Local restaurateur Aaron Gordon has no shame admitting that for five years, Red Light on 14th Street has served “unremarkable” bar fare. But he’s hoping to change that tonight by introducing an entirely new menu showcasing Detroit-style square pizza that has left the Midwest and gained a cult following in cities such as New York and San Francisco.
Chef Naomi Gallego, who already makes wood-fired pies at Little Beast, Gordon’s 10-month-old neighborhood restaurant in Chevy Chase, is leading the overhaul at Red Light (1401 R Street NW). The seasoned pastry chef is swapping the existing lineup of fried foods and flatbreads for the same deep dish pies she used to devour growing up in Michigan.
“This whole idea came from her, and it’s something she’s wanted to do for a long time,” says Gordon, who also owns Red Velvet Cupcakery and Bakers & Baristas.
The menu redo entailed clearing out all bar food-related equipment (so long, fryers) to make way for pizza ovens. The bar was also pared down bit to create more production space.
Gallego remembers spending summers with her grandmother in Detroit, washing down pizzas with Vernors ginger soda, another Detroit staple. The Blue Duck Tavern and Le Diplomate alum says she’s been developing a plan to bring her native pies to D.C. for the past four years.
Gordon was a little wary of doing pizza on 14th Street NW at first, considering that Etto, Sette Osteria, and Ghibellina already serve it on the strip. And Lupo Verde plans to add a pizzeria inside the former Taylor Gourmet space this fall. But he realized those options fall into wood-fired and Neapolitan categories.
“I love the style, it’s great — but we may be at the point of saturation, frankly. So I think Detroit pizza is really going to stand out,” he says.
The opening menu features 10 hearty pies ($12-$17), baked into a pan and cut into four quarters.
“Although one could finish it on their own, it’s definitely good for sharing,” Gallego says.
They want the novice to know the Detroit style’s focaccia-like crust is not as thick as a Chicago deep dish. Crucially, the sauce in Detroit-style pizza is added on top.
“It’s much less cake-y and lighter — a melt-in-your-mouth kind of pizza,” Gordon says. “This is edge-to-edge cheese and toppings. When you bite into it it’s soft, airy, and crunchy.”
Gallego says that, like any great pizza, the key is getting the dough right. Red Light’s dough gets a 24-hour fermentation.
To appease non-pizza eaters, there’s a short list of opening appetizers like meatballs, cannellini bean dip, and Detroit boneless “redwings” dipped in house ranch.
“Not everyone wants pizza — or if they’re coming after work alone maybe they can’t crush a whole pie by themselves,” Gallego says.
She suggests first-time Detroit pizza eaters ease into their first taste with the classic order of cheese and tomato sauce or go with the pepperoni.
“I want to win them over [first],” Gallego says.
Once customers know what they’re getting into, they can go for more exotic toppings — there are Polish pierogis, béchamel, bacon, and caramelized onion on one pie. There’s also a Coney pie with hot dogs, chili, cheese, onions, and mustard. A vegan pizza called the Greenfield Village unites vegan cheese, tomato sauce, vegan meatballs, green peppers, mushrooms, caramelized onion, tomatoes, spinach, and olives.
Red Light has so far coasted on the fact its majority of sales come from wine, cocktails and beer, so the bar menu won’t change.
Pizza service kicks off at 5 p.m. starting Friday, July 26. Red Light hopes to give jumbo slice places a run for their money, serving pies until 2 a.m. on weekends and 11 p.m. on weekdays. Weekends will also include a lunch that starts at noon. There’s a “real possibility” Gordon will open weekday lunch, pending demand. And in a couple weeks GrubHub will enter the equation.
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- Italian Kitchen Lupo Verde Plans to Open Two Pizzerias in D.C. by the Fall [EDC]