Petworth Pizzeria Fills a Void Tastefully
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Jan. 2, 2009
At a glance: I have a friend who calls his neighborhood, Petworth, a "food desert." There are spots here and there but not a lot of options for the palate. Moroni & Brother's Pizza Restaurant moved in more than a year ago and definitely fills a void. It's a pizza-Mexican-Salvadoran place named after the owners' three children: Moroni (namesake of the Mormon prophet) and his two brothers. (The apostrophe is just a small grammatical error.)
Jose Velasquez, 38, and his wife, Reyna Acosta, 35, own the restaurant. The two came to Washington from El Salvador about 20 years ago and met working at Pizza Paradiso in Dupont Circle. (Acosta still works there.) They opened Moroni in their neighborhood of about 10 years with pizza in mind, but then decided to include some of their native dishes, too.
"We have experience [with] pizza," Acosta said. "But we are Spanish people, and we say it's not good if we make only [pizza]. ... We're thinking about the Spanish people, too."
From the outside, Moroni looks inviting. It's dimly lit, with a sparse but tasteful array of black-and-white photos on the wine-colored walls. A long bar lines part of the back of the restaurant, not far from the jukebox. The red plastic tablecloths give it a relaxed feel as if to say, "This is a good place to eat pizza, drink beers and kick back."
The problem is, it's loud at Moroni. The TV over the bar blares, and the door alarm beeps and screams "front door" every time it opens. It makes for a rather frantic feel to an otherwise laid-back place.
On the menu: One word: pizza. This is definitely the owners' forte, and they obviously learned a lot working at Paradiso. The dough is baked in a brick oven and browned to perfection. It's thin in the middle, thick on the sides and crispy throughout. It's not greasy at all, so you don't walk away feeling heavy and unhealthy. Throw any combination of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses on top and you have some of the best pizza in the city.
As a salami lover, I enjoyed the Caprichosa with salami, tomatoes, zucchini, fontina and mozzarella cheese. With 14 pizzas to choose from, you shouldn't have trouble finding one to suit your tastes. La Capra highlights goat cheese, spinach and garlic. The more simple Bianca colors your plate with parsley, red onions and pine nuts. If you want something different, try the Moderna: It's a standard pizza with mozzarella and tomato sauce. But covering the pie are crispy fried potatoes. One sunny-side-up egg sits in the middle of the eight-inch version, two on the 12-inch. It's a good choice if you can't decide if you want dinner or breakfast.
(You can also mix and match the options yourself.)
The pizza is not overloaded with toppings. Rather, each slice of pepperoni or eggplant seems delicately placed on the pie and does not overcome the crust.
If you're not interested in pizza, the "plato tipico" with scrambled eggs, plantains, cheese and avocado is good; you can order that and all the breakfast options all day. The yuca, or cassava, is also tasty, fried perfectly so that it's soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.
At your service: The wait staff is nice and attentive and won't mind if you attempt to speak your lame high school Spanish with them.
What to avoid: I wasn't a fan of the Mexican entrees, which tasted like they needed sauce or salsa. The chicken tacos were dry, the tortillas so thick and soft that they were all you could taste. The enchiladas were not the typical melted-cheese-engorged entree, but instead were small dry tortillas rolled up individually on the plate. The nachos were also disappointing, the beans, sour cream and tomatoes sparse.
Wet your whistle: The beer is a continuation of the Italian-Mexican-Salvadoran theme: Corona and Negra Modelo, Regia and Suprema Salvadorean. Moretti and Peroni are all available in bottles, as are a few American brews such as Miller Lite. Red and white wine is also offered by the bottle or by the glass.
Bottom line: If you're a pizza lover, check out this place. Moroni can compete with some of the best pizza in the District. But even if you're not a connoisseur, it's a great place to gather with the bowling team or the neighbors or your rowdy cousins for pizza and beer.
Prices: Appetizers $2.75-$9.95; entrees $7.95-$12.95; pizza $8-$15.95 Wheelchair access: Good