I grew up in Staten Island, New York. The forgotten borough, perhaps, but the pizza could hold its own with many of the legendary places in Brooklyn or Manhattan. Pizza night was every Friday and it was a privilege to ride with Dad to pick it up, sitting in the front seat (this was the late seventies) holding the flimsy, fragrant box eagerly anticipating the pizza while the heat from the pie burned my lap. Heaven was Wonder Woman on TV and eating pizza with the whole weekend ahead of me.
Of course I had no idea how elusive that moment was. Once I left the NY/NJ area for college I learned what a rarity the pizza of my childhood had been. Having lived almost exclusively below the Mason-Dixon since then I have learned to modify my expectations. In fact I have been obsessively trying to replicate something approximating that pizza in my own kitchen each Friday, tweaking sauce, crust, even attempting to make my own mozzarella at one point.
So I’m insane about pizza. Some might say snob and, while, sure, for lack of a better word I suppose that will work… but no. I simply have standards. And with all due respect for the fine product turned out by Seventh Hill, these standards aren’t quite met by the tasty but fancy pizza places that have been popping up here in DC.
So when I saw that local chef Spike Mendelssohn was spending time researching pizza in New York I began to get my hopes up. I leaped at the opportunity to be the first to review the place for THIH because there’s really not much I know more about. You people can take the crab cakes and lobster rolls; leave me the pizza!
So my pizza-obsessed family and I waited in the line tonight outside the new We the Pizza. Me and my kids — 7 and 10 — who I am trying to educate to appreciate the finer qualities of pie. My husband also made it to join us. While he did not grow up in anything remotely close to a pizza-conscious culture, he has developed the appropriate affection and criterion for the good stuff.
Said husband was irritated by the cutesy name and slogans written on their T-shirt uniforms, such as “Give pizza a chance,” remarking that it was chain-ready. I could do without the giant images of Chef Spike, it seems a little overdone. I mean Bobby Flay’s restaurants don’t have his picture up all over the walls, do they?
But these things I’m totally willing to overlook if the pizza’s good.
The greatest thing about We the Pizza is the ability to order by the slice, definitely something lacking here in DC. (Cleveland Parkers- we KNOW, but we all can’t make it to Vace for lunch.)
There is a huge variety of pies to order by the slice. They then reheat the slices for you. The system in place is reminiscent of Spike’s Good Stuff burger place next door: order, pay, wait upstairs with your buzzer thing. The system was working pretty well.
The variety is bit non-traditional, but not too esoteric to make it unrecognizable. The plain cheese with tomato sauce, sprinkled with fresh oregano; a white pizza with ricotta; salami; a truffled mushroom that I didn’t try but really I should have since the S’hroom burger next door is quite tasty.
There are a few beers on tap; I chose the house beer, a hoppy, tasty lager. No wines that I could see but they do have a variety of house-made Italian style sodas. The kids split the Orange Crush, a really delicious creamsicle flavored treat but pretty rich and they, shockingly, didn’t finish it.
The slices arrived–okay the kids went to get them when our exciting little buzzer light went off. They, of course, had the plain cheese. And since I am a purist about my pizza I had one too. Really anything else is overkill. The true essence of pizza is found there in the plain slice.
The crust is appropriately thin, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe a tad too crispy, but the sauce lacks, something. Or maybe they just need a bit more sauce in the ratio because there is something missing. And my husband thought the bones, (a term for the outer rim of crust I didn’t know until I moved to the South but it’s a perfectly awesome term) were too thick.
I told you we are particular about our pizza.
He chose the chicken wings with blue cheese and pronounced the slice, eh. To me, I think that’s what you get for ordering such a trendy kind of pizza slice. The salami fared better in his opinion, the sauce being more of a standout than on the plain. To honor my fellow vegetarians I tried the spinach with artichoke and bechamel…usually you have me at bechamel but the slice was a wee bland; a dash of the pepper flakes livened it up.
The slices need to be carefully watched because in the reheating the bottoms can become too dark. The crust is definitely tasty and thin but I’m still looking for my New York ideal: thin, tasty AND foldable, yummy sauce, maybe a little drippy…a slice that I have yet to find. Right now We the Pizza is okay. Decent, and I’d eat it again but not…wow.