A Hamburger Today
Washington, DC: Neighborhood Charm & Variety at H &pizza
1118 H St. NE, Washington, DC 20002 (Map); 202-733-1285; www.andpizza.com
Pizza type: Rectangular thin crust
Oven type: Conveyor belt
The Skinny: Neighborhood pizza shop with eclectic ingredients.
Price:$6.82 to $8.64
Since opening last summer, H &pizza's mission has been, in the words of co-owner Michael Lastoria, "to create a modern neighborhood pizzeria that embodied the warmth and friendliness of the old family pizza parlor." Step inside the narrow space along the Atlas District corridor, and that intent is immediately apparent. Communal tables, exposed brick, and a briskly moving line drive home that neighborhood charm Lastoria so covets. It's made &pizza a popular stop for H Street regulars and late night revelers alike (they're open until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday). All of that is secondary, though, to the pizza itself.
With pies that are long and rectangular—a little deviation from the familiar—and a wide variety of doughs, cheeses, and toppings to choose from, you can make your pie as simple or as complex as you want. Each pie starts with a traditional, multigrain, or whole wheat dough; from there the choices become increasingly more eclectic. Throw on a base of basil pesto or mushroom truffle sauce, some ricotta or asiago cheese, and finish with shrimp, farm eggs, or strawberry balsamic oil. The ingredients are fresh and locally sourced. There's even a rotating "Locavore" special featuring the ingredient du jour. Once your order is in, each pie is baked through a conveyer belt oven for about five minutes. A standard cheese is $6.25, but for $8.64 you can pile on as many toppings as you like.
If you have trouble deciding on your own, &pizza offers a "suggestions" menu of pies with predetermined toppings ($8.64 each). Most are well-conceived and prove an easy way to tackle the diverse ingredients without having to mix and match yourself.
The Maverick is quite the meat lover's pie. Starting with a classic tomato sauce and mozzarella, it's topped with pepperoni, hot sausage, smoked bacon, sopressata, and Parmesan Reggiano. The traditional dough is soft, chewy, and flavorful. During its time on the conveyer belt, it develops a nice char, with a generous rise and some bubbling along the crust. It's satisfyingly yeasty and bread-y, in an almost Neapolitan-esque way. The sauce is serviceable, but lacks significant presence. It's not significantly tangy or sweet...or anything, really. Opt for the spicy tomato instead—it brings a zesty heat to the mix, pulling the classic from just okay to great. The mozzarella is applied in liberal globs throughout, for a fresh creaminess.
Then, there's the meat. Applied deliberately and with restraint, no one protein overpowers the other, creating a medley of complementary smoky, salty, spicy meat flavors. The sopressata is the standout, served in thick shreds with a tangy kick. It's not the regrettable gut bomb of a Pizza Hut Meat Lover's, but a more tasteful way to consume lots of meat without the accompanying self-loathing. It's no wonder it's one of H &pizza's best-selling pies.
The Moonstruck is another crowd-pleaser. Built on top of the same traditional dough, the vegetarian pie delivers rich, substantial flavor. Mushroom-truffle sauce and goat cheese provide a slightly unctuous, creamy richness, complemented by the sweetness of a fig marsala. Thick, generous chunks of roasted mushrooms give the pie a density and heft that makes the Moonstruck a worthy alternative to the Maverick, even for more adamantly carnivorous diners.
H &pizza got its model and demographic right with on its first try: Low prices, late hours, and, thankfully, excellent pies served quickly. It doesn't hurt that they're conveniently located near a slew of popular bars. With its one year anniversary coming up and a location planned in a popular bar-hopping center, this time on U Street, &pizza is looking to have another good year.
Oh, and they have Nutella dessert pizzas. NUTELLA PIZZAS. Yeah...
About the author: Brian Oh is a Washington, DC based international development professional, food lover, and photographer. In his free time, you can usually find him chasing down a good burger or slice. Follow him on Twitter @brianoh11