Inside 399 Morse Street, SE. Photo by Meaghan Webster
From a press release:
“D.C.-based restaurateur Antonio Matarazzo and chef Matteo Venini announce an April 2 opening of their upscale fast-casual pizza and street food concept, Stellina Pizzeria, in the growing Union Market District. The duo most recently worked together as managing partner and executive chef, respectively, of the city’s popular high-end Italian restaurants Lupo Verde, Lupo Verde Osteria and Lupo Marino. Their new venture – occupying a 2,000-square-foot, 88-seat footprint at 399 Morse Street NE – brings a contemporary spirit to the classic pizza counter, and taps into a new niche of fine-casual Italian dining. Meaning “little star” in Italian, Stellina has a logo of five circles representing the five points of a star, each signifying a different element of the dining experience: Italy, pizza, style, food and love.
“I grew up in Avellino, Italy, between Naples and the Amalfi Coast, where there’s a really strong tradition of street food. When Matteo and I began discussing Stellina, we knew we wanted to explore that style of cuisine since we haven’t seen it done before in D.C.,” Matarazzo explained. “We developed the concept as a fast-casual pizzeria for simple and delicious takeout or delivery, but with a style and energy that’s inviting for a sit-down meal. We want Stellina to look and feel like a modern taste of Italy, infused with a sense of fashion and flair, and hope to scale it into multiple locations.”
Photo by Meaghan Webster
Chef Venini, a native of Lake Como in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region, set his sights south to design the menu at Stellina, which introduces diners to the humble, yet robust street food culture of the southern Italian coast. A selection of fried seafood and vegetables served in paper cones called cuoppo offers a culinary transport to the streets of Naples, walking along with cuoppo di baccala and cavolfiori (fried cod, cauliflower, spicy peppers) or cuoppo di ascolane and verdure (fried zucchini, red bell pepper, asparagus, onion, artichoke) in hand.
Stellina also specializes in Neo-Neapolitan pizzas that break away from the strict confines of the classic Neapolitan style. Venini uses a biga – or a fresh yeast prevalent in Italian bread-baking – to start his high-hydration dough, which then undergoes a 48-hour double fermentation process. The result of this signature recipe is a light, moist crust with a distinct crispiness around the edge.
Though the 10-inch-round pies will be served whole and cut into slices, guests can also eat like true insiders of Naples’ no-utensils-required pizza al portafoglio, a method of folding pizza and wrapping it in paper to produce a tidy package ready to be devoured by hand. Toppings range from the classic margherita to Venini’s own creations, like cacio e pepe with cacio di Roma, pecorino Romano, buffalo mozzarella, and toasted black pepper.
“When I developed the recipe for our pizza dough and our cooking process for the pizzas, I tweaked the tenets of the Neapolitan style in a way that would keep them light and crispy with just the right amount moisture,” Venini said. “I want people to be able to eat a whole pizza without feeling heavy and full.”
Stellina’s regionally influenced street food similarly touches Italy’s southeastern coast of Puglia, where oven-fired panini will feature fillings of meat, seafood, veggies and cheese stuffed between slices of pizza dough. Highlights include fried octopus with burrata, escarole, black olives and chickpea puree, and house-made porchetta with salsa verde and crispy mushroom. Rounding out the menu are handmade pastas and a full bar featuring Italian wines, beers and cocktails.
In addition to dining in and carry out, Stellina offers online ordering and delivery.
Building on its Italian street food approach, Stellina will offer several options for guests to enjoy Venini’s cooking at home. In addition to takeout and delivery, the restaurant will stock a small section of retail items, including signature Awesome Sauce meal kits packaging fresh pasta, sauce and instructions for easy, decision-free family dinners. Imported Italian pantry goods will also be available.
Photo by Meaghan Webster
Situated on the ground level of The Edison, a mixed-use residential and commercial development in Union Market District, Stellina will offer 50 seats in the main dining room, 30 on its seasonal patio and eight at the bar. Local artist Molly Allen of Allen Studios and architect Jennifer Jaffke of Innovation Design are behind the look and feel of the space, which reflects Stellina’s roots in the south of Italy, as well as its revitalized neighborhood setting. With oversized windows along the exterior walls, polished concrete floors and an open kitchen centered around a Marra Forni gas oven, the space is at once airy and welcoming, contemporary and comfortable, presenting classic Italian style in a modern light. Pops of blue, yellow and green in the artwork and accent tiles are reminiscent of the southern coastline, while bright reds and whites in the seating, tiled walls and geometric light fixtures are a crisp, clean expression of a familiar Italian palette. Hand-painted tiles along the front-facing countertop are inspired by vibrant and colorful patterns prominent throughout the designs of luxury Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana, and offer a contemporary complement to the classic Italian tiles featured above the ordering area. This nod to Italy’s ceramics tradition represents authenticity and dedication to craft. A large painting along the back wall depicts Totò, a legendary Italian comedian and actor of the 1950s and 60s, chicly portrayed in a Dolce & Gabbana jacket. A display of enlarged family photos along an adjacent wall and a note to guests from Matarazzo and Venini above the ordering line also speak to Stellina’s warm, homey vibe.”