“First rule: Never answer the phone on a Sunday morning,” says Peter Pastan.
The veteran restaurateur did just that July 8, when staff at Two Amys informed him that the basement of his popular pizzeria near Washington National Cathedral was being flooded. Two feet of water became four feet, which became almost six feet before emergency crews were able to stop the rise, the result of a ruptured, six-inch water pipe. Everything in the basement — the prep kitchen, storage, office, wine inventory — had to be replaced. Pastan figures the damage hit about $500,000. He and his 50-person crew helped with the rehabilitation and demolition followed by repainting, and ended up reopening Two Amys on Sept. 24. Since then, fans have been filling the place, eager to reacquaint themselves with the signature pies, known for their big lips, nice char and pleasant chewiness.
“It looks . . . very familiar,” I overhear a woman say as she steps into the dining room, still a buttery yellow and still dressed with broad wood tables. Other than a new floor in the pizza oven, the picture on the ground floor is the same as it was pre-flood. A customer has to visit the restrooms to see the obvious enhancement, a collage made from emptied wine bottles that were stripped of their labels and “cooked” in the 800-degree oven.
Regulars will notice changes small and large on the menu. Grab some pig tails if they’re offered. Two Amys first brines and simmers them till they’re tender, removes the bone, trims some fat, then presses the result overnight. The following day, the tails are breaded and fried to a crisp golden state and served with a brassy green sauce — the perfect foil to the rich snack. Specials have also included roasted eggplant smoothed with lush ricotta, brightened with mint and zapped with chiles, a substantial meatless entree or shared appetizer.
The pizza reboots include an Etna 2.0 decked out with smoked mozzarella, fried (rather than pureed) eggplant, pine nuts and parsley, and a Pozzuoli carpeted with silky grilled peppers, fontina and housemade pork sausage (replacing the original meatballs). Sassiest of all is the puttanesca, whose toppings of roasted rapini, anchovy, garlic and hot peppers are the taste equivalent of a bugle blast.
Pastan no longer owns Obelisk, the long-running Italian restaurant in Dupont Circle, or Etto, a younger pizza-and-small plates purveyor on 14th Street NW. So your chances of seeing him at Two Amys are good. Yes, that’s the owner in the kitchen some nights.
Introduced in 2001, the beloved pizzeria has also added steak to its repertoire, featuring cuts from dairy cows that the restaurant dry ages as long as 100 days. The meat, its surface crisped by the pizza oven, will please carnivores who don’t mind chewing; Pastan says he likes the product for its marbling and “super beefy” flavor. So do I. One recent visit delivered 18 ounces of sliced rare New York strip steak with sides of golden fried potatoes and a salad tossed with a mustardy dressing — a deal of a meal for $27. Bear in mind, the presentation changes. Another night, cranberry beans tossed with anchovy butter might make up a side.
The loss of so much wine in the flooded basement gave Pastan an opportunity to reconsider his offerings. “Drink Me” reads the cover of his new, all-Italian wine list. The restaurateur makes that easy, no matter your budget or taste, with wines gathered by price, starting with a $35 collection of more than a dozen reds and whites.
And if there’s a silver lining in the misadventure, it’s new stemware and red wines served at 55 degrees, thanks to new coolers downstairs.
“It’s nice to be back again,” says Pastan.
“Jinx!” say his many fans.
3715 Macomb St. NW. 202-885-5700. 2amyspizza.com. Pizzas, $9.45 to $15.45.