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It’s been nearly a year since Marc Gretschel sold his lease and shuttered Half Moon Bar-B-Que on Georgia Avenue, leaving the natives to wonder what would happen to the old smokehouse and juke joint in the corporate DMZ known as Silver Sprung. I finally learned the answer last weekend: A sign posted on the window says that Olazzo, the small Italian-American operation in Bethesda, will open a second outlet there.
“We’re pretty excited about the building that’s going on” in downtown Silver Spring, says Roberto Pietrobono, who grew up in the Glenmont and Wheaton neighborhoods with his brother/chef/co-owner Riccardo. “We think it’s a good opportunity to get in while it’s just starting out.”
The Pietrobono brothers have held the lease ever since Gretschel called it quits last May. Part of the delay has been the usual finger-drumming wait for permits and licenses, but Roberto admits that he was unprepared for how much work the space needed. “That place was a mess,” he says. “I don’t want to bad mouth anybody. It was just not kept up well….We had to go in there and pretty much gut everything and redo it.”
With no other investors on board, the brothers have relied on family labor to build out the space, including their father, Renato Pietrobono, a retired brick, stone, and concrete worker. Their labors, Roberto says, have transformed the corrugated-tin, roadhouse feel of Half Moon into a “warm, brick-and-stone” restaurant with seating for about 60 diners. The back dining room will have a high ceiling with wood beams running across it. Look for the place to open sometime next month.
As for the menu, Riccardo Pietrobono will helm both kitchens, with assists from his long-time cooks at the Bethesda Olazzo. With an addition or two, the menu will feature the same Italian-American dishes that the brothers serve at the original location on Norfolk Avenue. Not that Roberto really likes to differentiate between traditional and American-inspired Italian.
“It’s kind of something that I’ve always wondered myself, because some people say, ‘Well, it’s not really Italian,'” Roberto says about his food in Bethesda. “Well, my Dad doesn’t even speak English. Both [parents] came from [Alatri] Italy, and it’s what I grew up with….They’re about as Italian as you can get.”