, though their selection is more limited.  Chalk it up to editing or a desire to avoid overwhelming its customers, but The Italian Store limits itself to a handful of choices in each category, from pastas to cookies to Italian wines.  They still have the sorts of products that you are less likely to find in the typical grocery store (like the nearby Giant), but they may not have exactly the brand that your Grandma swore by.  Prices are competitive, with decent wines as low as $9.99.

Along the back wall, you'll find a row of refrigerator and freezer cases stocking some true standouts - a wide range of fresh and filled pastas from some of the best producers on the east coast, sauces made in-house, and even some traditional Italian entrees for those evenings when cooking just doesn't appeal.

When it comes to authentic Italian in Arlington, there aren't a lot of options.  Thankfully, this is one.  The Italian Store provides a great selection in a store that is at once traditional and up-to-date.  They may not boast seventy years in the same location yet, but their approach to their customers and their heritage is such that it's only a matter of time.

The Italian Store
3123 Lee Highway (in the
Arlington, VA  22201
(703) 528-6266
Monday-Friday 10 AM - 9 PM
Saturday 10 AM - 8 PM
Sunday 11 AM - 6 PM

Birreria Paradiso

The M Street drag in lower Georgetown has long been a bastion of the hip and cool in DC — yet somehow, certain establishments manage to fly just under the radar. Pizzeria Paradiso, a longtime Birreria1 institution is well known, and deservedly so, for the quality of its wood-fired pies. However, relatively few people know of the other great stuff that lurks down below.

The DC craft beer scene is a relatively new development compared to those in other major metropolitan areas. Yes, I know, we have the Brickskeller, which has held the world's record for most beers in one location for several years. But the 'Skeller, by its very nature (i.e., huge), is lumbering and static. Maintaining a list such as theirs, some 1000+ beers strong, necessitates that the status quo reigns; sure, there is bound to be the occasional change in the lineup, but when placed among its hundreds and hundreds of brethren, who is bound to notice the newbie?

To the Brickskeller's behemoth, Birreria Paradiso offers an elegant counterpoint. Small and dynamic, it represents the very quintessence of a proper latter day spirits program, so lacking in the District. Housed in the cozy downstairs area of the Georgetown location, the Birreria is a welcoming space, featuring a 10 seater bar, a fireplace lounge, and table seating for about 20.

Well, I guess calling the beer program "small" only works in comparison to the Guinness record holder.  In fact, the Birreria's selection is quite impressive, being some 80+ strong in the bottle department. Selections run the gamut from the $5.50 Austrian Pilsner to several $50 Belgian Bieres Brut (the closest thing any beer lover is going to find to the glories of vintage Champagne). The bottle menu is extremely well laid out, oriented by category with general descriptions, with each brew identified with its own pithy couple of lines. Given the specificity, you are very unlikely to end up with something unexpected. The selection features a wide array of both domestic and imported novelties; if you are a fan of rare bottle-conditioned ales, be aware that Paradiso is near the top of the allocation list, and you will find things there you may never see in any other bar or retail store. In addition they regularly stock the full compliment of Belgian Trappist beers (at least, those that are available) and local favorites from Dogfish Head and Victory.


While the bottle list is well appointed, it is in the draft department where I think the Birreria really shows its stuff. Their draught selections are constantly rotated, featuring some of the best and hardest-to-find beers in the country. Do not come here if you are looking for Miller Lite or Coors— if your idea of a complicated wheat beer is Blue Moon, you may be a bit put out. What you should expect is a full complement of beers you've never heard of, and assume that nearly all of their 16 taps will be different than the last time you'd visited. Paradiso is also one of the few venues in town where you can experience real cask ale: served unpasturized and unfiltered, unadulterated by CO2 or nitrogen, at room temperature, this stuff is the closest you will find to those served in the British pubs of yesteryear. If you’d like to know what you are getting into before you go, rest assured that the list on the website is kept very up to date despite the disclaimer.

Sampling the Paradiso draft lineup is a great way for both the expert and the neophyte to learn a thing or two. Bartenders are keen to let you taste new offerings, and Manager/Buyer Greg Jasgur, a one-man beer encyclopedia, is usually running in and out of the place. Tuesday and Wednesday the Birreria features half-priced drafts and pizza specials from 5 to 7 pm. This happy hour is easily one of the best in town, and as such the space becomes packed with in-the-know regulars. I heartily suggest you go, but expect to stand and have your personal space a bit encroached. Bartenders tend to be very competent, but given the crowds and the Birreria's commitment to serving their beers in the proper glassware, you may have to wait a bit for your next drink. Be patient, and don't rush: many of the beers on draft are 10% abv or higher, so resist the urge to get as many in as possible, especially if you are driving. If you can find a spare bit of flat space, have a pizza, too. Beer has the same food pairing potential as any beverage, wine included, and with the breadth of choices available you are sure to find a match for your favorite toppings.

Birreria Paradiso
3282 M Street NW, downstairs
Washington, DC
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Garage nearby. Street parking is hard to find.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn