27 Jul 2010

First Taste – We the Pizza

Pizza, for me, is more than dinner.

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.

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  • Jon

    As a fellow New Yorker I concur with your fussiness over pizza, and am fine with products that don’t claim to be New York style. Should you want to venture into the burbs, I’ve found Church Street Pizza in Vienna to be the closest thing to New York since moving down here.

  • Best NY slice I’ve found is at Valentino’s, although their whole pies are much better. $20 for a 20″ pepperoni. Crust is perfect and the sauce has just the right sweetness; not the sickly sweet stuff they peddle at chains like Dominos or Papa Johns. This isn’t the coal-fired stuff you’d find at Lombardi’s; it’s more like your standard, pedestrian big floppy slice you’d find at Famous Original Ray’s (not affiliated with Original Famous Ray’s).

  • Kathleen

    I’m Jersey City–Staten Island–Long Island, and, although 7th Hill isn’t NY style, it is the best pizza I’ve tried in our immediate area. Like Jon I don’t need it to be NY, I just need it to be delicious.

  • mappo

    Pete’s A Pizza, hear my plea! Open a shop on the Hill!

  • David

    @mappo – I agree! Pete’s A Pizza is the best pizza in DC… probably because New Haven has better pizza than New York!

  • gina a

    I am on record bemoaning the sorry state of DC pizza for years, and I didn’t even grow up in NY or NJ. I agree that 7th hill is pretty good, but I just want a decent, unpretentious pizza with good sauce and a decent crust. I was suspicious of We the Pizza, also deeming it a little too cutesy for my taste. Thanks for the review-sounds like I need to get over to Pete’s before I walk down the street to We the Pizza. Too bad.

  • Linda

    My family sampled a few slices during the freebie hours on Saturday, and the mushroom was BY FAR our favorite. While WTP may not be the best pizza in the DC area (Italian Store in Arlington wins for me), it definitely fills what was a huge void on the Hill. I plan to be a regular customer.

  • Mark

    what is it with DC pizza? Is it the suppliers?

  • Awads

    thanks for this very honest assessment. i, too, am a pizza fanatic. but i’ve taken to making my own. i cheat with some frozen dough i get from harris teeter. it say’s it’s NY-style, and it actually is pretty good! knowing i can make my own in about the same time it takes to corral my kid and husband and get to a pizza joint, it’s a no-brainer. home wins. now i don’t have to feel like i’m missing something at spike’s.

  • John

    Just moved to the district (Cap Hill) from Park Slope, Brooklyn on July 1. Me and my son looked for a slice of pizza this past Saturday and could not find a spot that sold by the slice. Eventually we found a place near Van Ness but we had to buy a pie (it was okay).

    The first “pizza” I had in DC was on the day we were moving in. I was so terrible I can not even call it pizza.

    The last slice I had in Brooklyn was from DiFara’s arguably the best spot in NY if not a broader geographic area.

    On a related point I can’t find a decent Ice Cream spot beyond Baskin Robbins. Any help?

  • Rukasu

    I don’t get the “we can’t buy pizza by the slice in DC” complaint, we have Boli’s right down the street which serves it til well into the wee hours of the morning…if DC is known for any “type” of pizza, however bad it usually is, it is jumbo slice. But when you want pizza by the slice, chances are you aren’t too picky

  • Thirsty

    The beer selection is downright pathetic. I don’t understand why Pizza Paradiso is the only place that realizes good beer complements good pizza. Matchbox and Ella’s seem to recognize that fact, but only make a half-hearted attempt at accomplishing their goal.

    My problem with 7th Hill, other than the doughy crust, is that for $20 you get a pizza that doesn’t comfortably serve 2 people.

  • boondoggle

    Having grown up in Brazil, I always find myself bemoaning the poor technique of soccer players in DC.

    Having grown up in Colorado, I always find myself bemoaning the sorry state of downhill skiing in DC.

    Having grown up outside LA, I always find myself bemoaning the lack of authentic Mexican food in DC.

    Me, me, me. Everybody look at me.

  • beer&pizza

    Agree that Boli’s has fairly good pizza by the slice, especially late night. Beats any jumbo slice in the Morgan. Pete’s slices are just ok…you need to get a whole pizza to get their quality stuff. Matchbox has a good formula going. Radius in Mt. Pleasant will serve you up some serious pizza if you order the large. It’s as big as the table nearly and isn’t too shabby on flavor. I’ve termed their pepperoni pizza the “toxic avenger.”

    As for pizza and a good beer selection, Red Rocks in CoHeights will treat you right! And they have a nice patio to boot.

  • David

    Fugetaboutit. The only pizza worth anything in this wasteland is at The Italian Store, 3123 Lee Hwy in VA (703-528-6266) – take the Spout Run exit off GW Pkwy and you run into the strip mall where the store is located. By the slice or the whole, their cheese pizza is the closest thing to real NY you’ll find.

  • stephanie

    AWFUL SERVICE AND FOOD! There was a hair in my foood and they said they would not give my money back because I couldnt proove the hair was from them, although it was deep in the sauce and spread though out the entire pizza They are rude, liars and it is not worth the wait. Go to PAPA JOHNS! Better yet there was a mouse in the bathroom.

  • Barbara

    You don’t live in The South. You live in DC. Get it right.

  • Rstouhey

    For John, we have been plotting an all Brooklyn retail store featuring real bagels, pizza by the slice, $10 pedicures and chinese food – all NY style. I’m sure the pedicures would be a health code violation. DC is really missing all these things but it makes going back to Brooklyn so much more fun.

  • JohnW

    Thanks for the review Jen! I’ll give it a try. NNJ born and raised, your words could have come out of my mouth. Give Pizzaiolo (I have not idea how to say that silly name) a try if you are ever in Alexandria (definitely the SOUTH). Pretty, pretty good. Well, y’know, not bad.

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