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Where Pizza Chefs Go for Pizza

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Everyone has their favorite pizza, but what are the favorites of DC's pizza experts?

To get to the bottom of this question, Eater DC asked pizza chefs where they go for the perfect pie. The real lesson here: it all depends on who you ask. No two answers, or pizzas for that matter, are quite the same.

Take for instance Spike Mendelsohn of We, The Pizza. He likes the traditional Neapolitan pie if it's a fancier sit-down occasion, or the New York slice if he's eating on his feet.

"Regardless, a pizza should have a good charred finish. I'm looking for thin slice pizza, like the one's in New York at Grimaldi's or Lombardi's," he says.

Before Mendelsohn opened We, The Pizza four years ago, he took a quixotic journey to New York City to study the art of dough and pizza making. From his research, he built a bread dough with a high protein flour and a lot of yeast, which is used in-part for flavor, he says. He also wanted to out-do traditional pizzerias by offering a wide variety of toppings. His shop serves about 15 different pies, including the standards: Buffalo chicken, Hawaiian, Greek, and some unique ones: a mortadella and pico de gallo pizza and a cajun chicken and andouille sausage pie. "We sort of go above and beyond with the New York slice toppings," Mendelsohn says.

Then there are the traditionalists like Pizzeria Orso's Will Artley. While he enjoys a slice to-go, especially when it's at Valentino's in Alexandria, what he's really looking for are the Italian standards, margherita and marinara pizzas. And definitely don't throw the pizza dough in the air. That's just to entertain the kids, Artley says. What he really wants is something that comes much closer to art.

"I love the classics that's the first thing I look for, and I've learned to like the Neapolitan way. You appreciate someone's expression on what pizza is by sampling it, so I go to a lot of pizza places. I look at places that are able to meet the quality when they are extremely busy and extremely slow."

Artley certainly does not limit his favorites. He's a fan of Etto in Logan Circle, Seventh Hill on Capitol Hill, Pupatella in Arlington, Il Canale in Georgetown, Palena in Cleveland Park and Menomale in Brookland.

But, Artley says the dough is what he's really focused on. At Pizzeria Orso he's using sourdough instead of yeast doughs. At any given time, he has five drywall buckets of sourdough starter growing in his basement. "My wife doesn't really like it. But, it's my livelihood."

Pizzeria Paradiso's Ruth Gresser also says the dough is the most important part of a good pizza. She's a fan of Will Artley's pies, as well as those found at Menomale and Co. in New York City.

She's also tried some very bad pizza. "Yes, I've eaten Jumbo Slice. I can't deny it. But, I don't like it because they put sugar in the sauce," she says.

At least for now, Gresser says she is amazed at the pace with which new pizza places open in DC. While she calls herself the "matriarch" of pizza (Pizzeria Paradiso opened in 1991 and was one of the first Neapolitan style pizzerias in DC) she says the options now are almost endless.

Most recently, Gresser has taken what she sees as both traditional and new approaches to pizza and gathered them in a cookbook, called Kitchen Workshop — Pizza. The book deals with some outside-the-box approaches to pizza, like a black bean Cuban pie and a clam chowder pizza with parmesan sauce, tomatoes, and clams.

"I'm big into the classics, but if it's a place with something unusual and creative, I will probably love it. I love to see what people can do with the idea of pizza," she says.
—Tim Ebner
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Will Artley, Pizzeria Orso [Photo: Facebook]

Pizzeria Orso

400 South Maple Avenue, , VA 22046 (703) 226-3460 Visit Website

We the Pizza

303 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington D.C., District of Columbia 20003 202-544-4008 Visit Website

Pizzeria Paradiso

3282 M Street Northwest, , DC 20007 (202) 337-1245 Visit Website