Serious Eats’ Slice Blog Bites into RedRocks and Pete’s Apizza
Slice's anonymous Pizzablogger is obviously a knowledgeable sort about pies. Whoever he/she/giant-amorphous-blob-of-dough is, Pizzablogger is certainly in love with his/her/its words. He/she/it spills a ton of them on a pair of visits to RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria and Pete's New Haven Style Apizza in Columbia Heights.
Y&H typically has misgivings about experts from better pizza cultures (and I presume Pizzablogger does most of his/her/its slice gobbling in NYC) passing judgment on lesser pie towns. It strikes me as grandstanding, the sophisticate telling us rubes what good pizza really is. Then again, I get touchy about cereal.
Regardless, Pizzablogger has nice things to say about RedRocks, if not so much about Pete's. Take a look:
Pizzablogger on RedRocks:
While this is somewhat of a moot point and I ultimately like the pizza and space at RedRocks, I need to take RedRocks to task for some of the information on their website, as I am somewhat frustrated by these types of potentially confusing statements continually displayed on various pizzeria websites and in print advertising. Keep in mind I am no expert, but my own pizza-making experiments in my humble standard kitchen oven and ongoing research has shown me that some of the information on the RedRocks website is questionable.
I know this to be a fact because I ate with a fellow pizza-lover a few months ago at another pizzeria and he complained the Margherita did not use mozzarella di bufala and was therefore not "authentic." I asked why he thought this and he mentioned RedRocks pizzeria. This person took RedRocks website statement, "Our Margherita pizza features mozzarella di bufala, made from buffalo milk, a Neapolitan tradition" to mean that it is a Neapolitan tradition to use mozzarella di bufala on Margherita pizza. This is clearly not the case, as fior-di-latte is the most commonly found mozzarella employed in Napoli, even though the making of bufala itself is indeed a Neapolitan tradition (and to be fair might be what RedRocks is alluding to).
To continue my quibbles, the statement, "High heat creates flavors through caramelization of sugars that are difficult, if not impossible, to create when pizza is cooked in conventional pizza ovens", if taken literally by a person, is bordering on flat out bullcrap. Caramelization of sugars is most certainly possible in a standard home oven that reaches the typical 500°F to 550°F, as caramelization occurs at temperatures as low as 320°F to 340°F. Just putting any dough in a wood fired oven does not ensure great caramelization. The sugars in question being "caramelized" are largely made available through a proper fermentation process, not as a sole end result of using a high temperature oven. Again, my primary concern is more correct dissemination of information to the pizza peep masses and less convoluted advertising nonsense. Okay, got that offa my chest. Now, back to the pizza, eh?
The pizzas at RedRocks were not quite as good as my initial stop-and-pop here in October of 2009. However, it could be argued that the best judge of a pizzeria is what the pie is like on a slightly "off" day. Based on our visit, the pies at Redrocks are still pretty damned good. We ordered a Margherita, a Napoli (sauce, fresh mozzarella, anchovies, capers, basil), and an Eggplant (roasted eggplant, goat cheese, parmesan, sea salt, black pepper). The late afternoon sunlight pleasantly spilled across our table hinting at the promise of Spring, albeit making for poor picture taking conditions.
Pizzablogger on Pete's:
But first, I think it is important that I digress (again?!) and mention I have not been to New Haven (yet). My only experience with New Haven–style pizza is eating at Frank Pepe's Mohegan Sun location on two consecutive days. Long story short....it was definitely the most disappointing pizza-eating experience I have had so far. The pizza was just OK, at best. So, you can tell I am not a qualified person to say how true to form a pizza joint offering "ah-BEETZ" is, but I can give my opinion on whether I thought the pizza was any good or not.
Sinking my teeth into the Pete's Original, the crust was immediately noticeable for its texture. This crust is a little crisp on the outside with a slightly toothsome, rustic breadiness to the crumb that is chewier and denser than the lighter, airy crusts of a Neapolitan-style pie. It was a nice contrast from what we had just eaten at RedRocks. The crust had some decent flavor to it and a nice char, which would not hit "burned" on the mythical char-o-meter.
The sauce and the cheese on top of the Pete's Original were nothing to really write home about but definitely not bad either. The sauce may be a tad too much toward the sweet side, but it does the trick. The cheese to me was more of a textural note and had only a little flavor to it. Interestingly, and to display just how individual pizza can be to people, the comments from our group on the Pete's Original ranged from "good" to "I wouldn't walk across the street for a slice of it." Personally, I like the contrast of something different so close to RedRocks in the neighborhood. The Pete's Original, with its good, somewhat rustic and definitely crisp, chewy crust and more familiar toppings and flavor notes is a solid, straightforward everyday pie (keep in mind I ate only whole pizzas and did not try the individual slices available for sale).
While the Pete's Original was a good, workmanlike pie, the Arugula Apizza missed the mark on this day. Again, the crust in my opinion was very well done, with excellent browning and some breadlike flavor to it. While I have only been to Pete's Apizza once and need to go again to get a better gauge on consistency, it's always nice to receive a pie like this out of a gas-fired deck oven without having to ask for your pizza (apizza) to be "well done." Good stuff.
However, what's on top of the Arugula Apizza was not singing joyous notes to our palates. All four of us agreed that the marinated onions completely overwhelmed the entire pizza. Don't think marinated, think pickled. I don't mind strong flavors, but there has to be something else to provide balance and on our visit, there simply was none. There was not enough pepperiness to the arugula to foil the pickled onion flavor and this is an instance where a saltier pecorino romano might be better suited than the parmigiano-reggiano used on this pie.
Some of you may be thinking something along the lines of, "Does this place offer a clam pie and, if so, why didn't you order it you moron?!" Yes, Pete's offers a white clam pizza, dubbed the New Haven (white clams, garlic, evoo, pecorino romano, oregano $23.95). Alas, I have a severe allergy to clams and cannot eat them. In addition, I would like to come back and try the Margarita at Pete's (tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala, basil, pecorino romano, evoo $25.95).
All in all, I personally think it is a stretch to suggest that Pete's Apizza is serving the "best pizza in DC." Our group all agreed that we didn't feel Pete's is a destination pizza worth going out of the way for. However, there is nothing quite like it in DC either. It's also important to remember that there is a need for a solid, everyday slice of pizza, and Pete's fills in this need quite well. Pete's also provides for a nice contrast of styles in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. If I lived in Columbia Heights or took the Metro past the Columbia Heights station on a regular basis, you can bet I would hop off occasionally to pick up a pie or a few slices of Pete's Apizza on the way home.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery