The Activated Charcoal Trend Is Now Taking Over Your Pizza

Clam Jam pizza with charcoal crust at Bidwell. Photo by Scott Suchman

Activated charcoal has become a trendy ingredient among detox seekers. While the yoga set incorporates it into cold-pressed juices and smoothies, chef John Mooney of Bidwell (1309 Fifth St., NE) had a less virtuous idea for it—pizza crust.

His rationale: “Charcoal is a natural alkaline, and it’s a purifying element. People who eat a lot of pizza with tomato and cured meats, they experience heartburn, but the crust actually neutralizes that. That’s not some crazy stuff—that’s science, man.”

While we can’t vouch for any medical claims, we can speak to the tastiness of Bidwell’s pies. Our favorite is topped with béchamel sauce, mozzarella, double-smoked Benton’s bacon, kale, and topneck clams. Mooney calls it his interpretation of oysters Rockefeller on a pizza.

• The charcoal gives the crust a striking grayish hue, but don’t worry—it’s flavorless. Mooney also incorporates the charcoal into bread, sandwich buns, and even tortillas.

• When heirloom Lacinato kale—also known as dinosaur kale—is in season, it’s sourced from an aeroponic garden on Union Market’s rooftop.

• The pizza comes with a ramekin of garlic butter and a lemon wedge dusted in chili pepper. You can dip the clams in the garlic butter or pour it over the pizza and add a squeeze of citrus.

• Mooney likes to cut the pizza into squares rather than slices because he’s from Chicago. “Everybody knows deep-dish pizza,” he says, “but not a lot of people know tavern-style unless you’re from there. It’s meant to be snacked and shared.” So that no one fights over the clams, each of the nine pieces is topped with its own mollusk.

This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.