RedRocks on H Street NE offers space, and room for improvement

The fourth location of RedRocks, on H Street NE, is the largest, with 300 seats spread out over three floors. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

When a vacant building on H Street NE was pitched to James O’Brien, it didn’t take long for the restaurateur to decide to open his fourth RedRocks there. For one thing, he was interested in being part of the area’s revitalization, as he was in Columbia Heights, home to his original pizzeria rolled out in 2007. For another, O’Brien says, the 6,700-square-foot space had the “wow” factor he had been seeking.

Cue exposed-brick walls and a retractable roof. Inside 1348 H St. NE he also found “an openness that’s hard to get” anymore, says the restaurateur, who owns RedRocks locations in Alexandria and Arlington. His latest pizzeria is the largest, with almost 300 seats and three bars spread over three floors.

The expanse means more kitchen space and a menu, developed by company chef Adrian “Angel” Mendoza, previously of 2 Amys, that extends beyond pizzas to include pastas and small plates of seafood or meat.

It takes some hunting to get to the good stuff. The vegetable darlings du jour, Brussels sprouts, show no sign of their promised anchovies, and the Caesar salad has all the appeal of a grab-and-go mix from an airport kiosk. Pasta verde, green with spinach noodles and basil oil, grows tiresome after a bite or two.

Multiple visits suggest that the meatier the dish, the better: Suckling pig with fried polenta and tomato marmalade, for instance, is a small success for $8. The simply seasoned pork is cooked as the pizzas are, in the restaurant’s oak-stoked oven.

The key to ordering well involves alliteration. RedRocks No. 4 is best for pints and pies. There are nearly 20 beers on tap and as many different pizzas. The latter, with raised edges and a nice crackle, are Neapolitan-ish, relying on buffalo or fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and mostly 00 Caputo flour. Mendoza’s secret to a crisper crust: a bit of King Arthur “special” (bread) flour sifted in with the fine Italian powder.

1348 H St. NE. 202-621-7300. Pizzas, $10 to $16.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.



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