First Bite

It Needs a Little More Time to Rise

By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Joel Mehr wants you to know, upfront, what Pete's Apizza (1400 Irving St. NW; 202-332-7383) is not: a "gourmet" pizza place.

"I have a kid," explains the co-owner of one of the youngest, and busiest, restaurants in Columbia Heights. "When we go out for pizza on a Sunday night, we don't want to spend $80, or even $60." So among Pete's charms is pizza by the slice for $2.50 to $3.25, depending on the number of toppings.

There's also no formal table service at Pete's Apizza (pronounced ah-BEETS), which is modeled after Apizza Grande in East Haven, Conn. Customers place their orders at a counter overlooking the pizza oven and take a number; someone brings the food to the table when it's ready. Cream-colored walls, bare wood tables and concrete floors make a spare point, too.

That less-is-more philosophy extends to the crusts, which are baked on stone in gas ovens. The ingredients are just "flour, water, salt, yeast. No olive oil," and nothing to sweeten the dough, says Mehr, who launched the pizzeria late last month with his wife, Alicia, and three other partners. One of them, Thomas Marr, previously cooked with Joel Mehr at the National Gallery of Art.

Our early verdict on the 18-inch pies: We like their crisp-chewy texture and light char but not their inconsistent execution. Even at the same meal, diners might get two different crusts. As for toppings, sausage is all but mute, while white clam packs a garlic punch. Welcome gestures: onions that are caramelized, and peppers that are roasted, before touching the crusts. That soft crunch on the bottom comes not from cornmeal but from bread crumbs.

Pizza isn't the only attraction at this 42-seater, whose windows face a Metro station entrance. From the kitchen comes a handful of pastas and from Dolcezza in Georgetown come fine gelati, in such intriguing flavors as Virginia peanut and orange-honey-cardamom. Like seemingly every other restaurant to open these days, Pete's Apizza emphasizes recycling and energy efficiency. In other words, your pizza comes on a glass plate.

Pizzas, $17.95-$23.95.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company