Colony Grill, an 85-year-old pizza chain based in Connecticut known for personal portions of thin crust, New England-style “bar pie,” opened a Northern Virginia location this week in Clarendon.
The neighborhood tavern has stuck to a bar pie-only menu nearly since Day One. It has a cult following for its “hot oil” topping made from serrano peppers, a differentiator in Arlington’s already-crowded pizza market.
Colony Grill opened for lunch and dinner on Wednesday, October 14, at 2800 Clarendon Boulevard. Clarendon beat out dozens of cities and states the brand considered for its first expansion outside of Connecticut or New York, COO Ken Martin says. The 5,100-square-foot restaurant opens daily from 11:30 a.m. until late for dine-in and takeout. A new delivery-only pizza truck will enter the market come spring to drop off larger orders around the area.
Along with “hot oil,” a dozen options for toppings include thin slices of pepperoni with a wide diameter, mushrooms, sausage chunks, and sliced sweet onions. Only one new topping has come on in recent years: bacon (kids “really love it,” Martin says).
The first Colony Grill opened in Stamford, Connecticut, neighborhood with a large population of Irish immigrants. Its Irish-American owners employed Italian and Eastern European chefs that brought their recipes stateside.
In order to fit pizza trays on a narrow bar top, the idea of an individual-sized “bar pie” was born. The 12-inch pizza features a thin layer of cheese and sauce so slices fit comfortably into one hand. The hot oil bar pie became so popular that all the other items on the menu faded away, as did the need for a literal grill (though the “Grill” part of its name stuck around). In 2020, Colony Grill was named one of “56 Greatest Old-School Pizzeria’s in America” by The Daily Meal.
“This pizza in this Irish bar became essentially the only food item the place has served and we’ve carried on the tradition over the decades,” Martin says. “We’ve stuck to our guns — we are pizza only.”
There are four locations in Connecticut (Stamford, Fairfield, Milford, Norwalk) and one in New York (Port Chester). Colony is sourcing from the same vendors for its Clarendon location to keep the product consistent.
Martin and co-principals Paul Coniglio, Chris Drury, and Cody Lee have deep ties to the brand: the boyhood friends and ‘89 Little League World Series champs used to fuel up at Colony Grill while growing up in Connecticut.
Eight years ago, the team added a salad pizza to the menu to please guests looking for a healthier option. A crust baked with olive oil and sea salt gets topped with a bed of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. The crunchy hybrid is akin to a family-style order of salad and breadsticks, Martin says.
Personal pies run $9.50 to $12.95 with options for additional toppings or gluten-free crust. A brunch pie, designed to cure hangovers on weekends (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), is a flat, deconstructed breakfast sandwich of sorts topped with bacon or sausage, egg, and cheese.
There’s a dozen beers on tap, and more by the bottle ($3-$8), along with wines by the glass ($6 to $10) and bottle ($25 to $45). The restaurant can accommodate large pick-up orders on short notice, as its massive pizza-making machine in the back can churn out 200 pies in an hour, Martin says. Arlington residents and local businesses can also make larger delivery orders for no charge. “We’re super, super beer heavy — because obviously, beer and pizza,” he says.
The space that formerly housed millennial-driven Harry’s Taproom got a complete renovation for its new life as Colony Grill, which included moving the stairs and adding hardwood flooring.
Newly exposed brick walls, made up of blocks sourced from New York and Connecticut, frame the cavernous bar. Decor also includes oars pulled from boat houses in Georgetown. To honor the World War II veterans that cooked at the original Connecticut location, a “wall of heroes” features 8-by-10-inch photos of military members submitted by customers, friends, and relatives.