In Gerald Addison’s mind, the perfect slice of pizza does not exist.
The Michelin-starred chef, who mastered open-flame grilling at Maydan and Caribbean-style cooking at Bammy’s, turns his attention to pizza with the opening of Grazie Nonna within downtown’s sleek new Midtown Center complex (1100 15th Street NW). Starting Friday, September 23, dinner will be served daily (5 p.m. to 11 p.m.) with lunch coming soon.
After tasting a wide array of regional pizzas up and down the East Coast — from New Haven to the Bronx and Brooklyn, as well as South Jersey and Philadelphia — Addison struggled to land on an all-time favorite.
“I visited so many places that simply blew my mind,” says Addison, who came to the realization that “the perfect slice of pizza may not exist, but that every day you can work to achieve greater pizza excellence.”
Driving shotgun on Addison’s quixotic journey was Casey Patten, who’s known for slinging Philadelphia-style hoagies at the Wharf’s Grazie Grazie. Together they sampled pies at more than 50 different restaurants before testing pizzas in their own kitchen. They previewed the product at Declaration earlier this year as part of a World Central Kitchen fundraiser for Ukraine.
For Patten, the chance to open a pizza parlor is a dream come true, fueled by his red-sauced memories of his nonna and her many Sunday suppers. Walk into the restaurant, and look up to see some of the childhood photos of Patten with his Italian grandmother Nancy Russoniello and other family members that helped inspire Grazie Nonna.
“As a kid, I remember cooking all day with my nonna in her North Jersey basement kitchen,” he says. “That’s where she would spend hours preparing her Sunday sauce. I think a lot of people have memories like this, a family member who puts love and care into cooking.”
Each made-to-order pie, served straight from a deck oven, starts with a theatrical, hand-tossed dough. The finished product is a thinner pie that somewhat resembles New York-style pizza with a crisp and airy crust.
“Pizzas involve balance and ratios of dough to sauce and toppings,” says Patten. “It’s dough-sauce-cheese and the balance has to be just right to be a high quality pie.”
Pizzas like the Drunken Love use a mix of aged and fresh mozzarella, provolone, pecorino cheese, basil, and pepperoni cups from Ohio’s Ezzo Sausage Co., finished with a swirl of vodka sauce.
Another hopeful hitmaker, the Green Goddess, calls for mozzarella, provolone, collard greens, cream, Calabrian chilis, and pecorino cheese. It’s loaded with veggies that give the pie its distinctive green color.
“The more that I make this pizza, the more I find it irresistible,” says Addison. “You can smell it when you walk in the door and. You can also taste the difference with our fresh ingredients.”
Alongside a menu of hand-tossed pizzas, Grazie Nonna features classic Italian-American fare from antipasti dishes like calamari, burrata, and arancini balls to hearty bowls of pasta. Patten’s favorite is The South Philly — a playful nod to a roast pork sandwich loaded with pork shoulder, broccoli rabe, cherry peppers, and pecorino cheese.
Larger-format dishes include Chicken Vesuvio — a Chicago-style dish featuring crispy fingerlings, cippolini onions, and bath of white wine gravy — and a whole branzino that arrives deboned and braised in fennel, caper butter, and lemon.
Grazie Nonna is the second restaurant Patten and Addison have opened this year. In May, they debuted Little Chicken, which shares kitchen space and is located opposite to Grazie Nonna, with an entirely separate menu. (“There isn’t chicken on any of these pizzas,” Patten says.)
Whereas Little Chicken is a casual, walk-in experience, “we want [Grazie Nonna] to be a sit-down experience where you can linger and enjoy a nice Italian wine or cocktail.”
Wines include a collection of Italian reds, whites, and sparkling Lambrusco. Cocktails include an elderflower spritz and Negronis served in one of three ways — classic, white, or a Spagliato rendition with Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino, Cappelletti bitter orange, and sparkling rose.
The restaurant seats about 80, in addition to an outdoor bar geared towards downtown’s 9-to-5 happy hour set. A reservations link will go live soon.
“We’re envisioning the outdoor space to be something like a pizza garden,” Patten says. “Pizza is a celebration. It brings people together.”