Eastern Market is becoming the pizza capital! Here’s why.
By Ann Geracimos
That certainly seems to be the case within the relatively small confines of Capitol Hill where no fewer than seven pizza parlors are in business, with each claiming have a different hold on their ever-expanding market – the gentrifying precincts that fall between Union Station and Eastern Market Metro stops.
Count ‘em: Matchbox, Al’s Pizza, Domino’s, Boli’s, Armand’s Chicago Pizzeria, Seventh Hill, and, the latest, We the Pizza next door to owner-chef Spike Mendelsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery. Most of them mix a medley of other foodstuffs among their offerings so to cover a range of customer tastes.
The latter is the most audaciously named. In the words of Micheline Mendelsohn, Spike’s sister who is part of the family enterprise on Pennsylvania Avenue SE near the Library of Congress, “We the Pizza is all about groups of people coming together to hang out, eat great food, and enjoy each other’s company.” She puts pizza under the same label as American comfort food akin to their burger-and-fry enporium that spills out onto the sidewalk. Never mind pizza’s late 19th century origin in Naples, Italy, where the red, white and green of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil was meant to imitate the colors of the Italian flag. New York City claims to be home to the first U.S. pizzeria, in 1905.
Flash forward to Washington 2010 and you will find a very expansive interpretation. At We the Pizza, the menu includes a spinach and artichoke pie, made with béchamel sauce, sautéed spinach, roasted ‘chokes,’ and aged provolone and Parmesan cheese. The roasted potato and pancetta pie includes “local spuds, carmelized onions and fresh rosemary. There is even a “For the Greeks in Us” pie. Welcome to pizza as entertainment. The pie makers in some places, such as the equally eclectic but much smaller Seventh Hill are like whirling dervishes with their fancy dough spinning talents. The creators of the Montmartre restaurant next door on 7th Street SE, near Eastern Market, call their place a pizza bistro with offerings titled for geographical place names on and around the Hill, (Stanton Park: “zucchini, red onion, garlic, roasted red pepper, eggplant, tomato, mozzarella, pecorino, parmesan.”) As at many sites, sandwiches and soup are available as well.
Matchbox on 8th Street SE attracts with no fewer than 16 pizzas plus a “create your own” version plus a jazz trio playing for Sunday brunch. Like Mendelsohn’s site, Matchbox (“vintage pizza bistro”) boldly advertises curb-side service for the call-aheads. (Beware of the parking police; don’t stay too long to collect your order.) Pizza Boli’s, its older and much less expensive neighbor on the same side of 8th Street, claims to produce more take-out orders than anybody around and has been doing it since 1995. Plus, the franchise owner says their hours are longest: from 9:30 a.m. to as late as 4 a.m. (on weekends). Their closest clone is in Brookland. Likewise, Armand’s Chicago Pizzeria on Massachusetts Ave. NE has been dishing up pizza orders to eat in or take out for many if not more years, catering to Congressional staffers and longtime Hill residents.