Category Archives: pizza

Haven Can’t Wait

But you can wait at Haven (7137 Wisconsin), and you probably will, for a table, because the new-ish pizzeria has already become the 2 Amy’s of Bethesda — ground zero for parents with kids, only with better pizza.  It’s rare that I think something is worth much of a wait, but Haven is, especially if you can snag a seat at the bar.

When I was growing up in Seattle, one of the local pizza chains was Pizza Haven, whose locally famous slogan was “Got a pizza cravin’? Come to Pizza Haven!”*  According to the wikipedias, Pizza Haven was among the first pizzerias to deliver. I only remember eating at the one in the Seattle Center Food Court, which no longer exists (neither the SCFC nor the PH chain exist).**  It was a couple of counters down from the Orange Julius, which does still exist, including (I noticed recently) at Arundel Mills (also Montgomery Mall).  I used to love the St. Louis dog, with cheese and bacon bits.  But apparently now they are beverage-only, no food? So sad.

* For some reason none of the old Pizza Haven tv commercials are on YouTube, all I could find were some from the mid-1990s Australian version of Pizza Haven that didn’t use the classic slogan.

** UPDATE: Mrs. Senior Me clued me in to the fact that the Seattle Center Food Court still exists!  I haven’t been there for at least 25 years.  Apparently now the Center House is called the Armory and the vendors are probably a lot better than they used to be, although my friend’s family’s kebab place is still there.  Unclear what sort of weapons they have there at the armory.  I guess a kebab could be a weapon?

Anyway, I have no idea if the old Pizza Haven was actually any good (probably not?).  The new Haven Pizzeria (which is, also, a New Haven-style pizzeria) is actually very good, although we did not try the clam pie, which Sietsema loved and is the classic New Haven pizza topping. Mrs. Me feels about clams on her pizza the way I feel about pineapple on mine.  I’ll try the clams next visit.

Why so good?  Primarily the crust: thin but not too thin, crisp yet just the right amount of chewy, full of yeasty flavor, and firm throughout with no soggification in the middle.  I could just eat slices of crust and be happy.  But the sauce and cheese are good too, and the toppings are excellent.  The margherita is densely covered with fresh diced tomatoes and strips of basil.  Pepperoni and black olive make a deliciously salty combination.  And the “Vodka & Bacon” is great, also salty, the bacon seemed more American than Canadian but it didn’t matter, I eagerly devoured the whole thing.

Haven has limited beer offerings, although one (bottled, not on tap) is the Dogfish 90-Minute IPA, our longtime house favorite.  The wine list has some good relatively affordable options, though still at a 250% markup in some cases (like a retail $11 wine for $35 at Haven).  But the beverages are secondary to the pizza anyway.

It’s  a big place (and yet a wait for a table!), with a  long bar, an open kitchen, high ceilings and high decibels.  We sat in a booth, which helped deaden the ambient noise, I think.  Friendly, efficient service.  All in all a fine pizza experience, and I would rank Haven’s pies with Ghibellina’s as my local favorites (with still a number of top contenders I haven’t yet tried).  Haven doesn’t give you giant shears for pizza-cutting like Ghibellina does, but that’s about the only thing that was missing.

Nuts To All That

Nut House Pizza, interior

Nut House Pizza, interior

I had a distant cousin who used to say he was “nutsy” about things he liked.  I would like to be nutsy about Wheaton’s Nut House Pizza (11419 Georgia), but I just can’t do it.

Giving bad reviews to small locally owned restaurants kind of stinks, but I try to stay on top of all the eatin’ in Wheaton, and that means some occasional negativity.  I’m generally positive about this neck of the woods, but I don’t want to turn into a mindless cheerleader.  Most restaurants around here are, legitimately, at least adequate (especially now that Pashion has gone kaput).  If you look on Yelp or the other internets you can find people who rave about NHP, saying it’s the best crust ever, people come from NYC to eat it, that kind of over-the-topness that would be hilarious if it weren’t kind of sad.*  These are the kind of reviews that you wonder if they’re planted.  Because NHP’s crust is not the best ever — if it isn’t the worst ever, it’s in the conversation.

* There are many more single-star Yelp reviews for NHP, which seems more on target to me

The truth is, I haven’t eaten their pizza since we first tried it about ten years ago, when it was inedibly bad.  On a recent visit, I opted not to retry it, noting the single sad desiccated slice of cheese pizza sitting in the warming bin up front.  It might be the same slice that was there ten years ago.  It’s thin crust, New York style, but a far cry from typical New York quality.  It is kosher — “under rabbinical supervision” says the sign — and maybe it is delicious relative to the average kosher pizza, I don’t know.  I don’t need to try it again.

Reuben Reuben I've been thinking ewww

Reuben Reuben I’ve been thinking ewww

Instead, I tried the reuben sub and some fries, which weren’t inedible, but weren’t good either.  The sub featured neon orange “Russian” dressing (which I admit I kind of like, a guilty pleasure), mediocre sauerkraut, quick-congealing white tasteless cheese that in retrospect I should have used to touch up the caulking in my shower instead of eating, and a thin slice of dry, pressed corned beef (presumably), although it was more like a weirdly spiced bologna. I assume it was somehow related to corned beef, otherwise it can’t be a reuben, right?  Not good.  The roll was actually a winner, crusty outside and soft inside, and could have been the framework for a delicious sandwich, but the other ingredients just didn’t measure up.

The fries smelled good, and looked fresh-cut and similar to Five Guys potatoes, but turned out to be wan and undersalted.  Ira’s Famous Nut House Seasoning (according to the sign behind which the lonely pizza slice lies in its eternal gloom) doesn’t have much going on.  Assuming that’s what was on the fries.  There was discernible seasoning, it just wasn’t that tasty.

Nut House is a total dive, all plastic and formica and tile and old-school signage, and that would be fine — even great! — if the food were awesome.  The place is usually empty, and was on this mid-week visit except for one woman, who I suspect was the wife of the counterman.  He was perfectly friendly and efficient, but that makes up for only so much.   He was  not Ira Feldman, the owner – or at least that was the owner when Patch did this writeup almost exactly two years ago.  If he’s still in charge, he seems to have lost interest. If you compare the photos from Patch to my first photo here, in just two years, signage has noticeably physically deteriorated.  Alas, the food was never good enough in the first place to noticeably deteriorate.

Maybe I should consider it a blessing that they were out of knishes, which I had hoped to buy for next day’s breakfast.  How can a kosher food purveyor ever be out of knishes?  Shouldn’t they have a little cooler in the back with a few knishes at all times, in case of knish emergency?  What happened to the rabbinical supervision?  Surely any rabbi worth his pillars of salt would keep knishes on hand at all times.

Sort of amazing they’re still operational, although I would guess they do a pretty good business with the thriving local Orthodox community — then again, wouldn’t you just go to the far superior Max’s instead? — and their rent is probably low.  Revisiting after ten years seemed appropriate, but in retrospect Moses had a better idea with his forty years wandering the wilderness.  He must have been filibustering, knowing Nut House Pizza awaited him back in the holy land. Wheaton may be feral, but there are better options than Nut House.  Almost any option is better than Nut House.  Which is a bummer, because we could really use a great pizzeria in this town.

For a higher-quality Nut House experience, head to Antonio’s Nut House in Palo Alto, where the beer is good and you can buy peanuts from an animatronic gorilla.  Less convenient for us Wheatonites, of course…

Etto! Where Are You, Etto?…

For some reason Etto makes me think of Cato, manservant of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies.  Just the name, you understand, not the food, which has never attacked me by surprise nor turned my residence into a brothel.  The food, in fact, is quite good, with one teeny tiny* exception.

* but unfortunately kind of essential

The best thing about Etto (1541 14th Street), one of the newer additions to the gentrifying 14th Street corridor, might be the overall feel: part decor and part service.  I love the exposed brick, copper pipes, bright wood, open space, clean lines.  The bar area is small but cute, and well worth a visit, more for the cocktails than the wine; I’ve forgotten the name of the drink I had on the first visit, Queen of something, like a more interesting Manhattan.  They also do a mean Negroni, using local Green Hat Gin, which Mrs. Me finds vegetal but I like the edge.

Service at Etto is uniformly great, bartenders to hosts to servers.  Informational, pleasant, reasonably efficient, present but not interruptive.  Always feel welcome, even as the place fills up, which it does rapidly around 6pm because it is both tiny and popular.  Not sure what the record number of people packed into the bar area (built for maybe a dozen max) is, but surely violative of various fire and other codes.

The restaurant is popular for the aforementioned reasons but especially also the food, which is whimsically described (“Other Meaty Things,” “the Gilda ‘Radner’ – some sort of anchovy-based appetizer I should have ordered but didn’t – plenty of anchovy options at Etto) and deliciously prepared.  Lobster and chick peas is more interesting, and more lobstery, than the trendy lobster mac’n’cheese one finds at many restaurants these days.  I loved the beet salad, with its small dice of different colored beets covered in thin goat cheese wafers and a balsamic sauce.

What?  Pizza?  Or “pizze” — yes, Etto has that too, and aspects are excellent, namely the sauce and the cheese and the toppings. Sausage and rapini is a nice combination of spicy/savory/bitter, and our dining partners gave the mushrooms a positive review too.  I’m not qualified to rate mushrooms, so will happily take their word for it.

The pizza is unfortunately brought down several notches by the crust, which tastes fine, but the middle 50 percent is a soggy mess, even at the moment of delivery to the table, much less five or ten minutes later.  Etto is operated in part by some folks from 2 Amy’s, which also has (and always has had) ongoing crust issues, only according to this Citypaper article, Etto’s crust is “just a little more complicated.”  Maybe it is authentic, maybe it is more interesting and even more flavorful than other crusts, I don’t care, soggy crust is bad crust.  You wouldn’t have to go far to find an example of how to do crust right: Ghibellina is right across the street, and my recent review is right here.  Ghibellina gives you shears to cut your own pizza; Etto cuts it for you but hardly needs to, since it practically falls apart on its own, which would have been swell had we ordered the pot roast.

Kudos to Etto for trying something new, but for me, it doesn’t work.  I will gladly return to Etto for drinks, and even for dinner, thanks to the atmosphere and service and Other Meaty Things, but I wouldn’t order the pizza again.  Which is kind of unfortunate, given they are a pizzeria and all.

3.14159 2.0

Or, a second visit to District of Pi (910 F Street, Penn Quarter), where I have eaten several times since my first visit in November 2011, when it was new, but this was the first visit for Mrs. Me.  And it won’t be the last, since she proclaimed it her favorite pizza in DC.*  Not sure I agree, but maybe.  Despite some advances in recent years, DC is still not a great pizza town.  I also still haven’t visited most of the new and well-thought-of pizzerias, so it’s hard to do a fair comparison.  Pi is almost certainly the best deep dish pie in town, but that’s not saying much.  I don’t mean to damn by faint praise, the Pi thick crust really is pretty good, and for Mrs. Me the dense, abundant, concentrated tomatoes are a huge plus, maybe less so for me.  I’m a cheese guy.  But the crust really is good.

* she said this prior to our visit last month to Ghibellina, which may or may not have affected her ranking.  Yes, I was slow to publish this review.

I don’t think Pi’s thin crust stacks up as well against even the local competition.  But the sides (salads, meatballs) are good, the beer list is strong, and although the decibels are high and the service can be uneven (extremes of insufficient and excessive attentiveness), it’s a solid lunch or dinner option in the Metro Center-Gallery Place nexus.  Still, with Ella’s (my favorite local thin crust) right around the corner…and Ghibellina…I don’t know.

Princess Lodges and Surrounding “Towns”

After a night in Anchorage, we travelled by increasingly annoying combinations of luxury motorcoach bus and train to, first, the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge, and second, the Denali Princess Lodge, each of which had several restaurants on the property that were all pretty much the same.  The lodge restaurant food was generally fine but unexciting, most notable for the prevalence of salmon that was invariably dry from overcooking.  My original notion to eat fresh Alaskan salmon every day of the trip was quickly disabused.

Salmon chowder -- pretty, and pretty great

Salmon chowder — pretty, and pretty great

Salmon chowder, on the other hand, was rich, savory, and delicious, deeply paprika-colored, rife with smoked salmon chunks and veggies and a slight spicy kick.  Great value (relative to other options at least) at $5.50 for a big bowl.  The (Coho) salmon salad was also pretty good, despite the overdone salmon, and the fish and chips weren’t bad either.  Even the Princess lodges were in on the Alaska microbrew game; the Twister Creek IPA was fresh and pine-y but unexciting.  Yes, Mrs. Me and I pretty much stick to an IPA-only beer regimen these days.  We may be hopeless, but never hop-less, haha…sorry.

The McKinley Princess is about 45 minutes away from the bustling town of Talkeetna, which consists of about 2.5 linear blocks, with one brewpub and three coffee houses per block, I think.  But we were there only in the morning, too early for brewpubs; Mrs. Me did acquire a high-quality coffee from a source whose name I neglected to record.

The Denali Princess is near the bustling non-town of I don’t know what: right across the street is essentially a strip mall, an uneven boardwalk fronting a six-block stretch mix of souvenir stores and cafes (plus, incongruously, a Subway).  We hit Prospector’s Pizzeria and Alehouse for dinner one night and it was superb, with great service in both the bar and the restaurant, huge beer selection, and excellent food.   Their address is Milepost 238.9 in Denali, which correctly suggests that this location is the opposite of feral urbanism.  Well, not exactly opposite, since it certainly is feral.  Feral bucolity?  Will have to think about that.

Prospector’s all-draught beer list runs to around fifty options, mostly Alaskan or Belgian; we had more IPAs but I forgot again to write down which ones.  The pizza was what you might call “regular” crust, neither thin nor pan or deep-dish; it was crisp and not at all soggy in the middle, but also appropriately chewy and flavorful.  Fresh toppings and plenty of them, with a good sauce-cheese-topping ratio.  Mrs. Me also loved the spinach salad, with its unusual strawberry dressing.  I am too unhealthy to bother with spinach salad. Overall, huge winner, highly recommend.  Who knew pizza would outshine salmon in Alaska?

The next morning we retrieved coffee (latte and iced americano, both unobjectionable) and a large oat-and-raspberry square (surprisingly good and unsurprisingly filling, although it caused me for the next few hours to want to roll in patchouli and listen to Phish) from the Black Bear Coffee House (milepost 238.5!!).  And then it was back on the bus that would whisk us to Whittier to board the boat ship (less alliterative but more correct, oh well).

Anchorage: Pizza and Breakfast (Not Together)

Nearly two full weeks in Alaska, including a cruise ship and followed by one day in culinary paradise Vancouver, provided a big mixed bag of food to review, which will happen over the next few days. First though I want to welcome Another Day in Wheaton to the local blogosphere; ADiW popped up at the beginning of 2013, amidst my hiatus.  Another Day blogs about all kinds of Wheatony things — gardens, traffic, development, other stuff I don’t blog about.  Check it out.  Any other new-ish Wheaton blogs I should know about?

Okay, North to Alaska.  Land of the Rising Midnight Sun (hi Japan!  You cannot see Japan from Alaska; I thought I caught a glimpse of Russia as we drove through Wasilla but then it hid behind a glacier — might have just been a moose). We flew all day to get there, routed inconveniently through Dallas (American hub) and only minimally fortified with anything edible upon arrival in Anchorage.

Tired and hungry, we stumbled down the street a few blocks from the Captain Cook Hotel to try the pizza at Uncle Joe’s (428 G Street), a local joint on a side street where most tourists don’t bother to walk.  Uncle Joe’s* is kind of a dive (just the way we like it), with a handful of formica tables, a mostly exposed kitchen, and a staff of teenagers/twentysomethings who seemed to be having a lot of fun.  I think they do a lot of takeout/delivery but most of the tables were occupied; we snagged the last one and ordered a slice of pepperoni, which was huge, enough for two, and excellent, teeming with meat, crisp crust, and a fine, inoffensive cheese-sauce balance.

* Joseph Stalin was known by Russians as Uncle Joe, back in the day.  Despite Alaska’s history of Russian influence, there is no connection between Uncle Joe the Despot and Uncle Joe the Pizzaiolo.  Just to be clear.

They also had a small but good selection of local microbrews — nearly every restaurant in Alaska seems to have a sometimes-small, always-good selection of local microbrews — and we especially liked the Glacier Brewhouse IPA, hoppy and citrusy and strong but balanced.  The King Street IPA was unbalanced, the hops overwhelming all else.  Two pints and a good, big slice for $15 (food in Alaska can be a bit more expensive than in the lower 48, but not as much more as we had imagined, and in some cases not any more at all) made a fine end to the day and a fine start to the trip.

Snow City Cafe's beguiling entrance

Snow City Cafe’s beguiling entrance

The next morning we walked a block in the opposite direction to the Snow City Cafe (1034 W. 4th), which unlike Joe’s is one of the best-known tourist destinations and is packed every morning for breakfast, so we arrived 10 minutes before opening, and were not the first ones there.  Snow City provides benches indoors to sit in, available even before they are official open, a nice welcoming touch given Alaska’s often inclement weather (it was indeed raining the morning we were there).

Touristy restaurants are a dicey proposition, since many of them coast on reputation as they decline in quality, but Snow City is pretty good, even if not quite as fabulous as some reviews might suggest.  I don’t have much to compare it to, but I suspect it is genuinely one of the better restaurants in Anchorage.  The Kodiak Benedict was worthwhile, with perfectly runny eggs, decent crab cakes, and huge crispy hash browns on the side.  Salmon cakes proved less of a hit with our party, but everyone enjoyed the bread assortment, especially the delicious sticky buns and biscuits.  We also liked the ambience, with high ceilings and bright natural light through one wall comprised entirely of windows. Large portions, reasonable prices, good way to fuel up for a four hour bus ride (urk) to near the southwest corner of Denali National Park.

Next: the food scene at Princess Lodge(s) around Denali.

Ghibellina Gooooood

Just as I was saying this never happens, it happened again right away: we ate at Ghibellina (1610 14th Street) over the weekend and then Tom Sietsema First-Bit it today.  And just as with Mi Cocina previously, it sounds like we bit the same stuff.

Ghibellina’s pizza is awesome, especially the crust, with crisp blistered exterior but chewy, yeasty inside, and not soggy in the middle. Tomato sauce tastes fresher and brigher here than at most places, and I don’t think it is just the rustic ambience* affecting our perception.  Toppings are uniformly excellent too; we tried the margherita and the olive-and-artichoke.  Overall a nice balance of crust/sauce/cheese/toppings; I might have like a tad more cheese, but that’s nit-picking.  Instant contender for best pizza in DC.  We didn’t try anything besides pizza, and I’m sure lots of other menu items are delicious, but did I mention awesome pizza?

* lots of wood and marble and tile, really a lovely if high-decibel setting, although the huge wooden beams suspended above the bar seating are worrisome — hope they’re well-bolted to the ceiling…

Plus, as Sietsema immediately notes, you get to slice cut your own pizza using large pizza shears, which are apparently a thing.  A great thing!  Allegedly tableside shearing helps the crust not be “droopy” in the middle, and maybe that’s true — as noted, the crust here stays fairly crisp even in the middle of the pie.  But mostly it’s just fun to shear things in a nice restaurant!  If they had a garden patio there could be so much pruning.  I think the Ghibellina shears are sharper than anything in our shed at home (sadly).

Then again, the shears could get dangerous after a few drinks.  Do they serve a Ghib-bellini?  Of course they do. Some of Ghibellina’s cocktails seemed a little light on the alcohol, which might lead one to drink an extra one or three, which might lead to shearing incidents if one turns out to be wrong about the lightness.  I hope the owners are insured for shearing.  Insheared?  Anyway, alcohol content questions aside, the cocktails were also good, although you have to watch the giant basil leaf in the Estate in Toscana lest you put your eye out.  Or maybe carefully not watch it. Especially after three of them at $6 happy hour prices.  Especially when the group’s final pizza is arriving and everyone wants some and GIVE ME THOSE SHEARS RIGHT NOW.