Washington, D.C., please meet the chicken roll — a delicious and compact alternative to the pizza slice.
Walk into almost any New York pizzeria, and you'll see it. After a few minutes in the pizza oven, the chicken roll oozes with marinara, breaded chicken and mozzarella. It's a satisfying meal on-the-go. But what's easy to find up north is almost impossible to find here.
Hence my personal quest to find the chicken roll in D.C. For those who have never tasted the it, think calzone, without the ricotta, or a folded-up pizza with breaded chicken in the mix. For me, there is but one standard in chicken rolls: Pugsley Pizza, in the Belmont-Little Italy section of the Bronx and a longtime favorite of Fordham University students. A good chunk of my college diet was based around this dish, and there's even a recipe online where you can recreate the Pugsley's roll.
But look for it at a pizza shop or chain in D.C., and you're likely to come-up empty handed.
One of the closest approximations to the dish in D.C. actually has no chicken in it. Matchbox, with several locations across the city, serves up a roll stuffed with pepperoni and meatballs. It meets the standards of a quality New York chicken roll, but it was actually inspired by West Virginia.
Matchbox Food Group partners, Drew Kim, Ty Neal, and Mark Neal hail from Huntington, W. Va., and decided to add the roll to the menu when they first opened, in-part to pay tribute to their home state. Whether it's a gas station or a convenience store, pepperoni rolls are pretty much everywhere in West Virginia, says Ashlie Levy, the programs director with Matchbox.
The restaurant took a more personal approach, using Matchbox's pizza dough and spicy marinara sauce, and adding meatballs to accompany thick-cut pepperoni. They also use their signature wood-fired oven, to give the crust a crispy, slightly charred finish. The only issue is that the dish is sort of a lesser-known menu item. People gravitate to the pizza menu, Levy says, and they miss the pepperoni and meatball roll, listed as an appetizer.
It's not like the pre-made rolls in New York, but it can easily meet that standard. Just request chicken instead of the meatball and pepperoni, Levy says. "People request the chicken. It's basically the same thing."
Other pizza shops also serve the chicken roll. In Alexandria, it's on the menu at Valentino's Pizza, owned by Queens natives, Johnny Awsim and Armando Afzali. Bronx Pizza in Arlington has a chicken roll listed on its online menu, but an employee answering phones seemed unfamiliar with the dish, and said they don't have them.
In New York, they're everywhere. Chef John Mooney moved from Manhattan to D.C. last year to start Bidwell, a new restaurant at Union Market. He's used to grabbing a roll after working at his West Village restaurant, Bell Book & Candle.
The real key is that the roll is brushed with garlic butter and topped with grated parmesan cheese, just like garlic knots, Mooney says. His go-to slice is from Joe's Pizza in Greenwich Village, but when he's looking for a chicken roll, he says Uncle Paul's Pizza in Midtown is a safe bet.
"I still haven't fully moved here, and I don't have a neighborhood yet, so I really don't have a pizza place either," Mooney says. "But, for me the chicken roll is kind of a New York thing that you can't find here. It's like a chicken parm that's rolled like a stromboli. It's quality convenience and a quick eat."
· Matchbox [Official Site]
· Bronx Pizza [Official Site]
· Valentino's [Official Site]
· All Previous Pizza Week Coverage [-EDC-]
[Photos: Valentino's, a chicken roll from Pugsley's]