A new Thursday night feature at the Roost’s Slice Joint (1401 Pennsylvania Ave SE) calls for personal pan pies with a Midwestern backstory. The thin crust and Grandma-style pizza stall’s once-a-week pivot comes from chef Rachael Marie, who spent a decade embedded in New York’s pizza scene, including four years at famed Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn.
But she turns to her Iowa upbringing for inspiration behind Pony Pies: the family-friendly pizza experience filled with checkerboard tablecloths, soda fountains, and plastic-covered menus.
“I grew up on Pizza Hut and Godfather’s and chain pizzerias,” Marie told Eater. “I’m still super fond of thinking about that 1990s scene in Pizza Hut: you got the “Book It,” you got the fountain, pitchers of soda.”
For Pony Pies, Marie tested recipes until she hit on one that embraces the qualities she remembers as a kid. “It has crunch but it is pretty soft and has a nice chew to it,” she said.
The eight-inch pies use King Arthur flour and come in cheese ($12), pepperoni ($13) and a weekly-changing special. The first was a “Taco Pie ($14),” inspired by the taco pizza at Midwestern gas station Casey’s. Marie says she’s not going for “foodie,” pies, and envisions future specials like barbecue chicken, Buffalo chicken, and cheeseburger. “Classics that we all know and love but just done really well,” she says. Pony Pies is open at the Roost Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Pony Pies also offers icy beers by the glass or pitcher, red table wines like chianti, and three soda-centric cocktails created by Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s spirits director Nick Farrell.
Thematically-named “Free Refills” ($10) combines aged rum, homemade root beer, and lime, while “The Velvet Glove,” ($10) is a mixture of Mellow Corn whisky, cream soda, and lemon.
Personal pan pizzas are suddenly having a moment in D.C. In September, Tigerella opened with similarly nostalgic pies, baked in Pizza Hut’s (discontinued) deep-dish metal pans. The Foggy Bottom little sister to Elle also serves cheese and pepperoni, as well as a “Pickle Pie” topped with garlic cream, giardiniera, and bread and butter pickled veggies.
Marie says she conceived the idea for the pizza project about four years ago. In summer 2021, Pony Pies popped up out of her friend’s coffee shop/cocktail bar Split Eights in Manhattan, where, without access to a kitchen, she baked the pan pies out of a toaster oven.
“When I started talking about this project four years ago, it’s interesting ’cause no one was really doing this,” she said, “And now I see that people are more interested in this concept. Collectively the pizza brains have been like ‘we want this in the world.’”
Marie hopes to eventually open a standalone location for Pony Pies, where she can give full breathing room to the checkerboard tablecloth vision behind the pop-up.
“I want it to have a real throwback to the ’90s pizza era but with an upgraded menu with cocktails and a good beer list,” she said.
Marie imagines a “communal gathering place.” “I want it to be a place where people want to come and hang out and I’d love to do community outreach to schools just like they do at Pizza Hut,” she said. The nostalgic possibilities abound: “I’d like to do some arcade games in there — maybe one of those claw machines.”
Whatever pans out, Marie says when it comes to pizza, there are no wrong answers.
“People will put ranch on their pizza wherever you go and that’s fine, you know? There’s no wrong way to eat a pizza,” she says.