Spring Valley was a natural place for the owner of one of the area’s most popular chain-lettes to open a fifth branch. For one thing, “Pizzeria Paradiso is a neighborhood restaurant,” an amenity in short supply there, says chef-owner Ruth Gresser. For another, the area comes with “hidden density,” in the form of tucked-away businesses, residences and nearby American University.
Then there’s the matter of tenure. Given that Pizzeria Paradiso was introduced 27 years ago in Dupont Circle, and subsequently branched out to Georgetown, Alexandria and Hyattsville, “people know us very well,” says the brand’s founder.
Her pies, baked with the help of wood (mostly oak) in ovens that reach 650 degrees, are among the city’s most recognizable. The crusts, formed from high-gluten flour, yeast, olive oil and kosher salt, are inspired by “country rustic bread,” says Gresser. Diners have 13 toppings to consider. The Paesana draws me in with crumbled chicken sausage, crisp red bell peppers, roasted greens and molten patches of mozzarella on a pleasantly sturdy and chewy crust. Weekly specials break any routine. A winter pizza decked out with black-eyed peas, kale, green onions and hearty orange Cotswold cheese sounds agreeable on paper but presents like a casserole. That’s not a bad thing, just unexpected.
Paradiso’s menus are similar, which means the newest branch has the same primi and panini as the others. Tomato-sauced meatballs are easy to like, as is the long-running white bean salad tossed with anchovy, tuna and celery. Of the group’s recent additions, a seafood salad incorporating potatoes and pesto could use some tweaking; limp escarole and dry mussels made for a forgettable kitchen sink.
If I’m not eating pizza, I’m composing a plate of antipasti from among a selection of roasted vegetables, cured meat and cheeses. Three choices are a mere $11 and make a light lunch or dinner. Try the trio of broccoli rabe, Gorgonzola and spicy capocollo (salted, air-cured pork), flanked by Paradiso’s fine, housemade bread and pickled carrots.
“Eat Your Pizza, Drink your beer” read the T-shirts worn by some servers. Paradiso makes that easy with a beer program devoted to craft suds from local sources, including Sugar Leaf Hazy IPA from DC Brau. “Yeast marries well with yeast,” says Gresser, a fan of Belgian brews in particular.
Counting its patio, the Spring Valley pizzeria seats the most customers, about 165. The interior is warm in wood, with walls the color of butter, windows on three sides, a stretch of a bar and fanciful ceramic pizzas dressing up the front. Kids of all ages have something other than pizza to occupy their time here: Near the bar beckon pinball machines and video games.
4850 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-885-9101. eatyourpizza.com. Nine-inch pizzas, $12 to $15.