One of my best friends lives in Boston, and she's a big reason why I love that town. Another reason is the Upper Crust Pizzeria, a local chain where we've shared many a savory, paper-thin-crust pie.
Owners and Massachusetts natives Josh Huggard, Jordan Tobins and Brendan Higgins opened their flagship in 2001 on Beacon Hill. Since then, 19 other locations have opened in the Boston area. In March, a 20th sprouted up in Portsmouth, N.H.
When I heard that the 21st had landed near the White House in mid-April, I was excited. But why did Washington make the cut, I wondered?
"D.C. has a similar transient vibe to Boston," Huggard told me.
Despite its Neapolitan delicateness, Upper Crust's flavorful pizza crust holds up after a few hours in a humid car. The tomato sauce is sweet and chunky; the cheese is anointed sparingly. The ingredients are fresh, and organic when possible. The pies are baked in a stone-deck oven, says manager Shawn Shenefield.
Those who are unfamiliar with this pie might first try a slice of the day, served on a regular or whole-wheat crust ($3.57). When I dropped in, it was mushroom, livened with a garlicky "pesto splash." A perfectly fine pepperoni slice ($3.25) and a basic cheese slice ($3) are available as well. All slices are generous and best managed by the fold-and-bite method.
Customers ready to commit to a whole pizza can build their own or choose from a list of "Our Specialties," which come small (14 inches) or large (18 inches) and have silly-cute names such as the Senate (hamburger, pepperoni, sausage; $15.25, $19.95) and the Georgetown (breaded veal, fresh mozzarella, basil; $16.10, $20.75). I'll return for the Washington, which has chicken sausage, caramelized onion and spinach ($15.25, $19.95).
If pizza's not your thing, Upper Crust makes lasagnas: chicken, beef and vegetarian ($9). I reheated my substantial vegetarian portion at home in the oven; it tasted vibrant and fresh. Also terrific are the spinach squares. Bound with eggs, cheese and milk, the bite-size treats are just a bit greasy - and that's a good thing (five for $2.50). Salads ($4.25 to $6.95) and calzones ($10) round out the menu. A selection of beer and wine will entice the tippling set.
Huggard wants to open 10 more Upper Crusts in the Washington area over the next five years. This one, which has 36 seats, needs smoother service. Kinks to work out? Yes. Lack of eagerness to please? No. The place delivers, caters and will accommodate just about any customer request. Says Huggard, "We'll roast a pig on your front lawn if you want us to!"
--Catherine Zuckerman (Good to Go, May 11, 2011)