All-Purpose wasn’t the only name the owners of the new Italian-American eatery considered, but the more they thought about what to call their pizza-centered restaurant in Shaw, the more it made perfect sense.
“All-purpose” alludes to both the flour in the signature dish and the different audiences to which the chef behind the project believes the menu will appeal. “We wanted to create a restaurant for everyone,” be they in for a quick bite, a date or a party, says Michael Friedman.
Certainly a lot of diners can get around his pizzas, sprung from fermented dough, baked in deck ovens and sporting pillowy, full-flavored crusts that are simultaneously crisp and chewy — “bready” in the parlance of Friedman. An early favorite of mine is the Ferraro, a verdant tribute to spring spread with pistachio pesto and scattered with artichokes, ramps and stinging nettles.
A partnership between the owners of Red Hen and Boundary Stone restaurants in Bloomingdale, All-Purpose updates some of the taste memories of Friedman’s youth; the New Jersey native recalls eating pizza several meals a week as a kid. In addition to the traditional salami and olives, the antipasti salad at All-Purpose weighs in with fried chickpeas, a vinaigrette made pungent with Sicilian oregano and thinly sliced iceberg lettuce instead of chunks: three terrific tweaks on a classic. Ricotta kneaded into orbs of ground pork, veal and beef make for tender meatballs, but the real surprise in the basil-threaded dish is when you cut in and discover white cores of molten mozzarella.
Fried baby artichokes would taste at home in Rome if it weren’t for the feta ranch dressing dappled over the gathering. The short menu also includes dill-brightened fried calamari on a swipe of smoky aioli, and tender sweetbreads ginned up with marsala sauce and meaty mushrooms. A 50-bottle wine card embraces Italian and American varietals and emphasizes fruit-forward reds.
Desserts — pistachio cookies, a chocolate-hazelnut pot de creme and a not-too-sweet, red-yellow-green rainbow cake set on glossy chocolate — are the handiwork of a good neighbor: Tiffany MacIsaac, whose Buttercream Bakeshop opened shortly after All-Purpose on the street level of a luxury apartment complex called the Colonel. Soon to join the confections is a tiramisu, rethought as coffee-flavored soft-serve ice cream garnished with lady fingers. Like several selections here, it adds a dash of whimsy to a meal.
One dish leads to another, and the interior invites lingering, too. Custom-made hexagon tile floors, blue vinyl booths and slats of reclaimed fencing above diners’ heads create a cozy backdrop for grazing.
Go early (or make a reservation, available starting Wednesday) if you don’t want to wait, but the crowds underscore my reaction: So far, it’s all good at All-Purpose.
1250 Ninth St. NW. 202-849-6174. allpurposedc.com. Antipasti, $4 to $16; pizza, $16 to $18.