Crisp New York-Style Pizza From a Fine-Dining Chef Is Coming to Dupont Circle

At Alfreda, chef/owner Russell Smith is going minimalist with his pies.

Chef Russell Smith's pizzas at Alfreda are relatively minimal. Photograph courtesy of Alfreda.

Alfreda. 2016 P St., NW.

Fine-dining veteran Russell Smith will soon fire up the oven at his unpretentious pizza parlor in Dupont Circle He plans to open Alfreda, named after his grandmother, by the end of February. 

Smith started creating straightforward New York-style pies as a kind of reaction to the years he spent in upscale kitchens like the Source in Penn Quarter and BlackSalt in the Palisades. At Alfreda, a handful of sourdough pies will be joined by just a few vegetable-forward snacks and salads. 

“It really comes from thoughts I was having about food after coming from fine dining and being over that—feeling it was pretentious and unsustainable,” Smith says. “I started baking and it was like a lightbulb went off.” 

Alfreda takes over a high-turnover P Street space one block from Dupont Circle that’s been home to several restaurants in recent years, most recently Del Sur Cafe. The 60-seat dining room’s minimalist decor—photographs of vintage flour bags, wine bottles mounted on the wall—will match its simple menu. Alfreda will also pour a range of New World and Italian wines and serve cocktails and local beers on tap. 

Though Smith has worked in DC restaurants for two decades, Alfreda will be his first solo venture. Working in Wolfgang Puck’s kitchens at CUT and The Source, where he was executive chef, Smith began to feel that the cooking, like the rarefied atmosphere, was excessive and exhausting. “Working for him, we seasoned the hell out of food,” Smith says. “We’d make all these special salts just to season the protein, which was also marinated.” 

When he started experimenting with pizza during the pandemic, Smith drew inspiration from his favorite style: New York and New Jersey pies with flavorful dough, thin crusts, high-quality canned tomatoes, and a combination of low-moisture and fresh mozzarella. Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, Smith’s first exposure to pizza came from a beloved local New York-style pizzeria, and he eventually fixated on classic parlors like John’s of Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and newcomers like Dan Richer’s Razza in Jersey City. 

When Smith experimented with pizza making, he noticed, “the more ingredients I removed, the better it tasted.”

Alfreda will offer pepperoni and sausage as optional toppings, plus a seasonal veggie pie—starting with a mixed-mushroom-and-onion-topped white pizza—in addition to plain, white, margherita, and tomato versions. But Smith says too many add-ons can mask the dough’s flavor, and even pepperoni can be too overwhelming. Smith, whose daughter has celiac disease, will also serve a gluten-free alternative to the sourdough crust.

Smith’s pizza-making took off while he worked as a personal chef for a DC family during the pandemic. The client’s other private chef was Lebanese, and some of his recipes inspired Smith’s starters and salads. Marinated garbanzo beans are slow-cooked with tomato, ginger, garlic, and cumin seeds. A distinctive salad of minced hard-boiled eggs and green olives is verdant with as much chopped parsley as tabbouleh and seasoned with sumac.

Smith’s approach to pizza is studious and serious, but he aspires to make Alfreda approachable and welcoming. “I use a sourdough starter and I kinda geek out about the dough, but I don’t want to come off as pretentious, like ‘if you don’t put sourdough in your dough, your pizza sucks,’” Smith says. “This is just how I do it and I like it that way.”

Ike Allen
Assistant Editor