2711 12th Street, NE
This edition of Eating Around Town was written by Abbey Becker. Abbey previously wrote about Middle Eastern Cuisine and Market in Takoma Park and she lives near Eastern Market.
When I went to Toki Underground for the first time two years ago, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve been upwards of 15 times, and it’s safe to say that it’s my favorite DC restaurant.
Except Menomale is now jockeying for that top spot. Not only is it a contender as one of the area’s best Neapolitan pizzas, it’s one of the places I want to eat at each and every week.
You may remember reading about Menomale’s struggle to obtain a liquor license earlier last year. Visiting now, you’d never know they hit a bump in the road—their beer, wine, and cocktail offerings are eclectic, fairly priced, and creative.
If you’re a fan of craft beer, you’ll love co-owner (and homebrewer) Leland Estes’s choices for their 10 or so taps. When I went earlier this week, they had Old Rasputin, a high-percentage Russian imperial stout; Rodenbach, a Belgian oaked sour that’s one of my favorites; and Racer 5, an IPA that many of my beer nerd friends consider an excellent, if more “mainstream,” example of the style. Menomale also has a fridge stocked with several bottles, including Rodenbach Grand Cru and Mad Elf.
Sometimes I prefer a glass of wine, and if you’re looking for affordable, go for the Barbera. It’s $6 most times, but when I went on the later side on a weeknight, it ended up being $2 off! I don’t expect much out of the cheapest wine option on a menu, but this one is actually pretty good—not vinegary or too tannic like some cheaper reds end up tasting.
Let’s talk pizza, though.
Continues after the jump.
Co-owner Ettore Rusciano was born in Italy and learned to make pizza the way they do in Naples. He’s even got a pizzaiolo certificate from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. The association has very specific rules about how a Neapolitan pizza must be made—cooked in a wood-fired, domed oven; hand-kneaded and rolled dough; no larger than 35 centimeters in diameter.
I didn’t bring my measuring stick and I didn’t watch my pizza being made, but with pizza this good, I don’t care.
The dough itself is saltier than I remember it being at 2 Amys and Pupatella, which I personally like. It’s airy, charred, and chewy like Neapolitan dough should be when cooked. They use the dough or their pizzas, calzones, and sandwiches, so as long as you don’t have a gluten allergy, you’ll get to try it.
My favorite pizza has got to be the Quattro Formaggi, with DOP San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, goat cheese, Parmesan, Gorgonzola, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil. It’s the Gorgonzola that makes it, and I love seeing the pools of slightly bluish, melty cheese in each quadrant of the pie.
The Di Ettore (chef’s special) is a close second, and it sometimes surpasses the Quattro Formaggi, depending on my mood. The dough base is topped with buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, cooked, then finished with a huge pile of lightly dressed arugula, prosciutto, Grana Padano, and extra virgin olive oil. The saltiness of the prosciutto, the bitterness of the arugula, the creaminess of the mozzarella, a few juicy and roasted tomatoes, topped off with salty shaved cheese…if you’re going to top a pizza, this is the way to do it. It’s even a little garlicky, too.
Of note is the Verde calzone (it’s enormous and doesn’t even fit on a plate) and the prosciutto e melone, which is served with lightly dressed arugula. I haven’t tried the sandwiches yet, but people seem to order them fairly often and enjoy them.
Yeah, you pretty much have to drive here if you don’t live in the neighborhood but I’m telling you now—this is a meal that is worth the trip. It’s tiny, only seating about 15 or so at tables and maybe four or five at the bar, but if you go on a weeknight or on a weekend afternoon, there’s a good chance you won’t have to wait.