A little to crow about
Pizzeria a half-gain for Takoma Park
By Tom Sietsema
November 1, 2009
There is no Roscoe at Roscoe's Neapolitan Pizzeria. As practically everyone in Takoma Park knows, the inspiration for the sunny new storefront comes not from a man but from a cocky rooster that once roamed the streets of the hamlet and became immortalized in bronze in a small memorial on Carroll Avenue.
"We wanted to connect with the community," Ed Gossman says, explaining the name emblazoned in red on the front window. He's one of four owners and a frequent presence behind the bar at Roscoe's, which opened in May with lots of buzz and high expectations. Locals had good reason to be excited: Co-owner Murat Uzuntepe pointed to Two Amys, the revered Neapolitan pizzeria in Washington, as his role model. As a working mom of my acquaintance in Takoma Park put it, the new restaurant with the oak-fired Earthstone oven is "totally important. There's a huge need for good food" in the culinary desert.
Like others who live or work nearby, she appreciates the reality that Roscoe's has something for adults (a bar paved in cypress) and their offspring (a small cheese pizza, and milk served in cartons rather than glasses). The restaurant is close to the Metro, too, a boon to people coming home from work who don't want to cook dinner.
Italian flour and San Marzano tomatoes, considered by many pizza purists to be the best for sauce, enhance most of the pies. Following Neapolitan code, the margherita pizza is dressed with genuine buffalo mozzarella, a tangy puree of those plum tomatoes and a touch of sea salt. I appreciate the pure minimalism.
So why is Working Mom, a veteran of at least eight meals at Roscoe's, looking at me with sad eyes from across the table on a recent weeknight? Her two kids have made short work of their plain pies, but much of the rest of what's on the table -- the food ordered for the grown-ups -- isn't exactly disappearing. "All we've ever ordered," she starts to apologize, "were the kid's pizza and the Roscoe's," the latter satisfyingly decorated with spinach, red peppers and mushrooms.
Despite its topping of rapini, tomatoes and olives, the cheeseless vegetarian pie is a snooze; a panini of grilled asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes and fontina cheese is more bread than filling, and pretty lackluster. The pizza crusts are nicely crisp from their time in the oven, but not so compelling that you want to eat all the baked dough, as you would with a distinguished pie.
There aren't many decisions to make. The concise roster of salads, pizzas and paninis is augmented only by a special or two. Size is not the issue. Flavor, or the lack thereof, is. Arugula and spinach crostini is Ambien on a dry piece of bread, sprinkled with powdery Parmesan and hard to eat with ease; the greens are chopped so that they stretch from your mouth to your hand when you take a bite. The wine runs to just 10 ordinary labels, and it pours warm. Tiramisu delivers only vague suggestions of the expected coffee and chocolate flavors, a problem underscored by the cake's being served too cold.
How to experience the best of the place? White beans glossed with olive oil and colorful with red peppers are a nice way to ease into a meal here, as is a salad of crisp green beans, tiny grape tomatoes and pine nuts (ask for the combination to be dressed with the punchy anchovy vinaigrette). Drink beer; the suds include the refreshing Peroni from Italy and St. Peter's Organic Ale from England. As much as I enjoy that margherita, with its whisper of basil and liquid dots of buffalo mozzarella, the pie I would most eagerly return for is the all-white quattro formaggi: a thin cover of smoked mozzarella, Gorgonzola, fontina and Parmesan that is a little gooey but also crackling in parts.
I understand Roscoe's appeal even if I'm not digging all the food. What other restaurant lets a kid and his mom come in, with his tricycle in tow, just for juice? Roscoe's is one of those establishments that encourage you to check them out. From the street, its big windows neatly frame two dining rooms of people who look happy to be there. Inside, bouncy music and yellow walls, amber sconces and wood floors create a space that's appropriate for both date night and family time.
Late afternoon and early evening find lots of kids, which results in the occasional stroller jam at the door and more clamor than you might want to eat by, although the owners have tried to mute the problem with padding placed under the seats. A table near the windows places you firmly in liberal Takoma Park; during one meal, seemingly every other car that drives by is a Prius.
Roscoe's is not a great place to eat, but it fills a need in its neighborhood -- though only partially, alas.
Murder Most Fowl: Roscoe, the wild rooster and de-facto mascot of Takoma Park, met an unfortunate end in 1999, when he was dispatched in a hit-and-run on Carroll Avenue.