A restaurant review in the Sept. 3 Maryland Weekly incorrectly identified the owner of Marcella La Bersagliera in Chevy Chase. Marcella's owners are no longer involved in a partnership with the owners of the Italia delicatessen in Silver Spring. (Published 9/10/87)
The Washington suburbs have enough awful pizza and sub shops to supply the world with indigestion. Here, for a change, is a terrific one.
The secret is that Marcella's, owned by the same folks as the Italia delicatessen in Silver Spring, is actually a good Italian restaurant masquerading as a pizza shop. That means that although you're sitting on a hard chair under bright fluorescent lights and eating with a plastic fork, you're also getting first-class food at a rock-bottom price.
The menu features several styles of pizza, half a dozen or so subs and a few house-made pastas and desserts. There's also a daily pasta special, and on Thursdays at lunch a special fried calzone. Marcella's pastas and sauces are also available frozen to carry out, along with a good selection of Italian meats, cheeses and bread.
What distinguishes Marcella's isn't so much what is served as its remarkable quality. Most places, for example, make subs from the cheapest of rolls, those soft, heavily preserved blobs that come in economy-size plastic bags. Marcella's uses genuine hearth-baked Italian rolls with a real crust.
Most places economize with fatty, hard pepperoni on the pizza. Marcella's pepperoni is lean and tender. Ditto for the delightful sausage. Most places top the pizza with cheap tomato sauce and dried oregano. Marcella's uses good canned tomatoes and fresh basil. Most places use meatballs that are mainly filler. Marcella's are mainly meat.
Add up those kinds of differences and the result is a pizza-sub shop that's head and shoulders above the rest.
Although it isn't terribly clear from the menu, Marcella's makes four kinds of pizza: hearth-baked, pan-baked, white and country-style. The hearth-baked is excellent, although for our taste the crust is a bit too oily, and it lacks the brown-dappled bottom that marks the best of this style.
But we have no reservations about the flawless pan-baked variety, with a thick, porous, yeasty crust that's reminiscent of good homemade bread, the kind of crust that's good enough to eat without toppings. Country-style pizza, sold by the slice, stands about two inches tall. With its toppings (salami, prosciutto, cheese and eggs) inside instead of on top, it looks more like a quiche than a pizza.
Among the pastas, there is unusually good gnocchi, light in texture. And the accompanying pesto sauce is dynamite, with plenty of fresh basil and minced garlic, and not too much cheese or oil. The ravioli and cannelloni are good, too, properly chewy and with a commendably fluffy rather than grainy ricotta filling.
For dessert, you'll have to check on what's been made that day. We've had good orange-flavored Italian cookies, and an interesting cheese-filled pastry with a crackly, multilayered pastry shell.