A creative crop of pizzerias is popping up around Washington, from rectangular pan pies at Sonny’s to New York-style slices at Turu, and Wisconsin-esque rounds at Nicoletta. Now two native Italians, Antonio Matarazzo and chef Matteo Venini, are offering their spin on “neo-Neapolitan” pizzas, sandwiches, and street snacks at Stellina Pizzeria near Union Market.
The duo are alums of the finer-dining Lupo group; Matarazzo was a managing partner and Venini the chef for Lupo Verde, Lupo Verde Osteria, and Lupo Marino. Although the 88-seat pizzeria is fast-casual in format, the menu goes far beyond your average pie shop—think tuna crudo with pickled shallots or a crispy octopus-and-burrata sandwich with escarole, black olives, and chickpea purée.
Many of the dishes are culled from trips Matarazzo and Venini each took with their families growing up in Italy. Matarazzo is from Avellino, a town near the Amalfi Coast, while Venini is from Lake Como in the north. To prepare for the southern-leaning restaurant, Venini traveled to Puglia to taste his way through tiny shops specializing in fried seafood and spritzes. (Rough life, no?) The journey inspired a lineup of “cuoppo” appetizers in which ingredients such as calamari, shrimp, cod, or artichokes are flash-fried and served in paper cones.
“Every time I come back from Italy, I feel like another man,” says Matarazzo. “It revives your authenticity, your feelings.”
There were also research trips to Naples. While Stellina’s pizza uses the same ingredients as the city’s classic pies, its “neo-Neapolitan” version is designed with a crisper crust. The dough is fermented for 48 hours before it slides into the Marra Forni oven. Toppings range from a simple Margherita—the sauce is just tomatoes and salt blitzed in a blender—to pies that nod to Venini’s northern roots, such as the lardo-and-bresaola pizza. (Charcuterie is popular in the region, and the meats are topped with arugula and drizzled with black pepper honey.)
The chef’s favorite pizza is the cacio e pepe, a riff on the popular Roman pasta dish. He grinds fresh pepper with a mortar and pestle to retain the spice’s powerful flavor. The traditional version is one of three pastas, including a meat ragu and chitarra with seafood.
Match a meal with wines by the glass, all less than $10. The cocktail menu was designed by Franceso Amodeo of Don Ciccio & Figli distillery in Ivy City (opening soon). His concoctions range from a classic Negroni to the Totò, a mix of vodka and mandarin liqueur named after the famous Italian comedian. (A painting on the wall shows him dressed in a Dolce & Gabbana suit jacket from the designers’ 2018 collection.)
The restaurant is currently open for sit-down dining, takeout, and delivery. The team is also planning to unroll a series of pasta meal kits and imported Italian products for customers to take home.
If you’re wondering about the name, Stellina means “little star.” Matarazzo says it’s a nod to his own little star: three-year-old daughter Stella, who refers to the pizzeria as “my restaurant.”
Stellina Pizzeria. 399 Morse St., NE; 202-851-3995. Open Sunday through Thursday 10:30 to 10; Friday and Saturday to 11.