Arlington, Virginia: Respectable Pizza at Liberty Tavern
The Liberty Tavern
The street-level bar at The Liberty Tavern in Clarendon is one of the hottest nightspots for young professionals in the DC suburbs. The burgers and bar menu are well-regarded, and its reputation as a serious restaurant is firmly established. What many people don't realize is that there's a gas-fired Earthstone oven upstairs turning out some decent pizza.
Though not Neapolitan in the strict sense, their 12-inch pies are well-crafted and feature top-notch ingredients. Liberty's take on the Margherita is the Classico, a bit steep at $15 but nicely done. The crust is much crisper than expected in a true Neapolitan pizza, but still flavorful and pleasing overall. The cheese is billed as bufala mozzarella, but if true it has a surprising chewiness. Bufala needs to be drained of excess liquid, and it's possible this was taken to an extreme.
Liberty's Forest Mushroom pie is a rich and savory combination of mushrooms, truffles, mozzarella, provolone, arugula, and sage—though of course for $15, the truffles aren't actually visible. It's a really nice pizza, but again the crust is almost cracker-like, with no spring at all. This may be due to too much time in the oven at less-than-optimal temperatures—the display on the Earthstone read only 550-600 degrees.
Housed in a beautifully renovated, historic Arlington building, the atmosphere at Liberty Tavern is warm and relaxed, and the service is attentive. Pizza is just one element in a creative American menu, and the gas-fired oven (with an occasional log) is used in the preparation of other dishes as well. Liberty Tavern may never be a pizza destination, but there are many reasons to visit, and while you're there the pies are fine.
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