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It’s the biggest pizza oven on the East Coast, or at least that is Menomalé‘s claim. Weighing in at just over 5,500 pounds, the new Brookland eatery’s custom-built oven from Naples, Italy, is made from a salt-based stone used for the texture and flavor it adds to the crust. The torcher burns wood, not gas, and cooks pizzas at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in about 60 seconds (which one-ups Pizzeria Orso‘s similar setup in Falls Church by about 200 degrees and 30 seconds).
Eager Brookland residents, and anyone else who is curious, have the chance to see (and taste) the oven in action starting tonight.
The Neapolitan-style pizzeria’s opening is long awaited. Founders Leland Estes and Ettore Rusciano, who moved from San Francisco to D.C. this winter to start the business, originally planned to open in mid-February but struggled to get approvals from the appropriate government agencies and their Advisory Neighborhood Commission. They eventually won the battle, but had to agree not to serve alcohol from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. on school days. Sorry, kids.
Rusciano and Estes know pizza and beer, respectively. The former is an official “maestro pizzaiolo” with a certificate from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and years of experience. The latter is an accredited beer expert through the Cicerone program and self-proclaimed West Coast beer nerd. Their menu focuses on pizzas, calzones, and sandwiches made completely with ingredients sourced from the Campania region of Italy; the bar will stock wine from the same area, a modest assortment of simple spirits, and a constantly rotating variety of carefully curated draft and bottled craft beer. Despite the imports, prices range from $7 to $13 per dish.
Estes has divided his 20 taps, which will include a nitro pour to add a silky texture to special brews, into three classifications. The five “Level 1” draft lines will hold approachable beers like light lagers and wheat ales that pair well with pizza. The ten “Level 2” taps will pour a variety of styles and latest releases from popular American and international craft breweries, perhaps favoring several from the West Coast. The remaining five handles will unleash connoisseur “Level 3” brews like sour ales and blended and barrel-aged beers. Sound like it will be hard to choose? Luckily, Menomalé will offer flights of small pours for mixing and matching.
The soft opening this week will feature ten taps. Among the starting lineup are the refreshing Hitachino Nest White Ale and Schlafly Raspberry Hefeweizen, Duchesse de Bourgogne sour Flanders red ale, the strong, dark St. Bernardus Abt 12 from Belgium (a personal favorite), and good, old Bear Republic Racer 5 India pale ale.
The duo’s knowledge and skills do not stop at pizza and beer: Rusciano and Estes spent the last six months building out every aspect of the restaurant themselves, from laying all the tile and installing the HVAC system to building all the tables and chairs and designing and making the bar’s grain-filled counter and recycled wood base. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ requirement for an additional bathroom knocked the indor capacity down to 38 seats. When the outdoor patio opens, expected in July, Menomalé will gain an additional 30 seats.
As for the name, Estes explains that “meno malé” is Italina for “thank goodness,” but is also a phrase said in Italy when encountering a friend you haven’t seen for a long time.
Menomalé, 2711 12th Street NE. Hours of operation are 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Logo photo courtesy of Menomalé, On-site photos by Tammy Tuck