Meet Milkcrust, Adams Morgan’s surprise new pizza place that serves a believable spin on California’s cult In-N-Out Burger.
The deconstructed, 14-inch ode to the West Coast fast-food phenomenon, complete with its own Thousand Island-style “special” sauce, is one of seven wood-fired pizzas that start parading out of Johnny Pistolas tonight at 5 p.m. (2333 18th Street NW).
The takeout and delivery-only operation carves out a small section inside the LA-inspired taqueria, putting its brick oven back to work for the first time in years. Milkcrust hours are Fridays and Saturdays (5 p.m. to 11 p.m.) to start, with Thursdays and Sundays coming later.
Milkcrust owner Jeff Diaz helped open Johnny Pistolas back in 2014, where he ran a chef’s table at the red-tiled oven during its first year.
“It hasn’t been used since. It works awesome,” says Diaz.
His new pint-sized pizza project works with Italy’s prized 00 flour for a 72-hour dough rise. Each 14-inch pie takes a quick trip into the 600-degree oven before getting boxed up. He calls his pies a “bastard” of Neapolitan and New York styles, slathered with the type of sweet red sauce he ate growing up in Brooklyn.
The hospitality entrepreneur, who works in residential real estate by day, most recently ran short-lived Bar Lorea on 14th Street NW and Latin fast-casual Cafe Mia in Dupont. He thought he was done with restaurants when the pandemic hit, but says, “I’ve always had that itch to go back.”
Doing takeout-friendly pizza versus a full-service restaurant felt like the right way jump back in. To stand out of the crowded pizza pack, he decided to bring D.C. a taste of the In-N-Out burger he misses dearly. A job briefly took him to the Los Angeles area in 2005, and he remembers pulling over for frequent In-N-Out fixes while road tripping up and down the California coast.
“I haven’t seen anyone do it [as pizza] here,” he says. The closest thing D.C has to the actual handheld exists at CaliBurger, which just rebooted its presence at WunderGarten.
The opening menu at Milkcrust includes options for vegans, too. Dairy-free mozzarella cheese comes from Vertage, the local wholesale business by Bubbie’s Plant Burgers chef Margaux Riccio.
“It works great in the oven and melts similar to how regular cheese would,” he says.
Customers can add the cheese substitute to an array of pies, or find it in the “Power Plant Pizza” alongside mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, garlic confit, and Beyond sausage.
For serious cheese lovers, consider his creative Casa Blanca white pie with four types (fontina cheese, mozzarella, fresh ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano), joined by roasted garlic cream sauce, caramelized onions, rosemary, chile flakes, and a pleasing pink Himalayan salt sprinkle.
To come up with the closest replica to In-N-Out’s proprietary Thousand Island-style dressing, he trolled copycat recipes online and tested out his own. He considered opening for Super Bowl Sunday to feed local LA Chargers fans, but he didn’t want to be hit with a sea of potential pizza orders just two days in.
Milkcrust plans to operate for at least a few months to field demand, and he’s toying with the idea of opening a cocktail bar in the neighborhood too. The pizza oven could be used to test out ideas like wood-fired Peruvian chicken or wings down the road, he says.
Wood-fired pizza is a relatively rare feature for the neighborhood, though Pupatella does it further south in Dupont. Adams Morgan’s nightlife corridor will soon get another welcome alternative to Jumboslice with the incoming arrival of New York-style favorite Andy’s Pizza.
Here’s a look at Milkcrust’s opening menu ($13-$17):