Good to Go

HomeMade Pizza Co. In Northwest

Freshly made pizzas, ready to be baked at home.
Freshly made pizzas, ready to be baked at home. (By Leah L. Jones For The Washington Post)
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Here's the dilemma this Chicago chain seeks to solve: Pizza (particularly thin-crust) doesn't travel well, yet people want to eat it at home without taking the time to make it from scratch. That's why one thing you won't find in any of the company's sleek little storefronts is an oven.

At HomeMade Pizza Co., which opened its first Washington store in Spring Valley in late October, they do the making and you do the baking. Order a pie and the team stretches the dough, tops it with sauce, cheese and other ingredients, sets it on a parchment-covered cardboard round and seals it in plastic. You take it home, unwrap it, then slide it and the parchment directly onto the rack of a preheated oven. Ten or 15 minutes later, you've got a bubbling crisp-crust pizza.

We tried the drill twice: once using a convection oven, against the company's written advice (the crusts were a little underdone even as the top browned) and once in a conventional oven (the crusts cooked perfectly).

Even an underdone crust couldn't detract from the quality of the ingredients on top. The Four Cheese showcased a delectable combination of asiago, fontinella, mozzarella and ricotta on a thin layer of tangy red sauce. The Miesian, a take on the classic Margherita, was loaded with shredded fresh basil, roasted garlic and ripe (and bright-red) slices of Roma tomatoes. The Georgia, which combined Santa Fe chicken sausage with still-crunchy poblano peppers and smooth ricotta, got a boost from the whole-wheat crust we asked for. The whole-wheat version had more flavor than the regular crust, which was a bit bland even though it had great structure.

On the face of it, these aren't a bargain: $5.75 (nine-inch), $10.95 (12-inch) or $12.95 (14-inch) for plain cheese; $1, $1.55 or $1.95 for extra ingredients or a whole-wheat crust; and $14.75 to $18.95 for the "Favorite Ensembles." But the ingredients are billed as all-natural and sourced from local purveyors where possible. In Washington, that includes Simply Sausage in Landover and farmers markets in Penn Quarter, Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle.

Though the menu is mostly pizza, we also liked the two salads we tried: a Caesar ($4.35 small, $7.75 large), with a pungent garlicky dressing, croutons, kalamata olives and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (anchovies optional); and spinach ($4.35, $7.75), with a classic balsamic vinaigrette, dried cranberries, red onion, feta and pine nuts. We bought two Big Cookies ($4.95 for nine inches) to bake ourselves -- we tried sugar and chocolate chip -- and found them overpoweringly sweet. We also weren't crazy about the ice cream ($4.95), made by Chicago's Bobtail Ice Cream; the vanilla and coffee flavors were too airy and a little crystallized.

Once its Herndon location opens this month, the company will have 25 stores, mostly in Chicago and Minneapolis and all non-franchise to afford greater control, says co-owner and founder Eric Fosse. After Herndon, HomeMade Pizza hopes to open six to eight more in the Washington area next year -- and 75 to 100 more nationwide within five years.

Why the District for the company's first East Coast outposts?

"Because there's not an inherent pizza culture like in New York, Chicago or Jersey," Fosse says. "But there's a lot of need."

-- Joe Yonan

HomeMade Pizza Co. 4857 Massachusetts Ave. NW, 202-966-1600; opening soon at 13300 Franklin Farm Rd., Herndon, 571-203-9898; Hours: Mondays through Thursdays, 3-9 p.m.; Fridays through Sundays, 1-9 p.m.

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