1596-B Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852 (map); 240-833-8090;
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
Oven Type: Stefano Ferrara wood-fired
The Skinny: Respectable Neapolitan comes to Rockville Pike.
Price: 11-inch pizzas, $8 to $13
Reaching north from the nation's capital, choked with traffic and strewn with strip malls and big-box stores, is Rockville Pike; normally a boulevard to be avoided at all costs. But just as one traverses a particularly dreary stretch and hopes are fading, there appears Pizza CS, a new and respectable Neapolitan joint in an unremarkable shopping center.
Operated by local restaurant veterans Jon Allen and Ankur Rajpara, CS's Stefano Ferrara oven offers up a nice pie at a good price. While not exhibiting the depth of flavor or dazzling execution of a Pupatella (the region's standard-bearer across the river), pizzas at CS are satisfying and the atmosphere is friendly, if fluorescently drab.
The prosciutto pie is a pleasing balance of salty cured meat, creamy fresh mozzarella, and bitter arugula, with a nice jolt of Grana and garlic. The crust at Pizza CS is fine but not great, considering the potential of that oven. It's well-bubbled and lightly charred, but lacks complexity in both taste and texture—maybe these traits needed a bit more time to develop. That said, if this was your first Neapolitan pie you'd find it startlingly good.
CS's Margherita pizza is a good example of the classic, made with crushed San Marzano tomatoes and offered with mozzarella from either a water buffalo or cow. Again, the crust is average for the style, but perfectly acceptable.
A telling test of dough quality is whether you go back and eat the scattered crusts once you've consumed the interior of the pie. Here the answer is probably not, but the potential is there for improvement.
The CS white pizza is what might be called a filetti or filetto elsewhere. The wan grape tomatoes, in place of the usual brilliant cherry variety, diminished what could have been a beautiful composition and suggested a lapse in ingredient quality that the best pizzerias never allow.
This inattention to detail was also evident in the house salad, served in a sad little woven-wood cafeteria bowl, with an astringent and curiously viscous dressing. The same ingredients spread on a simple white plate and properly dressed would have turned a miss into a hit.
In short, Pizza CS is a welcome addition to a Neapolitan-starved swath of the Maryland suburbs, and a fine place to eat while out shopping. With a little more effort and focus, it could someday become a destination in itself.