I’ve declared a truce on the other small indignities of District life: Capitol Hill parties; Metro turning into a pumpkin at midnight—oops, on weekends now at 1 a.m. (party on, Metro General Manager Richard White); a congressional delegate instead of bona fide, Gingrich-style, vote-registering members of Congress.
But there’s one injury I just cannot continue to suffer. One irritation that just pushes my quality of life here right off the cliff. One thing that really bums me out about this place. And congratulations, Department of Public Works Director Vanessa Dale Burns, your department isn’t responsible for it—at least, I don’t think so.
Call it my Alamo: pizza.
Come again, you say? Pizza. As the Little Caesars guy repeats, Pizza! Pizza! Dough. Cheese. Tomatoes. Other stuff. Pizza.
You can hold the anchovies or mushrooms if you’ve got a thing about fish or fungus, but let’s pause here for a moment. Thin layer—not thick, I hasten to point out. So with William Safire-like parsing and nitpicking, I hereby eliminate from consideration all those places in town that claim to serve pizza, but really deliver some type of pastry with mozzarella cheese on top. This list includes Armand’s, Bertucci’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Ledo…feel free to add any establishment with bragging rights to Chicago-style, deep-dish, or pan-style pizza on your own.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. I’m not a New Yorker, either recovering or wannabe. (It’s on my birth certificate, but almost all my pizza-eating experience comes from outside the Empire State.) And this isn’t the epicurean episode in the long-suffering Washington-is-such-a-sleepy-Southern-city-compared-with-the-Big-Apple series.
But after eating more than my fair share of yellow-crusted (Trio, 17th and Q Streets NW in Dupont Circle), soggy (Venice, Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park), or grease-soaked (PizzaMart, 18th Street in Adams Morgan) slabs—the list can go on and on—I just have to wonder: How damn difficult is it to make a decent-tasting slice here? It ain’t rocket science, for crissakes. It ain’t even spaghetti carbonara.
Is it the water? The humidity? The lack of men named Vinny?
OK, so I haven’t hit every single hole-in-the-wall pizza/cheesesteak/lake-trout-advertising takeout, but I’ve downed a slice in every ward of this city:
* Millie & Al’s, 18th Street NW, Ward 1: Even when you’re drunk, this simply sucks.
* D.C. Superior Court’s Sodexho Marriott Crossroads International, Indiana Avenue NW, Ward 6: Not bad, compared with the rest of jury duty.
* Volare, S Street NW, Ward 2: Volare has inherited all of Vesuvios’—the pre-Wrapworks Dupont Circle landmark—atmosphere and regulars, but, unfortunately, its spongy dough and grease, as well.
* Star Pizza, Penn-Branch Shopping Center, Ward 7: Chef Boyardee all the way, baby.
I’ve never really had pillow-clutching, deep-REM sleep about it, but I do admit to the occasional daydream right before lunch: The sunburn-like brown skin that you can puncture with a flick of the fingers; the distinct snap of the crust when you fold it in half; the slight orangey-yellow small-faucet-leak drip of grease that colors the fingernails you now wish you had trimmed the day before; oh, and the bubble, that beautiful wart somewhere near the crust. That’s the slice I lust after.
I’ve been to all the places people here rave about. Georgetown Bagelry on M Street in Georgetown. Listrani’s on MacArthur Boulevard. Pizzeria Paradiso on P Street in Dupont Circle—oh, the indignity! On a recent Saturday night, the wait for a table at Paradiso was over an hour. Luckily, it was one of those unseasonably warm days, so my two friends and I amiably chatted outdoors until we received our call.
The maitre d’ offered us what he called “a table for three,” which, one of my friends quickly pointed out, was a table for two—and a small one at that.
We refused. He rolled his eyes. “We always seat three people there,” he officiously responded, flipping his head. I have to suffer this for undercooked dough sprinkled with pesto?
That leads to Vace, the much-lauded Italian delicatessen in Cleveland Park. Yes, the pizza is crispy, has that little grit on the bottom, and is oh-so-counterintuitive, putting the sauce on top of the cheese—but for goodness’ sake, it ain’t worthy of the pedestal everyone here puts it on. Now the white pizza with spinach is yummy, but that ain’t pizza, according to Webster’s, mind you.
I do frequent a couple of places I consider more than passable: AV Ristorante at 6th and New York Avenue NW has the right tacky sculpture, the District’s only all-opera jukebox, and a pretty darn tasty pie with kalamata olives. Faccia Luna in Glover Park also hits the spot, even though they really do put their pies on a pedestal. And for the K Street suit crowd, Il Pranzo, tucked away in an office building at 18th and M Streets NW, offers the closest thing to a New York slice—and New York attitude—this side of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Alberto’s, at 14th and P NW, also makes the cut—thin but sumptuous—although good luck trying to eat at the place.
But that’s only four places for more than 500,000 pizza-crazy citizens. So, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, you really want to earn my vote in 2002? Use some of that economic development money to encourage a few entrepreneurs to open pizza joints around town. Real ones—like Danny Aiello’s in Do the Right Thing. Now that’s what
I consider an empowerment zone. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Paul Moch.