Washington may never have a pizza to call its own—nothing like Brooklyn’s blistery rounds or Chicago’s overstuffed pan pies. But thanks to the pizzeria boom, there are more places than ever to satisfy a craving, whether for organically topped Neapolitan-style rounds (2 Amys, Bebo Trattoria, Mia’s Pizzas), fanciful Wolfgang Puck–conceived creations (the Source), or Argentinean pies topped with chimichurri (Pizza Zero).
You’ll find a little of everything—well, everything except chimichurri—at Pete’s Apizza, a mom-and-pop shop in the shadow of the new Target in Columbia Heights.
You order at the counter but sit at polished wood tables set with cathedral candles. The place crawls with kids but features an all-Italian wine list and a nice lineup of craft beers. There’s a thoroughly average Caesar salad ($3.95) but an utterly surprising antipasto plate ($4.50) offering lovely grilled shavings of carrot and grapefruit-spritzed beets with fresh goat cheese.
And then there’s the pizza. You’d never call it fancy—no moons of buffalo mozzarella here—but you’d never peg it as sloppy. The tomato sauce, spooned sparingly, has a spicy kick. Shredded mozzarella is carefully spread. Neither taste predominates.
At its best, the crust, baked in a gas-fired stone oven, is both nicely crunchy and a little bready: Hold up a slice and it shows no signs of flopping. It doesn’t quite survive a topping overload, however. Each ingredient on the Down the Hill pie ($23.95 for a massive 18-incher)—house-made meatballs, fennel-scented sausage, fire-roasted green peppers, caramelized onions—is good on its own. Piled together, they make the pizza sag and the flavors blur.
Perhaps Pete’s greatest appeal is pizza by the slice—a rarity in Washington, apart from the after-hours grease bombs slung along Adams Morgan’s 18th Street. The ingredients are well chosen; seldom do you find such good sausage on a $2.75 slice.
Co-owner Alicia Mehr hails from New Haven, a pizza mecca, and Pete’s bills its pies as New Haven–style “apizza.” Although the coal-fired slabs at New Haven landmarks such as Sally’s and Pepe’s don’t quite jump to mind here—they’re thinner, smokier, more brittle—one pie in particular does its forebears justice. The New Haven ($21.95), an homage to Pepe’s most famous pizza, is a sauceless 18-inch crust laden with chopped clams and pecorino cheese. It’s salty, briny, garlicky—and it stays beautifully crisp.
Another terrific tribute is the Sorbillo’s Original ($7.95), a darkly baked turnover filled with salami and topped with ricotta, fresh basil leaves, and a slick of red sauce—it’s named for the pizzeria in Naples where the calzone was invented.
The tastiest desserts are borrowed from elsewhere, too. Twelve flavors of gelato and sorbetto ($4.50), including Virginia peanut butter and a satiny Sicilian pistachio, arrive daily from Dolcezza in Georgetown.