Martha Dear has been open for just a couple weeks, but the basement-level pizza shop in Mount Pleasant is regularly selling out preorders for its Neapolitan-style, sourdough pies in 30 minutes or less. Married couple Tara Smith and Demetri Mechelis, who met while working at Michelin-starred Mediterranean standout Tail Up Goat, opened the pizzeria Friday, December 11, and have been slammed with takeout orders (Wednesdays through Sundays) ever since.
Once the online ordering portal goes live at noon, customers can call dibs on a short list of 12-inch pizzas available for pickup from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 3110 Mount Pleasant Street NW. The online system populates pickup times in 15-minute increments so lines don’t form too fast.
During its first two weekends of service, the couple has seen a whole night’s inventory claimed in as little as 10 minutes. On slower Wednesdays and Sundays, it might take an hour.
“Fridays are the pizza party day and the day we sell out the fastest — we are trying to make more on that day,” Smith says. “We’ve been really lucky — people seem to be really excited about what we are doing.”
Mechelis is the chef, and the shop is named after his Greek mother, so he incorporates a range of Mediterranean influences on his specialty pizzas. A red “Sausage + Peppers” pie, which already has its own love letter from Washington City Paper, gets a kick from Calabrian chiles and spreadable pork ‘nduja that go along provolone, mozzarella, peppers, and onions.
Strips of sturdy, salty halloumi cheese go atop another option with lemon, thyme, spinach, seasoned mushrooms, and Italian scamorza cheese.
“It’s a bright, beautiful pizza,” Smith says. Other “hard to pronounce” Greek cheeses (kefalograviera, kefalotyri, myzithra) mingle on another white pie with garlic, basil, and mozzarella. Fancy Greek olive oils from D.C.-based Ancient Foods get drizzled all over pies, and Martha Dear offers anchovy- and butter-based bagna cauda dipping sauce in which customers can dunk their crusts.
Mechelis, who was most recently a sous chef at Mt. Pleasant’s essential all-day cafe, Ellē, makes the dough, fermented for 24 hours before shaping, with four flours from Migrash Farm in Baltimore, along with some Greek semolina.
Smith, formerly a service manager at Tail Up Goat, translates her wine pairing knowledge to contactless orders by including a suggested bottle add-on for each individual pizza flavor. Her detailed descriptions in the online ordering tab include personalized notes, fun facts, and stories. For example, Black winemaker Chris Christensen’s Lake County, California Sauvignon Blanc collaboration with Jenny + Francois “is slightly cloudy and breezy,” and “we like it best with marinated Kalamata olives.” A Greek Pétillant Naturel Rosé is a “fizzy sparkler” that’s “too easy” to drink — “You can crush an entire bottle 20 minutes,” Smith says.
A short list of starters, like steamed bon bon winter squash with fresh feta and salsa verde, can be added to orders later in the day. Ideas for that section include adding dishes like grilled octopus and moussaka, Smith says.
The owners decided that their 38-seat space underneath Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream was too small to safely seat customers during the COVID-19 crisis, so they’re sticking with takeout only. D.C. has temporarily banned indoor dining from Christmas Eve through January 14 anyway.
“It’s a blessing we wanted to cook pizza from the beginning,” Smith says. “We are lucky our situation translates so well to ... pickup and that the neighborhood wanted that.”
Hari Dallas, the Greek owner of nearby Marx Cafe (and Mechelis’s close friend), helped spread the word about the pizza shop, which City Paper first reported on in November 2019. The couple’s industry colleagues also boosted their opening profile on social media.
Martha Dear’s DIY conversion from its past life as a pupusa place entailed lots of trips to Home Depot to spruce up the space with terracotta-style floor tiles, black granite countertops, soft lighting, painted steel beams, and oak accents.
Smith plans to add cocktails to the menu in a few weeks with “super classic” options like martinis and Negronis. She plans to preview her cocktail-making skills to the neighborhood on New Year’s Eve with a French 75 tutorial that will air following a virtual class from Past Tense Yoga.