I’m eating a slice of pizza, but if I close my eyes, I’d bet good money I was taking down an Italian sub. All the components are arrayed on the Neapolitan-style crust: Italian cold cuts, cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, thin bangles of white onion, perky pickled peppers, vinaigrette punched up with dried herbs. Purists may take offense, but there’s mayonnaise involved.
This sando-turned-za at Boogy & Peel in Dupont Circle takes specific inspiration from the G-Man, D.C.’s OG (and G.O.A.T.) Italian sub from Capitol Hill mainstay Mangialardo’s. Its name, @kschifanorealtor, is a nod to local realtor Kristen Schifano, a friend of chef-owner Rachael Jennings, who specializes in nostalgia-inducing pizzas with unconventional origins.
It’s a restaurant conceit that could either be a winning trip down memory lane or fall flat, a tired rehash of iconic dishes done better elsewhere. On paper, you just can’t tell. The first time I ate at the pizzeria, which opened in mid-May, my wife and our 9-year-old son were in tow. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Yes, we were having pizza for dinner—as close to a guaranteed slam dunk in our family as you can get—but these weren’t your usual pizzas.
The first that hit the table for my wife and I was the Harambe Loved Big Macs, which is—you guessed it—basically a Big Mac pizza. This means it’s decorated with almost nothing that usually appears on pizzas: Thousand Island-style special sauce in place of the tomato sauce, sauteed ground beef, American cheese, dill pickles, and iceberg lettuce. I was suspicious, but curious. Then I took a bite and was completely sold; so was my wife. (Our son is vegetarian, so they were chowing down on a classic cheese instead.) Yes, a burger can be an amazing pizza (and an unforgettable taco—shoutout to the Royale With Cheese at Taco Bamba).
Since I last ate there, Jennings added a pizza inspired by a Reuben sandwich featuring pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, pickled mustard seeds, and ground toasted caraway seeds to stand in for the rye bread. There’s another called This is Beans, her take on Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza with chipotle-spiced ranch dressing, beef, black beans, salsa, and tortilla bits. “I haven’t had one in 15 years,” Jennings says. “But I remember, as a kid, my mom taking us to Taco Bell and sitting in the backseat of her car and crushing one of those and absolutely loving it.”
Jennings, 31, took an atypical route to Boogy & Peel. She recently worked at Tail Up Goat and before that spent four years at Rose’s Luxury, where she ended her tenure as a sous-chef. Having worked in restaurants since she was 18 years old, the Culinary Institute of America graduate did an extended stage at Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina, and externed at City House in Nashville, where chef Tandy Wilson opened her eyes to the potential of pizza. “He would just go into the walk-in, take out a few things, and bop-bop-bop, put it all on a pizza, and it was amazing,” she says.
While working at Rose’s Luxury, she lived with her brother, Corbin Jennings, and his fiancée. Every Sunday was pizza night, but it was also a time for Jennings to experiment. The Big Mac pizza was the first weird one. Then she tried sub toppings. “I was daydreaming,” she says. “‘It could be good on a pizza. Let’s try it.’ Sure enough, it is.”
Her brother started nudging her to think about opening a pizzeria, telling her to consider the good margins and the many-times-proven business model. Initially, Jennings thought she might first open a pizza-focused food truck. Then she tore her Achilles tendon, giving her some forced downtime when she recrunched all the numbers and picked the brains of a few pizzeria owners. “My thought ended up being that if the end game is always going to be to have a pizza restaurant, let’s see if we can just jump in and do it,” Jennings says.
That meant she needed a space, but she kept striking out. Concurrently, her brother was looking for a home for his MADabolic gym franchise. He walked into the onetime Ping Pong Dim Sum space on the southern end of Dupont Circle and loved it. Just one problem: It was a tad too big. So, he offered his sister 1,500 square feet of it, just the amount she wanted. Win-win.
Swatchroom designed the 30-seat restaurant with a blue tile accent wall, open kitchen, and poppy artworks, plus a 44-seat patio. “They did an awesome job of letting me word vomit things that I like and then bringing it to life,” Jennings says. “I tend to have a pretty loud personality, so I wanted the space to mimic that. I wanted it to feel bright, fun, and lively.”
A giant neon sign on the wall reads, “Every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard and believe in yourself,” a quote often attributed to Bill Murray, though some folks on the internet beg to differ.
When I first saw the name Boogy & Peel, I scratched my head, but both parts are significant. Boogy is her beloved dog, who she got in college, and a peel is what pizzaiolos use to slide pizzas in and out of the oven.
Speaking of pizzas—carpe piem! Many of Boogy & Peel’s rounds are best enjoyed at the moment of creation, since they don’t reheat well. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat them cold. I am a loud, longtime proponent of cold pizza. However, add-after-baking toppings like pickled peppers, shredded lettuce, and pickles were never designed to spend time in an oven.
One that does revive well is the Macha ’Roni, which Jennings calls a “zhush-ed up pepperoni pizza,” featuring blended plum tomato sauce, a mozzarella-provolone mix, and quarter-size pepperoni that crisp around the edges to curl around glimmering pools of fat. Of course, there’s a twist. For extra oomph she adds on salsa matcha, essentially the Mexican version of chili crisp, a spicy savory umami condiment featuring fried garlic, dried morita chilies, peanuts, and sesame seeds. It’s made by her sous chef, Saul Zelaya, who helms Hijos de Maiz, an intriguing-looking taco side hustle.
Beyond the pies, Boogy & Peel offers a couple of starters, including a satiating farro salad tossed with thinly shaved raw asparagus, pickled dried cranberries, mint, and parsley. Simply dressed with lemon juice and zest, it’s finished off with finely grated Asiago cheese. And it wouldn’t be a pizzeria without wings. The ones here are awash in cut-above Alabama white sauce made with horseradish and garlic for kick and nuance.
There’s only one dessert: chocolate soft serve topped with crumbled potato chips, peanuts, and pretzel bits. I took one bite, turned to my wife, and mumbled approvingly, “a stoner’s delight.”
It turns out that’s the exact phrase Jennings uses to describe it on the menu. The saltiness pushes the sweetness to new heights and the crackly crunch of the toppings contrasts with the smooth coldness of the soft serve in a work of joyful simplicity—a stoner’s delight indeed. Five stars.
It was a great last bite for the whole family. Before we even got up, our son declared it was a contender for their absolute favorite restaurant (the other contender being A&J in Rockville, recent winner of the RAMMY Award for Best Brunch of the Year). We all agreed we couldn’t wait to go back. Boogy & Peel makes pizzas celebrating happy foods, and it’s near-impossible not to feel happy while you eat them. These days, I’ll take all the happiness I can get. If I get it while eating pizza, even better.
Boogy & Peel, 1 Dupont Circle NW, Suite 115B; (202) 290-3745, boogyandpeel.com