When you want a pie to have a pedigree
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, November 4, 2012
The recipe for true Neapolitan pizza is pretty simple. You have to use a wood-burning oven. Only San Marzano tomatoes are allowed. As for the crust, no more than four ingredients — supersoft flour, sea salt, fresh yeast and water — can apply. Among a recent wave of subscribers are Menomale in the District, Pizza CS in Rockville and Pupatella in Arlington. Each dough-spinner follows the rules spelled out by Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, dedicated to preserving "real Neapolitan pizza" (Vera Pizza Napoletana, or VPN). And each restaurant adds something special to the scene.
Caterer Leland Estes and pizzaiolo Ettore Rusciano left their jobs in San Francisco last fall, put everything they owned in a U-Haul and drove across the country to capitalize on Washington’s restaurant-barren Brookland. Once there, they took a sad TV shop and, using their own hands, turned the storefront into a sunny pizza parlor.
Rolled out in May, Menomale is fewer than 30 seats in two cramped rooms. But they pack in a lot of pleasure. The front room, basically a hallway dominated by a 6,000-pound white oven, is Rusciano's domain. Turn the corner, and you find a slip of a bar made with lumber the owners scored for free in Baltimore, a photograph of the Bay of Naples at night and a chalkboard that reveals Leland's sudsy passion. "I'm a beer nerd," says the dispenser of 10 beers on tap, 10 by the bottleflask (plus some swell cocktails).
Tip No. 1: Starters tend to be outsize, and little of what I’ve sampled -- unwieldy marinated seafood, caprese salad with cottony tomatoes -- is worth taking space away from Rusciano’s typically thin, lightly blistered and pleasantly yeasty pizzas. There are more than a dozen, including a zippy Diavola scattered with spicy salami and peperoncino. Tip No. 2: You’re missing half the fun if you don’t imbibe or at least listen to Estes expound on his favorite subject. Smashed Blueberry, a hybrid between a porter and a Scotch ale, smells like a warm fruit pie but tastes of chocolate and coffee; Baladin Nora Sour is an Egyptian-inspired brew from Italy that hints of coriander.
Estes says “menomale” is Italian for “thank goodness.” Which is precisely how residents of Brookland -- but also pizza and beer nuts outside those borders -- must feel about this fresh slice of bliss.