Young and Hungry

2Amys, Consider Yourself Warned: Edan MacQuaid Is Back in Business


As soon as the pie hit the table at Pizzeria Orso, I knew I was in the presence of Edan MacQuaid, the pizzaiolo who has worked the wood-burning ovens at 2Amys, Pizzeria Paradiso, and RedRocks. I'd recognize his margherita pizza anywhere.

It's not just the puffy crust, mottled with char and radiating a wood-smoke aroma as enticing as freshly baked bread. It's the careful arrangement of colors: the rosy splashes of tomato sauce, the white eggshell dollops of fresh mozzarella, the wilted myrtle-colored leaves of basil, and the pale green rivulets of olive oil, which, in turn, tint the exposed crust to the most delectable shade of yellow.

This is pizza-making as art.

The flavors are even more intoxicating than the colors. There's a balance to MacQuaid's margherita that I don't find with many other interpretations. The fresh acid sweetness of the tomatoes, the cool creaminess of the mozz, the salty smokiness of the cornicione, the cleansing licorice of the basil, and the....the incomprehensible sourness of the crust.

I keep thinking that I'm imagining the sourness, so I keep eating more crust to find out, even long after I'm full. The sourness is always present.

It's not until I speak with MacQuaid a few days later that it all makes sense. The pizzaiolo says he puts a little sourdough into his pizza dough, which I think is a great, ballsy move. It not only adds flavor, but it's a small razz to the Neapolitan polizia who want to dictate exactly how their pies should be produced, right down to the hydration level in the pizza dough.

But then I remember that MacQuaid has affixed the letters "DOC" next to his margherita pizza on the menu. The letters stand for "Denominazione di Origine Controllata," and they imply that MacQuaid is following the rules, set down by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture in 2004, for a genuine margherita pizza from Naples.

Now, I'm no authority on these Neapolitan pizza rules. Every time I think I understand them, someone tells me I don't. But from what I've read, I'm pretty damn sure sourdough is not allowed in a DOC margherita pizza. I ask MacQuaid about the addition. He has a ready answer.

Back before the invention of commercial yeasts, MacQuaid tells me, pizza makers used sourdough starters to facilitate fermentation in their dough. There is an strong argument among pizzaioli that such a method doesn't violate the spirit of the Italian government's Neapolitan pizza laws. I floated this theory by the notoriously scrupulous baker and occasional pizza maker, Mark Furstenberg, and he agreed that it makes sense.

So I asked MacQuaid the obvious question: Did he secure official certification from the pizza authorities for his margherita pie?

"All that I'm stating there [with the DOC on his menu] is that the margherita is authentic," MacQuaid tells me. "Is it certified DOC? No....But it meets the standards of the DOC certification."

You know what? I've come to the point where I don't care much about this whole authentic, by-the-book Neapolitan pizza certification puffery. At least not here in the states, where we have a culture of freewheeling experimentation. When I travel to Italy, then I'll care about authentic Neapolitan pizza. Back here, I just want a good, honest, full-flavored pie. If it's merely based on tradition, that's good enough for me.

Here's the bottom line for me: Authentic or not, legal or not by Italian agriculture rules, MacQuaid's margherita pizza is the best pie I've eaten in a long time. 2Amys, you've been officially put on notice.

  • Keith B

    You know what? I’ve come to the point where I don’t care much about this whole authentic, by-the-book Neapolitan pizza certification puffery.

    Hear, hear. Ever eaten at A16 in SF during it's peak?

  • Chris S

    Tried the Margherita at Pupatella? Truly authentic, the taste, and even the Naples technique of slap-stretching the dough. It's excellent, I prefer it a bit over that at Orso, but Orso it very good.

  • Lee B

    Orso is great, but in my opinion, not quite elite.
    My pastime/passion is traveling and trying all the best pizza.
    I don't live in DC, but have tried/compared prbably about 25 or so of the most recommended places, and in all my travels, including all the top ranked manhatten and Brooklyn places, I've always found 2 Amys to be the absolute elite, and can't understand when I read reviews about DC having only runner-up to NY places like these.
    DOC and gourmet is a different style pizza than say, NY, Chicago, California, southern versions of NY, etc.
    So it's not a fair comparison, yet, I think it better really an appropriate comparison.
    Anyway, my assessment of Orso is that it's the closest to 2 Amys (my standard) that I've found, though doesn't seem to have it all together to make it elite like 2 AMys.
    Interestingly, I find Red Rocks to be on par with 2 Amys --very similar, but with a slightly more tasty sauce.

    Perhaps I caught Orso on a bad night.
    THere were 3 in my party and we all agreed.
    It was busy and maybe they rushed.
    1 pie was over cooked and that geeat cared/chewy crust became dry and cardboard like, and another was lacking the standard portion of cheese.
    It's just I've never had these kind of issues at 2 Amys, though I'm sure if they got these things right, they would be right on par with 2 Amys and red rocks.

    So overall, based on my experience, I would rate Orso on par with places like Il Canale, Ellas, and Match Box --e.g. great pizza, but not quite ultra elite.

    (And keep in mind that I rate 2 AMys above the legends like Grimaldis in brooklyn, Lombardi's in Manhatten, Johns of Bleeker St, Regina Pizzera and Umberto Galleria in Boston's North end.. the list goes on and on --I'm that big a fan.
    I'll even throw in pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, which people think I'm crazy because Phoenix isn't famous for pizza, but for a long time, they were my #2 pick below 2 Amys).

    Incidentally, if you like true NY pizza (as opposed to gourmet variations like 2 Amys or Orso), I was very impressed with Valentino's here in the DC area.
    The crust, NY thin in thickness (which is thicker than the ultra thin mostly DOM style), was delicately crisp but at the bottom yet not dry.
    The cheese and sauce was excellently flavored and ballanced to form that pitted well integrated sauce/cheese blend I've only seen in NY until now, atop an excellent crust/dough.
    I still rank 2 AMys (and maybe red rocks) #1, but when in the mod for true NY style, Valintonos jumps to the #1 must have. They blow away other ranked places like Italian Store, Quattro Formaggi, or Flippin in terms of true NY pizza essence (though I still hold a place in my palet for Flippin, which I consider more of a southern variation of NY in that the crust is thinner and floppy, rather than crisp).
    Note that as you venture south from NY to the land of more topings, crust generally gets thicker, to support the overkill toppings that thin crust doesn't do well with. But when southern joints try to avoid that phenomenon and keep it thin, they end up with a paper thin, soft/floppy crust, which I've learned to appreciate, but point out that it differs from true NY style.)

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