In 1925, Frank Pepe opened his first pizza shop in Connecticut, introducing the coal-fired thin-crust pies that would come to define New Haven-style pizza (it still draws long lines for its white clam pie). Now, there are 11 suburban New England spinoffs and, come Monday, a branch in Bethesda’s Westfield Montgomery Mall. It’s about time—the restaurant first announced plans to open here in December 2019, but was set back by Covid-related delays and shutdowns.
The Frank Pepe enterprise is now run by family members. “It’s my grandfather’s legacy and we’re carrying it though,” says Jennifer Bimonte-Kelly, who acts as the family spokesperson.
The mall location will feature a 104,000 pound coal-fired oven, a replica of the one at the New Haven original. It’s that oven and its dry heat, Bimonte-Kelly says, that gives Frank Pepe pizza its chewy, crispy, and charred crust. Pizzas cook for six to 10 minutes at around 600 degrees. The oven isn’t the only item cribbed from the New Haven institution. Bimonte-Kelly says the furniture and wall decor mimics it, too.
The restaurant offers pizza in 12-inch, 16-inch, and 18-inch sizes, all served on sheet pans. The menu includes the famous clam pie—a white pizza topped with clams, grated pecorino, olive oil, garlic, and oregano—which Bimonte-Kelly says her grandfather created on a whim. Others include a simple tomato pie with grated pecorino, and another decked out with spinach, mushroom, and gorgonzola. Bimonte-Kelly says there’s one secret (well, not really) menu item: “The Special” comes topped with sausage, bacon, salami*, and pepperoni along with mushrooms, onions, and peppers. In addition to pizza, the menu also includes salads, beer, and wine.
An Alexandria location (3231 Duke St.) is slated for a July opening.
Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana. 7101 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda; 301-304-7373. Open daily from 11 AM to 10 PM for walk-in diners and takeout.
* This story has been corrected since its original posting. The article originally said “The Special” includes meatballs as a topping, but it is salami.