Jazzed up with neon-lit tubes, geometric shapes, squiggly wallpaper, and graphic odes to its clawed mascot, Arlington’s zippy new Nighthawk Pizza was designed with Zack Morris’s favorite after-school hangout in mind.
The Max set from trend-setting SoCal sitcom Saved by the Bell was the actual muse for Westpost’s pep rally-approved pizza pad, debuting Thursday, March 24, with low-ABV lagers and IPAs, thin-crust pies, wings, loaded tots, root beer floats, and smash burgers. The 10,000-square-foot project comes from Reverie chef Johnny Spero, Arlington bar owner Scott Parker, and Northern Virginia brewery Aslin Beer Company (1101 S. Joyce St, Arlington, Virginia).
The server-less operation takes orders from its big blue bar up front or QR code-enabled communal tables, with takeout and delivery coming in a few weeks. Opening hours are 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday, and 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Unlike The Max’s core customer base of underage Bayside High School regulars, Nighthawk welcomes 21-and-up beer buffs.
Aslin supplies 10 beers on tap at all times, with a rotating list showcasing its popular New England-style IPAs and experimental recipes for dessert-tasting sours, spiked seltzers, and pastry-styled stouts. Two of Aslin’s top brewers were tapped to make some on-site with a shiny new barrel system in the back. Quick-serve draft cocktails include an Old Fashioned and orange crush.
Founded in 2015, Aslin has always had a knack for the ‘90s — between its trippy can designs and Alexandria brewery’s pastel-blasted look that conjures images of Lisa Frank’s wacky school supply sets.
“Nighthawk is their ode to growing up, going to Pizza Hut when they were kids,” says Parker.
Era-appropriate entertainment includes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Street Fighter-themed arcade games and stacked sections of Uno, Operation, and Connect 4.
The food is also packed with plenty of throwback references. Nighthawk lets Spero bust out of his fine-dining background (Komi, Minibar) to sling smash burgers and crispy, Chicago-style tavern pies ($16-$24) built with whole milk mozzarella, pecorino romano, and smoked tomato sauce. His named favorite on the menu is a white sauce little neck clam pie with basil, roasted garlic, and fontina.
Spero tapped longtime Reverie cook Ryan Garisek to spearhead Nighthawk’s bright, open kitchen. During the pandemic, dough-obsessed Garisek helped Spero run successful pizza and burger pop-up Lonely Hunter out of their Georgetown tasting room. Garisek embraces his early obsession with Outback sauce in a dipper for panko-breaded cheese curds. Sandwiches like a pit-beef sandwich with cheddar whiz on a Martin’s potato roll come with a choice of tater tots or fries.
“I remember eating tots every day in grade school,” says Parker.
Desserts swing from a panna cotta to a float finale with Breyers vanilla ice cream and homemade draft root beer.
Vegetarian options in the house include an Impossible burger; burrata, Caesar or wedge salads; an eggplant parm sandwich; and labneh-seasoned smoked cauliflower starter with lime, grapefruit zest, and black pepper.
At Nighthawk, patrons can drink outside on its patio or roam around the entire shopping center with Aslin’s colorful cans in tow, thanks to a new on-site alcohol licensing permit. In early May, Nighthawk will plant an island bar in the middle of the plaza.
Parker’s newly formed Wave Group, a partnership with Lee Smith, Gary Koh, and Jon Rennich, also runs Ballston’s sandwich and flower shop Poppyseed Rye and is already on the prowl for other Nighthawk locations.
Meanwhile, fast-growing Aslin is also planting roots in D.C. on 14th Street NW to go along with expansions to Pittsburgh and Virginia Beach. And Spero, who’s also known for his role on Netflix’s The Final Table, will open Spanish-themed Bar Spero at D.C.’s Capitol Crossing complex this summer.