5 Best Pizzerias in the DMV

In our household, we like pizza. A lot. Part of this is due to the fact that we each grew up in pizza-crazy regions of the country (New Jersey and Philadelphia, respectively) and part has to do with the fact that pizza makes a relatively inexpensive night out. After living in the DC-area for the last five years, our taste in pizza has changed from New York style to Neapolitan, but when it comes down to it, a good pizza transcends styles.

Without further ado, here is our list of the top five pizzerias in the DMV. Note that it’s not in order, because they are all excellent!

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

Inferno graces our list having the “chefiest” pizzas around, made by former Oval Room executive chef Tony Conte. You will do well with a classic margherita, but this is the place to load-up on top-notch toppings and well-thought out pizza-creations. One of our favorites was a summertime special – a shrimp sausage pizza with sweet corn, smoked parmesan and basil. Don’t forget to end your meal with soft serve ice cream!

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana soft serve ice cream

Frankly Pizza

Frankly Pizza is the place for pork. That’s because chef-owner Frank Linn makes his own bacon and sausage The crust is thicker than the other pizzerias on this list and the tomato sauce is a touch sweeter. It’s liberally applied, but not excessive. The Porky Marge is the best way to experience Frankly Pizza, with mozzarella, bacon, basil, tomato sauce and a light topping of romano cheese. The restaurant has a very small selection other than pizza, so you may want to try multiple pies while you are here, along with a housemade soda.

Frankly Pizza Porky Marge

Pizzeria Vetri

Our award for best crust goes to Philadelphia-import Pizzeria Vetri. The crispness and char are something to behold. We like to wash it down with a beer or wine, both on draft. Since the crispiness of the crust makes for a lighter pie, we have plenty of room to pair it with a rotolo, a cinnamon roll-looking creation filled with ricotta, mortadella and pistachio pesto.

Pizzeria Vetri neapolitan pizza

Pizzeria Vetri pistachio rotolo

Pizza CS

Pizza CS, in the Twinbrook section of Rockville, has taken the time to earn VPN-certification, making pizzas to the exacting standards of the international Neapolitan pizza organization. This is the place to go when you’re in the mood for an absolutely textbook Neapolitan pizza. Pizza CS is good for kids, since it’s a counter-order spot with plenty of space of kids to run around. Other than pizza, there are a few basic salads to choose from, so come to CS to get your pizza-fix. Plus, there’s foosball.

Pizza CS

Pizza CS

Pacci’s
Pacci’s is our neighborhood pizzeria and we feel fortunate that we have it in walking distance. The pies here are Neapolitan and margherita is your best bet if it’s your first visit. Our favorite, however, is the La Diavola, which really brings the heat. That traditional Neapolitan base is then topped with copious slices of spicy Neapolitan salami. If it’s nice out, ask to sit on their large outdoor patio. The experience is worth it.

Pacci’s La Diavola Pizza

I hope that you enjoyed our list! What are you favorite pizzerias? They don’t even have to be in the DMV – a great pizza is something worth traveling for!

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Serpico

We were in the Philadelphia area visiting family for Thanksgiving, and since we needed a break from the traditional Thanksgiving turkey and assorted sides, we took advantage by having dinner at Serpico. Serpico, from James Beard Award-winning chef Peter Serpico and acclaimed restauranteur Stephen Starr, is located on a gritty two block stretch of South Street. Inside however, the space is full of handsome dark woods and has a completely open kitchen, full of buzzing cooks.

Serpico restaurant in Philadelphia

If you have been reading this blog, you may know that we are big fans of the Philadelphia dining scene. In fact, the Monday before our trip, I received in the mail Craig Le Ban’s Ultimate Dining Guide which I read cover to cover in anticipation. Craig Le Ban, by the way, is the widely respected long-time Philadelphia Inquirer food critic and I was excited to check out another one of his favorites. It also gave us a chance to have a meal with my Mom and Grandmother, neither whom we had seen in some time.

Confit carrot in butter foam with crispy phyllo, ginger sauce and thyme is a stunner. You will want to cut a slice of tender root vegetable and scoop up as much foam as possible, the experience bringing back memories of buttered popcorn at the movies. Expertly crafted cocktails include a classic white negroni as well as walnut-infused mezcal with manzanilla sherry, smoked maple and mole bitters.

Serpico confit carrot in butter foam with crispy phyllo

A beet and goat cheese salad with pistachio, kohlrabi and thai basil showcases winter’s fruits and vegetables and is a beauty of a presentation, the best of the night. After these two dishes, though, it would have been nice to get new plates. I understand that restaurants do not have unlimited resources but this is a high-end restaurant and I didn’t want to eat the rest of my meal on a blood orange stained plate.

Serpico beet and goat cheese salad

Spicy rice cakes, accurately described by the server as being similar to gnocchi, are enveloped in a sauce of XO, gochujang, white sesame and scallion. The texture from the rice flour makes the cakes gummy and chewy and we enjoyed every bite. The sauce was a huge hit at our table—my grandmother actually scooped up spoonfuls of sauce long after the rice cakes were gone.

Serpico spicy rice cakes

The slow poached halibut with charred cabbage, pistachios and raisins gets its “skin” from a light breading and a quick detour to the frying pan, the real skin having been removed. Olives can sometimes be overpowering, but the green olive sauce shows that the kitchen understands this and correctly gives them a supporting role to the halibut.

Serpico slow poached halibut

A seafood stew with mussels, scallops, charred brussels sprouts and butternut squash in a tomato dashi has pleasantly chewy clams and squid and showcases more of winter’s harvest. But at a restaurant where food is meant to be shared, it would have made sense to give everyone bowls instead of plates for the broth. Eating soup from a bowl was futile and I just gave up trying to enjoy the broth.

Serpico seafood stew

We finished the meal with tender slices of short rib in a glaze of whole grain mustard with grilled broccoli and fried potatoes. I did not think much of this dish initially, but in the last few days since our meal I’ve had the taste and texture of the short rib on my mind. It’s actually become the second most memorable dish of the meal, after the spicy rice cakes. If you can get past the location, and really, it is not that bad…Serpico is well worth a trip. And if you enjoy good food, get the spicy rice cakes.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Spicy rice cakes

Address
Serpico: 604 South Street Philadelphia, PA 19147
Closest Public Transit: Lombard South Broad Street Line Station

Le Virtu

Back when I was in law school, we lived just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, so we know that the city has lots of Italian restaurants. However, we were on a tight budget so we would mainly frequent pizzerias and red sauce joints. Now that we are older and wiser we are starting to explore more diverse Italian restaurants which focus on a specific region of Italy. One such place is Le Virtu in the East Passyunk neighborhood.

Le Virtu specializes in the cuisine of Abruzzo, located in Southern Italy just west of Rome and stretching from the Apennines in the east to the Adriatic in the west. Montepulciano is the wine to drink, and Le Virtu has 9(!) bottles of it. With that many to choose from, I asked our server for some assistance. He recommended the Cataldi Madonna Malandrino, a bold, flavorful red that set the tone for the entire meal.

Le Virtu Montepulciano red wine: Cataldi Madonna Malandrino

Arrosticini d’agnello, or grilled lamb skewers, is the best preparation of the night. This fatty, chewy (in a good way) roadside snack is served in a specially-made clay pot that says “arrosticini” on the side.

Le Virtu Arrosticini d’agnello, or grilled lamb skewers

For my entree, I was torn between the bucatini all’ amatriciana and the taccozzele all’aquilana, named after the capital of Abruzzo. I asked the server for advice and he said that the taccozzele was his favorite thing on the menu. I couldn’t turn that down! The thick folds of the spinach handkerchief pasta were coated with chunks of Abruzzese sausage, saffron, and earthy porcinis. Everything was then topped with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. By the end of the dish, we were planning our trip to Abruzzo.

Le Virtu pasta: taccozzele all’aquilana

Inspired by our pasta dish at Taglio in Milan, we ordered the Maccheroni alla chitarra con ragu d’agnello, or guitar-cut pasta in lamb shoulder ragu. At Taglio, we had also ordered pasta with lamb shoulder rage, but there was a clear difference between the Northern Italian version in Milan and the Abruzzese version at Le Virtu. That difference; tomatoes! Tomatoes can grow in the warmer climate of Southern Italy but not in Northern Italy. Most of the Italian immigration to America was from Southern Italy, which is why we tend to think of tomatoes as being an integral part of Italian cuisine.

Le Virtu pasta: all chitarra con ragu d’agnello, or guitar-cut pasta in lamb shoulder ragu

We ended the meal with semifredo (semi-frozen) chocolate bon bons and a housemade fennel digestif. If you are looking for an intimate Italian restaurant in Philadelphia with sublime cooking and cheerful, knowledgable staff, it is hard to beat Le Virtu.

Le Virtu dessert

Best Bite
Paul: Taccozzele all’aquilana
Marnay: Maccheroni alla chitarra con ragu d’agnello

Address
Le Virtu: 1927 East Passyunk Ave Philadelphia, PA 19148
Closest Public Transit: Snyder Broad Street Line stop

Ultimate Jersey Shore Weekend

Saturday

It seems like we travel somewhere at least every weekend during the summer.  It’s either to see family or to a wedding or, occasionally…for fun!  On Saturday morning, we took an Amtrak train to Philadelphia on our way to visit Marnay’s Mom in Margate, NJ.  Margate is on the same barrier island as Atlantic City, just two small towns to the south.

It takes about 2 hours to get to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. We grabbed a bite to eat in the station and then sat outside at The Porch at 30th ( @theporchat30th ) while we waited for our NJ Transit train.  The Porch at 30th is an urban oasis on the formerly barren sidewalk outside the train station.  It is a beautiful example of placemaking.  They transformed the sidewalk by adding swinging porch chairs, public art, things for little kids to climb and some impressive plants.   I would hang out there on my own even if we weren’t waiting for a train.

The Porch at 30th

When we arrived in Atlantic City, we met two college friends and went to Barrels of Margate, your standard Jersey Italian red sauce joint…the kind of place that we grew up with.

Barrels restaurant, Margate, New Jersey

Afterwards, we headed to the Ocean City boardwalk.  We walked almost the entire thing and made sure to get some famous frozen custard from Kohr Brothers.  The ice cream definitely made up for a so-so dinner.  We walked some more but at 11:00pm everything shuts down in Ocean City, so we knew it was time to head home.

Ocean City boardwalk

Sunday

We woke up and walked to get some bagels from Margate Hot Bagels and coffee from Wawa, which are right next to each other on Ventnor Avenue.  Ventnor Avenue is the “Main Street” of Margate, Ventor and Atlantic City.  I got a sesame bagel with nova and Marnay got an everything with an egg.

Margate Hot Bagels and coffee from Wawa

Fueled by our bagels, we took a 3 mile walk on the beach to Longport, the next town south.  I need to mention how incredible the weather was all weekend.  Low 70s with a sea breeze and not too much sun.  We could have stayed outside the entire day in this weather.

We decided to have lunch at Aversa’s, an Italian Deli on Ventnor Ave.  I got an Italian sub which had amazing housemade bread, but otherwise bland ingredients.  The others had meatballs and said that they were not great, either.

After relaxing, we headed for dinner at the Greenhouse, mainly a spot for pizza and drinking.  Greenhouse is next to the most famous attraction in Margate, Lucy the Elephant…a 65 foot tall elephant!  Lucy was built as a tourist attraction in the 1860s and as a way to generate interest in the area.  Today, she is a National Historic Landmark.

Lucy the Elephant

Margate is very narrow and has the ocean on the east and the bay on the west.  We got delicious ice cream from the Margate Dairy Bar and then walked over to the bay side to enjoy it.  We sat on the dock long after we had finished our ice cream and watched an incredible sunset, along with fireworks from the towns on the other side of the bay.  It was well after dark when we headed home to the apartment.

Monday

On Monday morning we headed home.  We made a quick trip to Wawa for some coffee on the way to the Atlantic City train station and then took NJ Transit to Philadelphia.  Once again, we had lunch on the swinging chairs at the Porch at 30th.  Then, we took Amtrak back to Union Station.  Miraculously, there was no track work on the Red Line and we got a metro to Silver Spring immediately.

NJ Transit: Atlantic City train station

The food on our Ultimate Jersey Shore Weekend was only OK.  But the scenery and the walks were certainly made it an ultimate weekend!  There’s no denying, however, that we were happy to be back in Silver Spring.

Places we visited
The Porch at 30th: 2955 Market St, Philadelphia, PA
Barrels of Margate: 8409 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402
Kohr Brothers: Wonderland Pier, Ocean City Boardwalk North End, Ocean City, NJ 08226
Margate Hot Bagels: 9414 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402
Wawa: 9300 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402
Aversa’s Bakery: 9309 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402
Ventura’s Greenhouse Restaurant: 106 S Benson Ave #106, Margate City, NJ
Margate Dairy Bar: 9510 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402

Masseria

Masseria is a unique restaurant that actually looks like three restaurants in one.  Set on a barren, industrial stretch of 4th St NE, although one block from Union Market, there was plenty of space to build the restaurant however they wanted.  The front is an open courtyard lounge area with couches and some small tables.  The first indoor dining room is all windows, even the part that is attached to the second indoor dining room.  Finally, the back dining room, with the open kitchen, has no windows and mostly cinder block walls.  It truly feels like a wine cellar.

We were lucky enough to eat in the “wine cellar” dining room.  At Masseria, you choose a four or five course pre fixe menu.  You do not have to choose one from each category, but your last course must be cheese or dessert.  Cocktails are the best way to start a meal.  We got The Toronto, with Dickel Rye, Fernet, a touch of sugar and a lemon twist.  We also got the Count Camillo, with St. George Gin, Contratto Bianco Vermouth and Beet Infused Campari.  I really enjoyed the sweet earthiness from the beets while Marnay liked how the sugar cut the bitterness from the Fernet in the Toronto.

We were served gratis arancini, potato doughnuts with mushroom powder, focaccia and a squid ink sesame breadstick that had some serious heat.  Our first courses could not have been more different.  Marnay got the cobia crudo with fennel, blood orange, basil, basil seeds and green chiles.  The chiles were hot but the cold, raw slices of fish mercifully took out much of the punch. I got tender sweetbreads in a sweet and salty salsa benadetto with almonds. This was one of my favorite bites of the meal.

Our second course was pasta, which Masseria excels in.  I got the linguine with XO sauce, olive oil, garlic and a handful of spicy breadcrumbs.  XO sauce, which is a Chinese dried fish-based sauce, is one of the most delicious sauces on earth, so it makes perfect sense that an Italian chef would want to play around with it.  The breadcrumbs soaked up the sauce and the housemade linguine had a good chew to it.  It’s hard for me to decide between the linguine and the sweetbreads as my best bite. Marnay got the egg raviolo with Louisiana Crawfish, Olio Santo and Falanghina Zabliglione, possible the best looking dish of the night.  It tastes best with all of the ingredients eaten together, in one bite.  Leave any element out, however, and the dish just was not the same.

Another great presentation:  Two “scarpettas” of semolina bread served in a cigar box, intended for the remaining pasta sauce.

The third courses are divided into fish, meat and vegetables.  I went the vegetable route with the wild mushrooms, turnips, Tuscan kale and honey, and I am glad that I did.  The meaty, umami-packed mushrooms certainly did not make us miss meat.  Marnay’s striped bass with bacala, potatoes, black garlic and a brown butter sauce was a heavy misfire.

Dessert included more free bites, such as passionfruit sorbet with coconut crema and pineapple salsa.  This was truly one of our favorite parts of the meal.  I ordered a plate of poached rhubarb with lychee ricotta spuma, preserved lemon meringue and rhubarb sorbet.  Marnay got the crostata al marmellata, which was a spiced pasta frolla, preserves, berries, malted milk gelato and almonds.  We each really enjoyed our desserts.  My favorite part was the cool, soft sorbet with the crispy meringue and the spuma eaten all together.  Marnay liked how her dessert looked simple but clearly involved a tremendous amount of skill.  Our check came along with cannoli and a housemade lemon gelee.

The only quibble I have with Masseria is that the servers tend to be absent most of the meal.  This is a good thing in the sense that you are saved from unwanted intrusions, but it does lead to glasses being left empty for long periods of time.

Masseria is an experience with the food to match.  It is not an “everyday” restaurant but for special occasions, it is a great choice.

Best Bite
Paul: Sweetbreads
Marnay: Linguine with XO sauce

Best Sip
The Toronto

Address
Masseria: 1340 4th Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002
Closest Metro: Noma

Menomale

On an unseasonably warm Friday night, we dined at Menomale in Brookland. We sat on the restaurant’s sidewalk patio, which can be enclosed but was open on this mild night.
When we first got to the restaurant, we noticed that Ettore, the owner, was there. We watched him the whole time through the window while we sat on the patio. He was so focused, so methodical–we could tell that we were in good hands. Menomale, like Pizzeria Orso, has a VPN certification. For what it’s worth, Menomale got their’s about 2 years before Pizzeria Orso. It takes a strong determination to keep up with all the requirements that come along with making DOC pizzas.

On this warm night, I started the meal out with a Sonoma Anvil Bourbon Cider. The bourbon flavor was interesting, but I found the drink too sweet for my liking. Marnay had a Goose Island Sofie, a saison. Marnay liked it, but wished that it had a little stronger flavor. Neither of us had the Sofie before, and it was a little mild for a Saison.

We were hungry (!), so we started the meal with Prosciutto di Parma e Melone. The prosciutto did not appear to be made in-house, but that did not mean it wasn’t delicious. The salty, nutty meat went perfectly with the slightly cold, sweet cantaloupe. Prosciutto di Parma gets its nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano whey that is in the pigs’ diets. The dish was served with arugula, grapes and strawberries.

You can’t go to Meomale and not get pizza, so we shared the d’Ettore, or chef’s special. The pizza has fior di latte (cows’ milk mozzarella), cherry tomatoes, arugula, prosciutto di Parma, grana Padano and extra-virgin olive oil. Even though the pizza has a lot going on, it still tasted like one pizza. I can’t say that there was one topping that overpowered the rest. I think that part of this can be attributed to the soft crust on a Neapolitan pizza. New York style pizzas, for example, have lots crust and cheese and are filled with grease whereas Neapolitan pizzas taste cleaner and prevent the toppings from getting lost. Neapolitan pizzas are also healthier than traditional New York pizzas, for the same reasons.

While we were finishing our meal on the patio, it started to pour! Luckily, some employees came and rolled down the windows before we started to get wet. While the rain was unexpected (we didn’t even bother to bring umbrellas), it did not put a damper on our experience. Menomale is a great Neapolitan pizzeria and a very good restaurant overall.

Address
Menomale: 2711 12th St NE, Washington, DC 20018
Closest Metro: either Brookland or Rhode Island Avenue