Rather than saying Reverie is “pivoting” or going into a brief hibernation period, Johnny Spero insists his restaurant is taking a little nap. During the last week of 2020, the chef-owner of the modern American tasting menu destination tucked away in a Georgetown alley rolled out a takeout menu of pizzas created by a kitchen team that normally concentrates on plates of crudos, whole roasted ducks with fennel pollen, and other Nordic- and Basque-influenced dishes that pop in contrast to the open dining room’s minimalist aesthetic.
Spero says the pizza pop-up, called Lonely Hunter, will run at least for the month of January. During that time, he’ll put Revere “to sleep,” providing the staff with a new project that will keep their operation consistent instead of forcing them to react to shifting restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis. D.C. has banned indoor dining through January 14 with officials expecting to reopen dining rooms at 25 percent capacity after that expiration date.
“This year has been crazy,” Spero says. “Every week is like a different challenge. We’re burnt out. Changing constantly from fine dining to takeout-only burgers to ducks to the patio menu, back to normal, we kind of just wanted to give everyone a bit of a breather.”
Spero, an alum of rarefied D.C. restaurants minibar and Komi who competed on The Final Table on Netflix, has been fine-tuning the dough with cook Ryan Garisek. They bonded over a shared appreciation for Totino’s frozen pizzas with a cracker-like base, so creating a sturdy, crunchy crust became a priority while they were experimenting with recipes for the 12-inch pies ($18). By using fresh yeast, a two-day bulk fermentation before shaping, and a cooking temperature around 750 degrees, they’ve come up with a pizza somewhere in between Neapolitan-style and the Italian-Greek, deck-oven pies Spero assisted with in his first restaurant jobs as a teen in Columbia, Maryland.
The first three pizza flavors include a littleneck clam pie with cured and confit elephant garlic, oregano, pecorino cheese, and a cream sauce infused with dill oil. A potato pizza uses Spanish patatas bravas as a jumping off point with a tomato sauce that mixes in sherry vinegar along with roasted bell and Jimmy Nardello peppers. An ‘nduja pizza puts the spreadable sausage and semi-soft boschetto al tartufo cheese on a tomato base.
“I didn’t want people to think, ‘Oh great, Johnny Spero is going to do some modernist avant garde pizza pivot,’” the chef say. “It’s us cooking really, really tasty pizza that we like.”
In addition to the pizzas, Lonely Hunter sells small plates such as kombu-cured scallop crudo, baby gem lettuce salad, and beef tartare. The popular modernist cheeseburger has been pared down, maintaining a Roseda Beef blend but swaps in the Japanese pickles for dills and the molded squares of smoked cheddar for classic American cheese. Sous chef Seamus Hennigan runs the grill, and Alexandria Bianco oversees the front of the house.
Spero’s brother, Bobby Spero, designed the Lonely Hunter logo: a cartoon slice with a beanie, a tear in its eye, and a straight edge X on its hands, all markers that poke fun at Johnny Spero’s musical tastes. The Lonely Hunter name comes from a song by the Anniversary called “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” The little guy makes an appearance on fanny packs, hoodies, and T shirts on the pop-up’s merch site.
“I wear skinny jeans and I like emo music,” Spero says with a laugh. “There’ a few sides of that.”
In addition to their work at Lonely Hunter, Spero and Garisek are busy developing a line of crispy, Chicago-style tavern pies for Nighthawk Pizza, an Arlington bar that’s expected to open this fall.
Lonely Hunter accepts reservations for heated patio seats, online preorders, and Doordash delivery orders (*all available via Tock) from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.