How a Fine-Dining Chef Became a Pizza Star of the Pandemic

Johnny Spero in his kitchen at Reverie. Photograph by Lauren Bulbin

Of all the pandemic restaurant pivots, the one at Reverie in Georgetown was among the most drastic. For more than a month, chef/owner Johnny Spero flipped his avant-garde tasting salon into Lonely Hunter, a pizza pop-up.

Spero needed an idea to keep his restaurant afloat while indoor dining was closed: “We didn’t want to do something that cheapened the brand or that wasn’t fun or challenging.”

So he began experimenting with fermented doughs—Spero has no walk-in fridge to store large quantities of ingredients. He played with styles, landing on a thin-crust hybrid of New York and Neapolitan. Beltsville brick-oven maker Marra Forni lent him an electric tabletop oven. His twin brother, Bobby Spero, helped design a retro logo for takeout boxes.

The quick-change operation, which ended in February, was a successful prelude to Nighthawk Pizza, a brick-and-mortar restaurant opening in Arlington this fall in collaboration with Aslin Beer Co. There, Spero will tackle Chicago tavern-style pizza—large, thin rounds cut into sturdy squares. Of course, there will still be cheffy touches: Creations might include a garlicky white clam pie or a riff on Spanish patatas bravas with potato confit and smoky sauce.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.