While the Neapolitan pizza scene in D.C. has been booming of late, there's little in the way of options if you're in the mood for a deep dish pie. There are a few standouts, if you're not desperate enough to slum it at Uno's, including District of Pi. A branch of a St. Louis based chain, Pi opened late last year in Penn Quarter after a stint as a food truck only operation (the truck is still running). Pi serves reasonable facsimiles of Chicago-style deep dish pies (and thin crust pies), but is a far cry from some of the Windy City greats.
If you've ever had a slice from Two Boots, you'll have a pretty good idea of what you're getting at District of Pi, at least in terms of the crust. What Pi has in common with Two Boots is the liberal use of cornmeal in the crust in both its deep dish and thin crust pies—mixed in with the dough for the deep dish and sprinkled on the bottom for the thin crust (that and they both originally hail from southern states). The result is a largely uninteresting crust in both. The deep dish crust is doughy and stiff. The thin crust is cracker thin and shatters like one toward the outer edges.
Where the deep dish pie is saved is its sauce and toppings. The sauce is applied liberally and is thick and zesty with an abundance of herbs, which masks the blandess of the crust. The Kirkwood ($18/$24) is topped with mozzarella, Italian pork and beef meatballs, red peppers, and basil. The meatballs are substantial and do a great deal to add a smoky flavor to balance the slightly oversweet sauce. The thin crust North Beach Classico ($16/$21) is not so lucky. The featureless crust and thinly applied sauce are overwhelmed by peppers and onions. I could barely taste the sausage and mozzarella. If you find yourself seated at District of Pi, I wholeheartedly recommend sticking to the deep dish pies.
This raises the question: why visit District of Pi? After all, Matchbox is right around the corner. Well, the amount of traffic around Metro Center and Gallery Place necessarily yields ungodly levels of traffic for any business in the area. Both Matchbox and Pi offer accessible, family friendly environments and menus, but being one of the few options for Chicago-style deep dish draws consistent crowds to Pi. It doesn't hurt that it has a stellar beer selection and excellent wings ($10), which may actually have been my favorite part of the meal. Since its opening, District of Pi has been succeeding in providing an easy dining option in a busy neighborhood where pizza seekers and families with small children alike can congregate. Expect to have an enjoyable time, but don't expect to renounce Chi-Town anytime soon.
As an ending note, I'll say that I suspect District of Pi's approach is better served by their food truck. The prospect of a quick, no fuss deep dish pie for lunch is more appealing than the overwrought production of Pi's cavernous space. Stay tuned for a visit to the food truck.