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There’s something about Clarendon that makes you expect mediocrity. Maybe it’s…well, all the mediocre restaurants in the area. Not bad restaurants, but not great ones either. Just a dull, gray sea of eateries hoping their exorbitant rents won’t sink them before they can sell enough overpriced cocktails and mid-grade fare to stay afloat. The Liberty Tavern feels different the moment you walk in the door.

The Tavern has an old-fashioned and—man, I should cut off a finger for using this term—timeless quality about it. The dark wood, the wainscoting, the historic black-and-white photos. It makes for a comforting place to eat. The neighborhood haunt, as you’d expect, is run by a team of old pros. Liam LaCivita, formerly of Centro Italian Grill in Bethesda, leads the kitchen, and his menu conceals its complexity in the tiny details of his seemingly simple dishes.

His lunch menu packs a number of reliable options, including a line of smartly crafted panini sandwiches, particularly the housemade pastrami on housemade Italian bread. Did I mention that Liberty Tavern produces a lot of its stuff in house? But the option I can never pass up is LaCivita’s Vermont pizza, which I firmly believe is the most underrated pie in the entire metro area. The crust is thin and flavorful, and it’s topped with Cabot white cheddar, prosciutto, caramelized onions, Granny Smith apples, and sage.

This pie trips all my favorite flavor receptors—-while leaving that bastard, bitter, undisturbed. Go visit Vermont. Now.