Caterer Leland Estes and pizzaiolo Ettore Rusciano left their jobs in San Francisco last fall, put everything they owned in a U-Haul and drove across the country to capitalize on Washington’s restaurant-barren Brookland. Once there, they took a sad TV shop and, using their own hands, turned the storefront into a sunny pizza parlor.
Rolled out in May,
is fewer than 30 seats in two cramped rooms. But they pack in a lot of pleasure. The front room, basically a hallway dominated by a 6,000-pound white oven, is Rusciano’s domain. Turn the corner, and you find a slip of a bar made with lumber the owners scored free in Baltimore, a photograph of the Bay of Naples at night and a chalkboard that reveals Leland’s sudsy passion. “I’m a beer nerd,” says the dispenser of 10 beers on tap, 10 by the bottle (plus some swell cocktails).
Tip No. 1: Starters tend to be outsize, and little of what I’ve sampled — unwieldy marinated seafood, caprese salad with cottony tomatoes — is worth taking space away from Rusciano’s typically thin, lightly blistered and pleasantly yeasty pizzas. There are more than a dozen, including a zippy Diavola scattered with spicy salami and peperoncino. Tip No. 2: You’re missing half the fun if you don’t imbibe or at least listen to Estes expound on his favorite subject. Smashed Blueberry, a hybrid between a porter and a Scotch ale, smells like a warm fruit pie but tastes of chocolate and coffee; Baladin Nora Sour is an Egyptian-inspired brew from Italy that hints of coriander.
Estes says “menomale” is Italian for “thank goodness.” Which is precisely how residents of Brookland — but also pizza and beer nuts outside those borders — must feel about this fresh slice of bliss.
Friends Ankur Rajpara and Jon Allen knew they wanted to go into some kind of food business together when they met up at Two Amy’s three years ago. What could you eat every day? they asked one another.
The answer was as clear as the pie on their plates: Neapolitan pizza. It would take Rajpara, a former real estate developer in Dubai, and Allen, a restaurant manager, until November 2011 to launch
in Rockville. (The letters stand for “come sempre,” “like always.”) In that time, Rajpara learned the art of the art at the VPN training school in California.
The two business partners tend to be the first things you see when you walk into their pizza parlor. Inevitably, Rajpara is scattering ingredients on a round of dough, and invariably, Allen is taking orders, handing over numbered cards and dispensing easy-drinking wine for those who want something stronger than Diet Coke. Looming behind them is an oak-fired oven made by third-generation craftsmen from Italy using clay from volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius.