Growing up in New York, every Friday night was pizza night with my family.
Each week, a perfect New York-style pizza pie made its way to the kitchen table. Pizza that had the perfect crust; not too thin and not to thick; the right sauce-to-cheese ratio and not swimming in oil. I loved those Friday nights with my family and I still love pizza.
I thought all pizza was perfect, just like the ones that sat in front of me in my youth. The rude awakening arrived when I moved to Boston. My first Friday night alone I called the local pizza parlor and ordered a large pie.
“We don’t sell pie,” said the man on the other end of the line with a chuckle, “We sell pizza.” Before the man could hang up I asked for a large cheese pizza pie, but what eventually arrived at my dorm room didn’t even come close to the perfection I was used to. That’s where my quest for the perfect pizza began, and after 10 years in Boston I never found pizza that met my snobby New York pizza standards.
Now my quest continues in Washington and the perfect pie is still eluding me. Not a single jumbo slice comes close, but they aren’t supposed to; they fill a different pizza niche. Manny and Olga’s on 14th Street serves up a solid pizza, but not perfection. Places like Pi, Pizza No. 17, Pizzeria Paradiso and Matchbox all offer great gourmet pizza options but none are New York-style pizza. So when a coworker said he had some of the best pizza of his life at Menomale Pizza Napoletana (2711 12 Street N.E.), I assembled a group of people and we descended on the Brookland pizza spot on a Friday evening.
Menomale, which means “thank goodness” in Italian, opened this past May and is owned by Italian-born pizza-master Ettore Rusciano and self-proclaimed beer nerd Leland Estes. These guys put together a menu that consists of pizza, calzones and sandwiches made completely with ingredients sourced from the Campania region of Italy. The beer list is clever and constantly rotating with both bottles and drafts available for patrons.
The accommodating staff offered us a couple of seating options upon our arrival, since seven of us had arrived and the adorable 38-seat restaurant can sit a party of six maximum. However, a cozy option in the back corner allowed us all to enjoy our meal together. We started with the Formaggi Della Casa that had three artisan cheeses, dried fruit, nuts, honey and delicious pizza crust to serve it all on. I devoured the cheeses in minutes leaving very little for the rest of the table, including a “moldy” blue cheese that was exquisite, and I don’t generally like “moldy” cheese.
For the meal I had the Buongustaio Pannuozzo wood fired sandwich with sausage, prosciutto de parma and buffalo mozzarella. The name means tasty sandwich and it was exactly that. The pizzas we tried included the margherita (sometimes the best way to judge a place is with its simplest dish); the Diavola, which has spicy salami and red peppers on top of the buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes; and the Capricciosa, which is mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh garlic, salami, artichokes and black olives. We also tried the interesting Patata, which is cream of potato, sausage, black olives, mozzarella and fresh basil. All of these items are cooked in the wood burning pizza oven that Rusciano brought to the U.S. This oven cooks the pizzas at 900 degrees and is one of the largest on the East Coast. It also kind of looks like a cool spaceship, at least to me.
Each of these pizzas is made with high quality, fresh ingredients. The flavor profiles are all interesting and the pies all come to the table piping hot and delicious. Menomale makes gourmet pizzas that are on an equal playing field, if not better than some of the establishments mentioned earlier. Sure, I will still be looking for my perfect New York-style pizza (and bagels, and black and white cookies, and deli sandwiches), but I will still return to Menomale for some gourmet pies every now and again.