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Hidden Eats: Pupatella

Great pizza from a little red food cart.

Anastasiya Laufenberg runs Pupatella, a tiny food cart near the Ballston Metro, and slings a mean thin-crust pizza. Photograph by Jennifer Smoose.

Think “food cart” and you think hot dogs, kebabs, pretzels—not pizza. And surely not classic Neapolitan-style pizza.

Ordering a Margherita, the three-ingredient Naples pizza, at Pupatella, the lipstick-red food cart near the Ballston Metro at Ninth and Stuart streets, I imagined I’d be served a simply sauced and topped pie on a premade crust. I was stunned to see co-owner Anastasiya Laufenberg lay a thin, hand-rolled piece of dough on a wooden paddle, then slide it into a tiny, propane-fired oven. The oven bakes the pizzas at 650 degrees—just like the best boutique spots.

The crust emerges cracker-crisp and nicely blistered, a good canvas for the San Marzano tomato sauce and first-rate toppings Laufenberg lovingly applies—creamy buffalo mozzarella, sharp prosciutto, and freshly torn basil, among others.

I suppose it’s not saying much to claim it’s the best pizza I’ve eaten on the street—it’s the only pizza I’ve eaten on the street. But I’d put Pupatella up against most of the pizzerias in the area. The pies are that good.

And they’re not all that’s good. There are also deep-fried rice balls filled with peas and veggie crumble; a sandwich of sausage and grilled onions that rivals anything you’d find in South Philly; and a fried-to-order doughnut for $2 that tastes like funnel cake and is stuffed with a variety of fillings including a luxurious dulce de leche.

 

The invention of friends and partners Laufenberg, 27, and Enzo Algarme, 28, Pupatella (“doll” in Neapolitan slang) is a thrilling expression of the do-it-yourself punk aesthetic. The partners met in culinary school and decided they didn’t want to work for someone else. But they did the math and concluded that opening a restaurant was too risky. One day they wondered: If you can’t be sure of bringing people to the restaurant, why not take the restaurant to the people?

Laufenberg and Algarme now have lined up some investors are set to open a “real” restaurant within a year—with a long roster of Neapolitan-style dishes. The cart, they say, will remain a fixture of their business.

Good for them. But I’d like to see a fleet of Pupatellas across the area. Restaurants we have; Pupatellas are rare.

This review appeared in the September, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.  

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