If there was any doubt about how Gaithersburg would receive designer pizza from the former chef of the smart Oval Room in the District, one of the most popular toppings at the fresh Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana can be seen as a vote in favor of Tony Conte: white truffles.
“We went through a half-pound in a week” says the chef. The seasonal delicacy from Italy explains the $23 price of Inferno’s white pizza, which is also decorated with fontina, Parmesan, smoked scamorza (similar to mozzarella) and garlic-bacon oil. The half-dozen additional pies on the list average $13 and include a winning combination of fairytale squash, spreadable ’nduja pork sausage and ricotta cheese freckled with rosemary.
Diners perched at the kitchen counter see the glow and feel the heat of burning oak inside Inferno’s domed oven, covered in pearl tiles and adorned with dragonfly designs, one in memory of Conte’s late mother-in-law and one for each of his two children.
An early sample of two pizzas found subtly crisp crusts of good flavor that could have benefited from more time in the 750-degree oven; both interiors were a tad underbaked. (Pizza ovens take time to get to know. I have a hunch next month’s crusts will be better.)
“At the end of the day,” says Conte, who co-owns Inferno with his wife, Kim, “we want to put out some really good pizza but not forget what we did in the past.” He’s referring to a handful of appetizers on the menu that would look at home in a fine-dining establishment: an arrangement of roasted sunchokes, smoked hazelnuts and fresh mint; and a salad of shaved fall vegetables and Asian pear, tied together with a hot pepper vinaigrette. Dessert features soft-serve ice cream, the sweet du jour, presented with stewed apples and crumbled pie dough baked with rosemary. Conte describes the confection “apple pie in a cup.”
The entrepreneur is no stranger to dough and fire: As a high school student in New Haven, Conn., he worked at a Sicilian pizza parlor. In a nod to his Italian heritage, the tomato-red walls of Inferno display photographs of his father’s home town, 30 minutes outside Naples, including a house the family still owns. The simple 40-seat dining room (formerly South Street Steaks) is outfitted with tables made using reclaimed walnut wood from western Maryland.
Inferno, whose assets include three Oval Room alums on staff, serves beer and wine from a makeshift bar and accepts carryout orders, but only those made in person. Ideally, says Conte, his pizza should be eaten as soon as it comes out of the fire. I concur — with a touch more char, please.
12207 Darnestown Rd., Gaithersburg. 301-963-0115. inferno-pizzeria.com. Pizzas, $10 to $23.