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Dec 24, 2001 01:27 PM

Found: Good Pizza!

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Yesterday after a wonderful visit to the zoo -- baby elephant, amazing pandas, baby gorilla, etc. -- we stumbled into Vace Italian Delicatessen at 3315 Connecticut Ave in Cleveland Park. I had vaguely heard of it but living in Va. don't get to this part of DC too much.

Anyway, the pizza is good and cheap to boot. We tried a slice of the onion (a white pizza) and a slice of mushroom. It's almost an elegant pizza; pretty thin crust, sparse sauce and cheese. Nice tangy sauce on the mushroom slice, while the onion white pizza had a lot of onions and a nice amount of oil and garlic. Not what you'd call NY style pizza (far too thin and lacking in cheese for that), but for this area, it jumps to near the top of our list.

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  1. I believe there is also a store in Bethesda. But overall, the pizza in DC is dismal, dismal and dismal.

    27 Replies
    1. re: smoke

      Oh no argument there. This is easily the worst pizza town I've spent any time in at all.

      For those who like Greek pizza i.e., what New Englanders think of as House of Pizza pizza), Anthony's in Falls Church does a good job. They have a location in Manassas too, but I've never tried it.

      Also, the pizza at Milano's in Centreville -- another Greek joint -- looks good. Next time we go I wil try it.

      1. re: Bob W.

        Sylvano's in Herndon has authentic New York, hand stretched and tossed pizza. The water doesn't allow the same crust but it's as close as you're going to come to this style of pizza in D. C. The Tysons Corner pizza shop on the second floor is similar but Sylvano's is a notch above.
        For really good local pizza try Pizzeria Paradiso on P Street, Coppi's on U Street, the original Ledo's on University Boulevard in West Hyattsville and then "local pizza" which is the same as they were in the '50's (then known as decent cheap pizza; now it's become good in the face of nightly trips from Domino's) at Pizza Loven on Walter Reed Drive in Arlington, Pizza Oven in East Pines and Pizza Oven in Rockville. These last three are NOT great pizza; they're just good pizzas which haven't changed in 50 years and are the few that have survived. (Some places that "seemed good" growing up here in the '60's such as Mario's on Wilson Boulevard really have changed. Then, Mario's at 1:00 in the morning was great. Today I wouldn't go near it-it tastes totally different.)
        You might also see the posts on Two Amys below including a discussion of New Haven apizzarias.
        There are also a number of pizzerias which have wood burning ovens includng Facce Luna on Wisconsin Avenue just north of Georgetown and several more on lower Connecticut Avenue and in Bethesda whose names escaped me.
        There is a great New England import called Sal's Just Pizza in Anne Arundel County. The original is in Salem, New Hampshire and this is GREAT pizza by the slice there. I have never been the MD location. In the northern Boston suburbs it has won all kinds of awards. Again, the water can effect the crispness of the crust so I don't know what this might taste like.
        I am not sure if any of the following still exist (I haven't been in at least ten years) but from the '50's through at least the late '70's they represented the best that D. C. had: A & V on New York Avenue (I think it's still there.), Anna Maria's (on lower Connecticut Ave. about the 1700 block-likewise but I can't vouch for the pizza today), Gusti's at 19th & M and the absolute temple for pizza in Montgomery County, Pop's on Henderson Avenue in Wheaton which, I am almost certain, is gone.
        Some D. C. pizza is unique in its own way such as the original Ledo's. There are places around America that are similarly unique such as Arcaro and Genelli's between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton or a place in Providence whose name escapes me. (No, not Al forno but it's on Federal Hill, one block off the main drag and only sells pizza, calzones and strombolis.)
        There is good pizza here. Not on the level of Tacconelli's or Patsy Grimaldi's or Sally's/Pepe's but still worth going out of your way for.

        1. re: Joe

          I forgot to mention this in my lengthy post above because I believe that it has long been gone but if you grew up in the Washington area in the '60's the absolute best pizza anywhere was on 19th St. downtown between L and M at Luigi's. This was a big deal to take a girl there on a date from the suburbs. Nowhere else did I "lower" myself to eat pizza with a knife and fork! Now thirty five years later I can admit this: I would get carry out and sit in my car and eat it with my hands drinking Coke out of a bottle. That was great pizza!
          Unfortunately I'm fairly certain it's gone along with many other unpretentious but genuinely good places. (Does anyone remember Reindeer Frozen Custard on Colesville Road in Silver Spring or Stephenson's Bakery on Pennsylvania Avenue, S. E. or Sweeney's/Emory's BBQ on New Hampshire Avenue in Langley Park?)?
          Does anyone remember McDonald's original french fries which were changed to frozen in 1967?
          The name of the pizzaria in Providence is Caserta's.

          1. re: Joe

            Have no fear, Luigi's is still in place. Food tastes about the same. As does A.V.'s.

            Vace on Connecticut at Macomb has great pizza, whole or by the slice. They also had a Bethesda outlet but I think it's gone.

            1. re: joanek

              Va-Ce in Bethesda moved two blocks north, just to the west of Wisconsin Avenue--beyond the Exxon on the corner of Leland. You have to approach the street coming south or from Leland as it loops around to become Woodmont in the heart of "new" Bethesda.

              I am a great fan of Va-Ce for their pasta and subs; however, I am less enthusiastic about their pizza--which I find almost good on their best days. Nothing close to Pizzeria Paradiso or Two Amy's or A.V.and Fio's in their glory days.

              We are off to NY in a couple of weeks--one of our main activities is checking out our favorite pizza joints. We will try to get to DiFara's in Brooklyn, Patsy's on 1st Avenue in Harlem, and Lombardi's on Spring Street. No time this trip for a trip to "pizza paradise"--New Haven.

              Jim Zurer
              Washington DC

              1. re: Jim Zurer

                Have you been to Il Mulino? Supposedly this is the best Italian in New York with a 27 in Zagat, a point higher than Babbo. My wife and I were going there several months ago (similar to Obelisk in difficulty of getting a reservation) but I had to go overseas on business instead. If you have I'd be interested in your opinions.
                Italia on Colesville Road in Silver Spring used to be very similar to Va Ce in both Bethesda and Connecticut Ave. I believe (I could be wrong) that the original owners of the Silver Spring Italia either sold or split up and then opened Bethesda, later branching down to across from the Uptown. I remember the pizza being similar in all three along with great subs with bread from Catania bakery who used to make the best sub roll in D. C. The Silver Spring Italia was a treasure but I haven't been back in a number of years. I gave up on Silver Spring and it actually began to hurt me how it had deteriorated from a vibrant three department store large city (Penny's, Sear's and Hecht's) to a slum during the '70's and '80's. For all of my recollections on this board I remember going to the Silver Theatre in the '50's and down to Gifford's for a "Big Top" with my mother and several friends. Crisfield then was thought of as a "poor man's O'Donnell's." (The O'Donnell's on Pennsylvania Avenue downtown.)
                Anyway, enough. Enjoy the NY pizza. I'm envious.

                1. re: Joe

                  You had mentioned avoiding downtown SS due to vacant stores & slum atmosphere. Well fortunately they're cleaning up & reviving that area. Unfortunately it's required some chain franchises (Starbux et al), but you can still get a meal from family-run, independent cafes a few blocks away.

                  I haven't been to Italia on Rt 29 in a few years - I heard they were going to close or move, but their customers begged them to stay open. That was 2-3 years ago. I don't often drive by, so I have no idea of its status today. Any chowhounds out there know?

                  1. re: Lori

                    Italia Deli is still there. They've added a few tables
                    for eat-in, so don't seem to have room for a large a selection of groceries as they used to.
                    I second the defense of downtown Silver Spring. I've lived here nearly ten years and felt that the 'slum'-type descriptions were an exagerration even before, but there is certainly even less reason to avoid it now. I feel no hesitation about walking around the neighborhood as a small lone female after
                    dark. I've never had even a slightly nervous-making experience. Come and eat here before redevelopment drives out all the good stuff!

                    1. re: linda

                      It is not my purpose to be critical of what has happened to Silver Spring; rather I applaud the efforts to redevelop it. (I should also note that I cared enough to testify at County hearings in favor of redevlopment.) This is also not the forum for me to discuss what caused it to fall from the position it occupied from the 40's through to the early '70's. Still, to see what happened to the town where I was born over 50 years ago and grew up hurts. The County is trying its absolute best to bring Silver Spring back. There IS hope. But Silver Spring in the '50's and '60's WAS so much, the second largest city in Maryland, the first Hecht's built in the suburbs, cruising at the Silver Spring Hot Shoppes with movies at the Silver Theatre. It was bigger than Bethesda or even Alexandria(as many or more high rises, department stores and shops than any other suburb in the D. C. area with a Christmas Parade that almost 50,000 turned out for and windows at Hechts that gave Woodies downtown a run for their money.).
                      You'd only understand what I am talking about if you knew what it was like then. You also have to understand the frustration of trying to turn it around while watching it continue to deteriorate.
                      Again, no one on this board loves Silver Spring more than I do. Or the city of Washington. Read some of my posts. But Silver Spring has a long way to go to recapture what it once was.
                      But its trying and so is the County. I applaud them.

                  2. re: Joe

                    OK Folks- a challenge.
                    Having grown up in Queens NY in the boomer generation I have always been on the lookout for real NYC pizza in this area. That is, the kind of pizza you could get at any 'corner' pizza shop on the 60's & 70's. I have not found the "real thing" yet. Any suggestions anyone?

                    Also, what made that pizza so different from what we get today in the DC area?

                    1. re: Ted

                      Well, as you can see from all these posts on the subject of pizza, we're still trying to find a decent pizza in the metro DC area! I moved up here from NC in April of '98 and was searching for "the real thing" and read either in the WAsh. Post or Washingtonian Magazine that Faccia Luna makes great pizza. I went to the Faccia Luna on Wilson Boulevard and was greatly disappointed (maybe it's FL in DC that's good...don't know). I grew up in NYS and one memory of those wonderful pizzas was picking up a slice and having the mozzarella sliding off. So, one thing that's missing on pizzas outside of the Northeast is olive oil. Also seasoning, decent (and enough!) sauce and good mozzarella, not the spongy, tasteless stuff one gets on most pies around here. I've found the pizza at Lucerno's (2nd floor in Tysons Corner Shp. Center) to be quite good but you have to eat it while it's hot out of the oven (take out just does something to it). Good luck!

                      1. re: Ted

                        Tastes vary but try the place next to Addy Bassin's wine on MacArthur Blvd (name escapes me). Don't be turned off by the fact that the other specialty of the house seems to be fried clams (which I have yet to try).

                        1. re: dvip

                          I believe it is Palisades offshoot of the Georgetown Bagelry on M Street (which has very good pizza by the slice. I have been there twice and while the pizza can be okay, it has never impressed me. It is also inconsistent. The clams were actually pretty good.

                          Jim Zurer
                          Washington DC

                  3. re: joanek

                    Luigi's is still there! Whoa! My wife and I will be there this weekend. I haven't had this pizza since the '70's. It will be interesting to see how it compares to what's in my memory. Thanks.

                2. re: Joe

                  Joe: thanks for the great tips.

                  The place you are thinking of in Providence is Caserta Pizza. It's named for a suburb of Naples.

                  The pizza is indeed unique and better than that, it's great!

                  1. re: Joe

                    as a southern CT native who constantly looks for DC-area pie that approaches New Haven quality, thank you for the suggestions. I can vouch for Pizzeria Paradiso and Faccia Luna as decent pizza places. There's a Faccia Luna on Wilson Blvd in the heart of Clarendon as well. Bertucci's isn't bad, especially for a chain, and Xando (of all places) comes close, they even advertise their pie as "New Haven Style." Don't know if all Xandos sell pizza - the ones who do do it after 5:30 pm.
                    you are right not to compare Ledo to any other pie, it is truly unique, and a good delivery option.
                    After seeing rave reviews of Alario's in College Park I made a special trip, but was disappointed. Way too cheesy.
                    I remember BOP (for Brick Oven Pizza) in Fell's Point as being pretty good.
                    FYI, Gusti's at 19th and M NW is now gone.
                    With slice in hand and facing New Haven like a Muslim faces Mecca, I continue my search for the "thin oily corn starch gritty with just enough mozz" pizza, and only on special occasions will I take out a Pepe's pie from the freezer.

                    1. re: Jamie D

                      The Fells Point Pizzeria won an award several years ago from Baltimore Magazine for the best pizza in Baltimore. I don't know if that's true today but it was pretty good.
                      There is only one Ledo's that's good and that's the original on University Boulevard in Hyattsville. I don't know if its the "seasoned" pans they're baked in (the crust IS different there) or even the nostalgia but the Ledo's outposts, for me, are only decent "chain pizza."
                      Water really does make a difference in the crust along with the oven and, in the case of coal oven pizza, flecks of coal on the bottom of the crust from when the coal burns in the oven with the pizza. As a side here most of the coal burning ovens which survive in the U. S. (and there aren't many) are what were really sold as "bread ovens" in the '20's through the '40's meaning that their original purpose was to bake bread, not pizza. A few examples of these still exist in South Philly and Coney Island (a block or so down from Totonno's whose owners are quick to point out that they have a coal burning oven INTENDED to bake pizza in.) A number of years ago-maybe ten-I read an article in the New York Times that said the best french bread/sub roll/baguette in America was in Atlantic City. There are three bakeries there that sell bread to the White House Sub Shop. All three have ovens decades old. One, I believe is the Atlantic City Bakery which only has an oven and a light bulb in the ceiling over the oven with the baker in his "wifebeater" athletic shirt (real name!) perspiring from the heat baking the bread. Probably his sweat literally gets in the dough!
                      But the bread/rolls are incredible. As good as what you would find in much of Paris or Italy. Different from The Bread Line or Acme in Berkeley but just great bread. (I mentioned elsewhere but Catania which used to be (maybe still is?) on North Capitol Street had great sub rolls.) At the White House the owner told me that the reason was the water and the dough rising along with the particular ovens that the rolls came from. He said he could taste a difference between two of the three.
                      The owners of Jerry's Sub shoppe (from the late '70's)grew up in Brooklyn. They have carried dough from New York (Armando's) and Chicago (Giordano's) and baked pizzas in their Bethesda store to compare the final crust with dough made in D. C.
                      The New York and Chicago crusts were better.
                      There are a lot of factors that enter into pizza crust but I know it is more than just merely the oven (although without exception coal oven pizza is the best on earth for the crust it gives). I am certain that the water, the pan (seasoned), the kind of flour, kneading of the dough, etc. have a lot to do with it. But I believe after the oven that water is the most important and how the dough rises.
                      Having said all this half baked pizza from Pepe's or Sally's or Modern in New Haven is better than anything (Pizzeria Paradiso included) in D. C.

                  2. re: Bob W.

                    Where in C'ville is this pizza place? I would love to try it.

                    1. re: James G

                      Hi James (we still need to set up a meeting at Good Fortune BTW).

                      Milano's is in the oh-so-imaginatively named Village Center on Stone Rd.

                      We've been there at least five times now. The food -- e.g., souvlaki, egglant parm, chicken marsala, etc. -- has always been very good, and the portions are MASSIVE. The entrees come with a salad (The house dressing is so good they sell it by the bottle) and decent garlic bread. Neither one of us has yet been able to finish one of their entrees.

                      They have a big family clientele so expect a lot of kids, but we've never run into any that were really out of control. Also, the service is very good, and the food comes out promptly and always hot.

                      If you go soon and try the pizza, PLEASE post a review. I'm jonesing bad for some decent pizza.

                      1. re: Bob W.

                        I have also had a craving for pizza that I finally satisfied this weekend by whipping up a batch of dough, laying in a supply of mozzarella, basil, homemade tomato sauce (scrumptious) etc and inviting myself to a friend's house to make dinner. Unfortunately, they had no pizza stone (!!) nor baking pan (!!!) so I had to make do with aluminum foil spread across their oven rack. Not perfect, but an excellent pizza nonetheless (imagine how good it would have been had I made it at home!). I will definitely give this place a try and report.

                        Also, let's think about Fortune; I could also go for some dimsum...

                        1. re: James G

                          Maybe we can get a Chowhound dim sum outing together? Fortune in Reston would be a great place for a gathering.

                          1. re: Bob W.

                            Absolutely! When??

                            1. re: James G

                              How does Sunday February 10 strike people?

                              1. re: Bob W.

                                I think that works for me.

                    2. re: Bob W.

                      Slumming it in Manassas after 8 years in NYC - the best pizza I have found in the area is definitely Tony's NY Pizza in Manassas - owned by I think an Italian family - father and a few sons - very family, casual eatery style - but GOOD - also very good pasta specials - seafood etc - always packed. There are two locations the one closer to old town in the run down shopping mall is better than the other locale.

                      1. re: CaitlinB

                        Is this the same family that runs Tony's NY Pizza at Fair Lakes Shopping Center (near Wal-Mart)?

                        1. re: Anova

                          There's also a Tony's in the Franklin Farm Village Center in Herndon. I think their sauce is too sweet.

                          Great Greek potatoes tho!

                  3. I know - we always say "it's the water" but the crust is good in many sections of the northeast and they all have different water sources. I grew up in downstate New York and the local pizzarias made very good pies. The water came from reservoirs in nearby mountains. NYC's water comes from a reservoir outside of Kingston. I've had pizza (years ago) in Boston and have no idea what that city's water source is but the crust was good. Two years ago I had pizzas in Gap and Carpentras, France that were the closest (crust, sauce, cheese) to NY pizzas I've ever had. Don't know anything about their water source either. So I no longer think it's the water that makes the wonderful crust. Such a mystery!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Anova

                      I was watching a marathon run of "Unwrapped" on FoodTV yesterday as I recovered from my marathon cooking for a NYE dinner party, and one of the shows was about pizza. Apparently, some place in Kansas City (or was it LA--I know it's somewhere in the middle of nowhere) is so convinced that the water is the key to NYC pizza's superiority that they had NYC water analyzed so that they could doctor their own local water with the appropriate minerals in the appropriate quantities to mimic it. According to the show's hosts (neither of whom is a New Yorker, I have to admit) the pizza there is excellent.

                      1. re: James G

                        Being in a similarly wiped-out position after a holiday entertaining binge, I was fortunate enough to see the same FoodTV episode on pizza. Despite my semi-conscious state, however, I watched with considerably more skepticism. For example, I noticed none of the labratory equipment (beakers, etc.) that would be required for such a study. Secondly, even if they could determine what exactly was in the New York City water, how could you possibly acquire, gather and import the necessary raw ingredients to reproduce it? And third, how would the good people of Kansas City ever know if you had gotten it right?

                        -Still Suspicious