Three pizzeria brands showcase the art of great pizza
The first recorded pizzeria, Da Pietro in Naples, was founded in 1760. The inexpensive street food fed many of the dock workers in those days. The basic toppings consisted of tomatoes, cheese, olive oil, anchovies and garlic. In modern times, pizza is a favorite food throughout the United States. Pizza has come a long way since its days as a flatbread street food that was folded up to eat. Washington, D.C. is home to a variety of unique pizza restaurants, from authentic pizzerias to local chains. In this article, we feature three well-established D.C. pizza spots.
Chef/Owner Ruth Gresser opened the first Pizzeria Paradiso in DuPont in November 1991. There are now five locations throughout D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. Gresser’s initial inspiration was to create an enjoyable space for her guests. She and her team have built and strong foundation over the years and it shows.
When the DuPont location opened, on the first floor inside a converted townhouse, it was so small that the closet held both their office and the ice machine. Each time they made a phone call they had to unplug the ice machine. One other fun fact about Pizzeria Paradiso is when young children would leave their toys behind after dining the staff would use them to decorate the restaurant.
Gresser stresses, “the importance of being a part of the larger community, supporting local non-profits focusing primarily on the arts and women’s issues. Currently, we are engaged in a year-long initiative called the United States of Pizza which focuses on women’s leadership,” she said about one of the organizations they represent.
One element that makes Pizzeria Paradiso stand out from the other pizzerias is their broad selection of independent craft beers. Customers can always count on trying something unique to pair with their pizza
They offer a delicious variety of pizzas from traditional Neapolitan-style to Di Mare with shrimp and mussels. Guests look forward to the weekly pizza, salad and beer specials.
Chef/Owner Michael Friedman of All-Purpose Shaw opened his first location in Spring 2016 and his second at the Capitol Riverfront in Spring 2018. He is also the chef and owner of The Red Hen located in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, open since 2014.
“All-Purpose is a love letter to my youth growing up in New York and New Jersey, and what better way to convey that than deck oven-style pizza?” Friedman said about what inspired him to open All-Purpose. He grew up in Westfield, New Jersey eating New York-style pizza. His first professional cooking opportunity was as a prep cook with Mon Ami Gabi. Shortly thereafter his passion for cooking led him to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
After graduating at the top of his CIA class, Friedman worked for Jose Andres at Zaytinya for two years. He expanded his culinary knowledge by traveling abroad, eating his way through Italy, Greece, Turkey and North Africa. He continued his culinary education by working at restaurants in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York. Friedman returned to D.C. as executive sous chef of Proof under the tutelage of Executive Chef Haidar Karoum.
In 2017, Friedman was recognized as a James Beard Award semifinalist. The success of his Shaw location inspired him to open his second All-Purpose location at the Riverfront. On the menu, he offers antipasti, classic Italian American dishes and deck oven-fired pizzas. “Autumn is by far my favorite season and that definitely carries over to the menus,” Friedman said about the upcoming menu for the fall. “I’m getting jazzed about prosciutto san Daniele with creme fraiche, horseradish, green apple and aged balsamic vinegar.
Expect spaghetti squash with lemon, brown butter and sage. Look out for the Emilia pizza with parmesan fonduta, montasio, wild mushrooms, sweet onion & thyme.”
Stellina Pizzeria is the popular new kid on the block this year since opening in April. Owners Antonio Matarazzo and Chef Matteo Venini have been friends for over ten years, and are no strangers to the D.C. food scene. Matarazzo was the founder and owner Lupe Verde on 14th Street where Venini was the head chef. The pizzeria is located in the Union Market District that seems to have exploded overnight with scores of restaurants like St. Anselm and Bidwell run by well-known local chefs.
“The neighborhood is helping out a lot and the locals have been very supportive,” Matarazzo said about how the neighborhood has embraced their pizzeria. Matarazzo is from Avellino, Italy located in the Campania region near Naples. Venini is from Como located in the Lombardy region near Milan. They do a masterful job of including dishes and flavors from their respective regions on their menu. Their pizzeria is lovingly named after Matarazzo’s daughter, Stella.
One important facet of preparing an authentic Neapolitan-style pizza is the oven used to cook it. Stellina purchased a stunning handcrafted Italian brick oven by Marra Forni. The brick oven company is owned by two native Italian brothers and based in Beltsville, MD. The oven can cook the pizzas in two minutes flat.
Stellina Pizzeria was recently named as a Michelin Bib-Gourmand restaurant and they are beyond proud to be recognized. Matarazzo and Venini definitely plan to open another pizzeria in the future, but for now they are fully focused on their Union Market location.
Photo credit: All Purpose (featured), Stellina Pizzeria (inline), Juliana Molina for Pizzeria Paradiso (inline).
Author credit: Lisa Comento
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