Pizzeria Paradiso owner and chef Ruth Gresser knows her way around a Neapolitan-style pizza. While this longtime veteran of the D.C. pizza scene has three Paradiso outposts in the Washington area, for her newest project, she's taking on a whole new challenge. The challenge: to create a great personal pizza in two to five minutes at Veloce, her upcoming quick-service restaurant at 1828 L St. NW.
The new restaurant will add breakfast service — Veloce will serve breakfast pizzas starting at 7 a.m. and coffee from Compass Coffee too. Gresser is also experimenting with a new oven to create super-speedy pizzas. At Veloce, the pizza will take just two minutes to cook. "My expectation is in between three and five minutes, you'll go from placing your order to having your pizza to enjoying your pizza," she said. Veloce is slated to open right around May 1, and Eater checked in with Gresser to find out what diners should expect.
What gave you this idea?
A beach vacation, actually. It's an old idea that I had, I thought of it kind of around the time that Chipotle had moved into Washington, D.C. Knowing how we cook a pizza at Pizzeria Paradiso it would take a little more time than just making a burrito. But it was like, "Oh, this makes sense for people who want to have pizza but don't have time for a full sit-down meal. We could make this work."
That was the beginning of the process for me. It's really been like six, seven years ago. We did a couple of play run throughs at one of the Paradiso locations, where we had 50 people pretend like they were ordering pizza and were going to get it to go. Then it was a matter of figuring out when and where. We at Paradiso have been doing so many other things in the past five or six years, it didn't get into the equation. All along I had been sort of looking with my real estate broker to see if something would come up and we could find the right location. And then this place on 19th and L came up, and I thought if I am going to do it, this is the perfect place and let's do it now.
How did you change the pies for Veloce vs. Paradiso?
They are going to be slightly smaller. The dough is going to be a smaller piece of dough. It's going to have a little bit of a thinner crust. We're doing some different things with the toppings so things like right now we use raw mushrooms, we are going to cook the mushrooms instead. We have a chunkier tomato sauce and we're going to use more pureed, but not cooked sauce, and we're going to be using organic tomatoes. We're going to have another dough option we're calling grains and seeds with four different grains and four different seeds for the dough.
Obviously it's very interesting, people can make their own pizza at Paradiso but you order off the menu more. It feels much more customizable in the Veloce context. And then of course we're going to be open for breakfast, and we'll have breakfast pizzas as well.
What will be on a breakfast pizza?
The pizzas are going to be sort of a cross between a scrambled egg/omelet/frittata. We'll have three different housemade pizzas and all three have scrambled eggs, one has mushrooms and bacon, one has spinach, cheddar cheese and red pepper and one is more Italian style so it's more like the Margherita with Italian cheeses, roasted cherry tomatoes and basil.
How did you choose the oven that you are using?
That was actually a very long process and part of the process of figuring out how we're going to do what we do. We decided to build a gas oven for Veloce. We started working with a company in Greenbelt, Md. They build Neopolitan ovens but in the United States. They bring in a lot of the Italian supplies from Italy. We work with them to figure out how to customize their ovens so that it replicated the word-burning oven that we use at the Paradiso restaurants. I'm really, really excited and happy with the oven situation. It's a brick floor and it's a very, very intense flame. It's all concentrated on one side of the oven, very much like a wood-burning fire.
If you were to taste the two pizzas side by side, would you be able to tell the difference?
I think you would be able to tell the difference, yes, absolutely. Our pizzas at Paradiso are sometimes more than you just want for lunch, frankly. I think that the pizza that we'll be making at Veloce is really a single serving. The pizza at Paradiso is a little more generous, I guess. The Paradiso pizza can be shared, especially if you augment it with some salad. The Veloce pizza, it really is for one person and you won't be having your cold pizza for breakfast.
Will there be a good beer list?
Well, the restaurant is very small. There are only 16 stools inside and a patio that's going to have some seating as well. Because of our location, I'm anticipating most of our business is lunch business. A lot of it is going to be carryout, take it back to your office or take it to the park or wherever. So my first thought was we'll get an off-premises license, so that people could take something back to their office with them or whatever. I found out that that is not possible because I have an on-premise license with the other restaurants. It's an odd-to-me D.C. law that I can't own a business that has a different kind of license. That's what I was told.
So we made the decision to for now, open without a liquor license. If it's something that it seems like people are staying on premise more than we anticipate and want something alcoholic to go with their pizza, then we would definitely have — I mean we don't have the space to have an extensive list like the Paradisos do — but we would have a short list of really high quality, attractive beers. We're holding off on that to see what our customer wants.
Do you know how much time you'll spend at Veloce versus your other restaurants?
Quite a bit. Generally as I've opened more than one restaurant, the first I'd say three to six months is really the crucial time period that my focus needs to be that new operation. We'll see how it goes, but that's what I see happening, at least the first three to six months are going to be the primary focus.
What are you most excited about with Veloce?
I'm really excited about the oven. I think it's going to be really fun to play with that oven. There are a lot of places that do the quick-service pizza but I think our oven is going to make us special. I also of course think that we're special because of what we do at Paradiso, but the oven is really going to be fun to work with and get to know. It's going to be a really cool space, I think. I really like the design and the look of it. One of the things that's excited me over the whole course of doing this is taking something that I know so well and figuring out the puzzle of applying it to a new context.