No matter how you slice it, pizza looks different depending on what part of the country you hail from. In Detroit, it calls for brick cheese. In Chicago, it must be deep dish. And if the pizza doesn’t come by the slice in New York, well, fuhgeddaboudit.
Della Barba Pizza’s owner and head chef Joey Barber knows pizza is politics, depending on who you ask, which is why he’s brought a nonpartisan pizza shop with a variety of regional styles to Capitol Hill (1382 East Capitol Street NE).
More than one month into operation, Della Barba offers pizza lovers the opportunity to taste four styles of regional pies — from Detroit to Chicago and slices found in the New York tri-state region. In his shop, all pizza styles are equal.
“We want to break-up the monotony of what pizza can be,” says Barber. “We’re not trying to pick any pizza fights, but we want people to appreciate the range of styles in a friendly neighborhood setting.”
Barber is one of the many success stories of Union Kitchen’s incubator space in Ivy City. His pizza shop got its start out of the Northeast commercial kitchen in 2018 and reached peak popularity during the pandemic before taking a year-long break to open at the corner of 14th and East Capitol Street NE in a space formerly occupied by Al’s Pizza.
“The pandemic kept us really busy, but we had to take a break to start from scratch with this space,” says Barber. “The opening has truly been a labor of love and it has involved a lot of tireless work and patience.”
Even now, Della Barba — by definition — isn’t fully open. The shop takes online orders for pickup for now, with a small scale dining room and seasonal patio seating still to come.
Barber, a former defense attorney, had to learn firsthand how difficult opening a restaurant in 2022 has been. Dining room chairs were delayed several weeks due to supply chain issues, and Barber is still waiting on a liquor license to get approved.
“I can’t get a liquor license until I got my seats. I can’t get people in seats until I get a zoning variance. And I can’t get a zoning variance until I am denied the original request,” says Barber. “The quickest way for us to open, right now, was with a smaller-scale menu for take-out only, so this is where we are currently.”
“I really think it’s tough out there for small businesses opening right now. There are these online comments and criticisms, and I don’t think it’s entirely fair. We haven’t opened with a full menu, and yet, people are posting and rating,” Barber says.
Thankfully, he says, many of his early customers get that good pizza takes time.
“They are being patient, and we have seen the neighborhood rally to support us. That’s what we need more of right now,” he says.
Yelpers aside, one bite of Barber’s nonna-style pizza (a Sicilian slice) has been worth the wait.
This is a style of pizza from Palermo, Sicily that is rectangular in shape, has thicker crust, airy dough, and comes loaded with fresh mozzarella, sauce, and usually a choice of meat or vegetable toppings. You’ll find this style in pizzerias spanning New York City, Long Island, and northern New Jersey, and now, on Capitol Hill.
“A regular pizza joint has a simple template, and it’s usually thin slice, New York-style [pizza],” Barber says. “We have that, but we also try to do something more with our menu offering a variety of pizzas you can taste side-by-side.”
His Chicago deep dish is smaller in size than say Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s, but that’s by design.
Barber’s pizzas are quicker to bake upon order. First, the dough is slowly fermented for two days before it’s rolled out and set into a steel pan then loaded with a pound of ricotta, sauce, and spinach, plus a blend of mozzarella, provolone, and locatelli cheeses.
Another popular pie is the Detroit-style pizza, which feeds two, and comes topped with a choice of vegetable or meat toppings. Barber prefers his pie with sausage and broccoli, and every Detroit-style pizza is baked with Wisconsin brick cheese, caramelized into the crust.
More is still to come on the Della Barba menu, including vegan and vegetarian-friendly dishes.
“In the next few weeks, we will add some Mediterranean-inspired dishes. What I like to call ‘beans and greens’ — things like hummus with house-brined pickles and a curly kale salad with garlicky dressing,” Barber says.
And depending on when the liquor license comes through, Barber plans to serve an on-trend Negroni sbagliato, plus Italian wines and beer. He says his cozy dining room, with “a beautiful picture window” looking out on East Capitol Street, will be worth the wait.
“We want this space to be your getaway from the daily grind ... where you can sit, relax, and enjoy really delicious pizzas like nowhere else,” Barber says.