Unrated during the pandemic.
The last time I did that, I got some hot tips on where to eat in Rome from a woman who used to live there and a happy-making plate arranged with pale pink slices of a Bologna specialty.
“I make the mortadella,” an attendant says as he hands over some of the most sublime pork sausage in recent memory. The crusty brown bread that accompanies the meat, seasoned with coriander seed and dotted with circles of fat, is its equal. Does 2 Amys bake its own bread? “Yes, and we mill our own flour,” says the same man, from behind a wood counter that is as much cooking station as bar.
As if on cue, owner Peter Pastan opens the swinging kitchen door to take the temperature of one of the most beloved restaurants in Washington. True to form, the shy chef with the big talent (remember his delicious reign at Obelisk in Dupont Circle?) remains half inside the kitchen.
From the time it opened near Washington National Cathedral, 2 Amys was an early champion of Neapolitan pizza, a style defined by the strict standards set by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association. Pastan volunteers that he’s a bit of a rule breaker. The association reprimanded 2 Amys via letter several years back when someone reported that the staff was shaping pizzas on a peel rather than a counter. (The horror!)
Does it really matter? As much as I appreciate tradition, I also care about taste. 2 Amys puts out a pizza that seduces me with char marks reminiscent of leopard spots, lips that rival Angelina Jolie’s, pleasant chewiness and a lovely yeasty flavor. My preferred topping, Pozzuoli, continues to scatter zesty housemade sausage, silky red peppers, nutty fontina and more on a 10-inch canvas. You will be asked if you want your pizza cut or left intact. Go for Door No. 2. The latter option keeps wet toppings from slipping into cracks and making a soggy crust, and it’s the way Pastan recommends it.
Quality and consistency go hand-in-hand here, year after year, particularly where the “little things” are concerned. Dishes I remember ordering early in the life of the restaurant continue to set the standard. No place makes more alluring deviled eggs than 2 Amys, whose deep golden yolks come from farm-fresh local eggs (plus curry and dry mustard) and whose emerald sauce — a puree of parsley, chives, capers, garlic and olive oil — seals the deal. One is never enough. I could easily start a graze-a-thon with salt cod fritters, too. The long-standing appetizer springs from a whip of salt cod made on-site, potatoes, heavy cream and garlic; the balls are fried to a light crunch and give way to fluffy fillings. Pastan appreciates history, but he’s hardly a sentimentalist. Those oven-roasted olives everyone liked? “I don’t care to ever do them again.” Something about the aroma of bay leaf and garlic wore on him.
The menu at 2 Amys almost serves as a calendar. Winter was serenaded with blood orange and other colorful citrus slices in a salad sharpened with red onion and whispering of Sicilian oregano. The list also underscores the owner’s wit. You’ll find marvelous “piggy” rillettes, bordered in an inch of fat, under the heading “French things we pretend are Italian,” for instance. Better still, the extensive wine list, grouped by price, showcases select quaffs starting at $40 a bottle.
Pizza might be the shiny bauble in the window, but a handful of dishes lead you to think of 2 Amys as an upscale ristorante. Sample the vitello tonnato and tell me it wouldn’t look at home at Tosca, Centrolina, Modena or any other respected Italian establishment. Thin slices of blushing veal dolloped with mayonnaise-rich tuna sauce are lit with lemon, anchovy and fried capers, the last of which delivers a nice pop amid the softness. Steak in a pizzeria feels oh so right when it’s super-beefy, richly marbled dairy cow, butchered by hand and dry-aged on-site for up to 100 days. (“Tuscan Steak Night” is typically weeknights only. )
Desserts show the same thought lavished on other courses. 2 Amys’ moist almond cake comes with wine-poached cherries and superb vanilla ice cream, and candied grapefruit zest enhances the ricotta filling in the handmade cannoli. Delicate cookies call to me, too, most recently lemon poppyseed.
During the pandemic, Pastan got a second domed oven and placed it in the back of the dining room to help his staff practice social distancing. (Want to take the igloo shape off his hands? Pastan is open to selling and says the oven, including installation, cost him about $20,000). Other than that, the interior hasn’t changed much over the decades. The main dining room still wears paint the color of butter and sports prints of 19th-century Naples. Tile floors, naked tables and a pressed-tin ceiling do nada to absorb the clamor of a busy lunch or dinner, but come on, no one goes into a pizzeria to meditate.
Even after the city lifted restrictions, 2 Amys continued to ask customers for proof of vaccination and identification, a precaution that Pastan says doesn’t always go over well in what he wryly refers to as “the most important city in the world.” It seems some of its citizens don’t want to be bothered. (“I’m a doctor. Of course I’m vaccinated,” his staff has heard.) If you’re still reluctant to dine indoors, keep in mind that 2 Amys has a patio out back and offers takeout. Since it reopened last June, initially outdoors, the pizzeria has sold almost 78,000 pies. That’s a lot of ding! dings! from the bell that summons servers when pizzas are ready.
Another legacy of the pandemic: no tipping. Instead, hospitality is included in the bill, a detail servers consistently point out (and grazie for that). For such a fast-paced setting, the crew is vigilant. I particularly appreciate the easy back-and-forth with the folks behind the bar. When a companion sniffed at the idea of my ordering mackerel crudo, an eavesdropping minder swooped in with a taste of the starter — and sold the naysayer on the strong-tasting fish lashed with fruity olive oil. But even the servers in the lively dining room do an ace job of juggling order-taking and dish delivery.
Pastan envisioned 2 Amys as a place that would welcome everyone from “the screaming kid to your grandmother” and attributes the restaurant’s long life to a something-for-everyone menu whose dishes “don’t cost a whole lot." Pause. "Maybe I’m just lucky.”
He’s wrong, of course. His customers are the ones that should be counting their good fortune.
2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria
3715 Macomb St. NW. 202-885-5700. 2amyspizza.com. Open: Indoor and outdoor dining and takeout 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Prices: Appetizers $8 to $15, pizza $12.75 to $19.75. (Specials may be higher.) Sound check: 82 decibels/Extremely loud. Accessibility: A ramp leads to the entrance; one restroom is ADA-compliant. Pandemic protocols: Diners 12 years and older are asked for proof of vaccination and identification at the door; all staff are masked and vaccinated.