It's a midday pizza pit stop
By Alex Baldinger
Feb. 24, 2012
There's a new place to go for a fill-up in D.C., provided your engine runs on pizza and buffalo wings: Fuel, a service-station-themed North Carolina chain, opened its first D.C. location in January, transforming an old two-level Burger King into the closest thing K Street has to a neighborhood mechanic.
The chain's automotive aesthetic is not subtle. Metal signs line the walls, evoking a shuttered Jersey Turnpike Exxon, with drums of Pennsylvania Motor Oil hanging from the ceiling. The look hails the chain's origins in a converted 1940s Pure Oil station in Charlotte, the first of eight stores in the state opened by restaurateur Jeremy Wladis of New York's the Restaurant Group, which also operates a handful of fast-casual sandwich and wing shops.
Family ties brought Wladis to Charlotte, but opportunity brought him to the District: "We've always said that this is probably the best market for our concept in the country. New York has more people and bigger buildings, bigger density, but it's already saturated with pizza and it doesn't make sense to fight in the pizza game there." A second location is scheduled to open at Sixth and F streets NW in March.
On the menu: More than two-dozen specialty pizzas, buffalo wings tossed in your choice of a dozen sauces, calzones, strombolis
and subs. The message to diners seems to be (fittingly, if unintentionally): We're here to pump you full of oil!
Crust-wise, the New York corner pizzeria-style slices are unlike the fluffy, wood-fired artisanal pies being tossed at just about every D.C. pizzeria.
The standard cheese, pepperoni and veggie pies are a huge improvement over the ubiquitous ennui of Pizza Autentica, but the standouts are the enthusiastically topped specialty pies: the Bacon & Bleu and Buffalo Chicken pies are good places to start; the Mediterranean-style Riviera loads up on spinach, olives, artichokes, Roma tomatoes and crumbled feta; and if you can't recall the last time you squeezed a lemon over a slice of pizza, order the Old Bay Crab Bake Pizza, with real crab, spinach and onions. Multigrain and a surprisingly adept gluten-free crust are also available, as is nondairy, vegan daiya cheese.
The wings - smallish, but pleasantly crisp, offering a nice snap - are tossed to order. Among the flavor options: three types of barbecue, salt and pepper, lemon pepper, Asian chili and Old Bay.
Lunch crowds are more likely to opt for one of eight pizza/wing/stromboli/salad combos. Delivery is available within a six-block radius for office lunches and working-late dinners.
At your service: While long lines can form during lunch, I've never had to wait more than five minutes from the time I paid for my lunch order until it's brought to my table. If you want to substitute a specialty slice for the plain slices that comes with the combos, however, make sure to say so . . . twice, if necessary.
Whet your whistle: Pair your pizza with beers starting at $3.50 for domestic bottles. Imports and microbrews are a smidge more at $3.75, while a glass of wine starts at $4.49.