The Washington Post

Ghibellina brings more good pizza to 14th Street

Diners sit in near the entrance of Ghibellina, where a wall of windows folds open for a view of 14th Street NW. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

An unexpected utensil shows up with the pizza at Ghibellina: shears.

“Americans aren’t used to cutting their own pizza,” says Ari Gejdenson, co-owner of the newish Italian restaurant in Logan Circle. But his chef, Jonathan Copeland, says that slicing hot pizza before letting it rest for a few moments makes for a “droopy” crust, as the tomato sauce, cheese and olive oil, a last-minute flourish, seep under the base.

The pies at Ghibellina are excellent, by the way. The toppings of your choice are scattered on a crust made with a blend of high-gluten flour and super-soft Italian 00 flour and cooked in a wood-stoked oven for about 31 / 2 minutes at 725 degrees. The result is a pizza with welcome blisters and lots of character.

Copeland’s single-sheet menu lists lots to like. The attractions include a whip of chicken liver, lightened with pureed onion and sweetened with vermouth, and sliced, rosemary-fragrant pork that gets a splash of white wine toward the end of its roasting time. Meaty eggplant with a drift of ricotta cheese, zipped up with salsa verde, is a side dish that could pass for a main course.

A look at the chef’s résumé explains the appealing food. Copeland cooked at Palena in Cleveland Park for six years, with time out for tours at the beloved Franny’s in Brookyln and the Spotted Pig in New York. Most recently, he was at Society Fair in Alexandria, where he concentrated on baking bread.

Ghibellina honors the street Gejdenson once lived and worked on in Florence, where he opened an American-style diner in 2003. The restaurateur refers to his latest dining room’s decor — crafted from old wood, original brick and chairs plucked from an Italian school — as “an Italian bar meets an industrial building on 14th Street.” The marble-topped bar is a lively place to find yourself at happy hour (Tuesdays through Sundays), when an Estate in Toscana — that’s gin blended with lime and pineapple juices — can be enjoyed for a mere $6.

Panna cotta jiggles when the dessert is set down. Copeland uses gelatin sparingly in the vanilla-flecked custard, which is not just one of the most animated versions I’ve encountered but also one of the most sublime.

As we depart, a chorus of goodnights follows us from table to door. Ghibellina’s service, it turns out, is as impressive as the look and taste of the place.

1610 14th St NW. 202-803-2389. Pizzas and entrees, $13 to $85 (for 45-ounce steak).

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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