Pizza Autentica

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Tom Sietsema wrote about Pizza Autentica for a July 2009 First Bite column.

The umbrella-shaded tables outside Pizza Autentica are hard to pass up on a fine summer day, so I join a long lunch line inside the freshly minted pizzeria in hopes of finding a new place to eat near the office.

There are at least 20 customers ahead of me, but I don't mind. The good-natured counter crew works quickly to take and deliver requests, and the wait gives me a chance to peek into the window of the kitchen, where the staff is pressing out dough, and to eavesdrop on my fellow worker bees.

Man: "You know they call her Fox 5."

Woman: "Huh?"

Man: "She knows everything."

Pizza Autentica promises Neapolitan style and gives customers the option of ordering by the jumbo slice or by the pie, regular or "stuffed" (built sandwich-style, with a lashed top crust). Canned mushrooms, pale tomatoes and a flat tomato sauce make for a lackluster vegetarian pizza, the base of which is pale and without much flavor. A covered pie containing sausage pellets and pepperoni comes with a marinara dipping sauce that resembles ketchup. I wouldn't bother with the salads, either. With its tiny, tasteless croutons and industrial-strength dressing, the Caesar salad could pass for something you'd find at 30,000 feet, in the back of the plane.

The fast-food feel of the youngest branch of Pizza Autentica, which has siblings at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW and 300 Seventh St. SW, extends to an orange color scheme and a generic glossy paper menu. Pizza isn't the only trend the operation serves. A case of nearly 20 gelato flavors, said to be made in-house, beckons up front. I prefer the mellow hazelnut to the snow-white lemon gelato, which emphasizes sweetness over citrus.

No one could accuse the owner of standing still. In addition to his three Autenticas, Hakan Ilhan watches over three Cafe Cantinas and a couple of Einstein Bros. Bagels shops in the Washington area. In September, the businessman expects to open a Chinese eatery, City Wok, at Washington Dulles International Airport. And by the end of the year, the Turkish native hopes to open seven more Pizza Autenticas.

Let's hope that practice makes perfect, and that all these Autenticas might someday live up to their billing.

Whole pizza, $13.99-$17.99.

(July 8, 2009)