Excellent Neapolitan-Style Pies at Etto in Washington, DC
1541 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005 (Map); 202-232-0920; ettodc.com
Pizza type: Neapolitan-style
Oven type: Red oak-fired
The Skinny: Daily house milled flour and fresh ingredients make for understated, flavorful Neapolitan-inspired pies
Price:$13 to $17
Ask a Washingtonian for recommendations on where newcomers should eat and more likely than not their list will include 2Amys and Standard. Shining stars of comforting Italian and neighborhood charm, respectively, it's hard to imagine any product of a collaboration of the two teams would be anything less than stellar.
And sure enough, when 2Amys founders Peter Pastan and Amy Morgan teamed up with Standard co-owners Tad Curtz and David Rosner to quietly open Etto, they didn't disappoint.
The little Italian shop opened in late May on D.C.'s increasingly saturated 14th street, a more intimate, mature version of 2Amys. Etto specializes in salami, anchovies, and, of course, pizza, setting itself apart from other wood-fired Neapolitan spots in town by milling its own whole grain daily, right in the shop. "It's not as pure as factory milled flour," says Curtz, "but it lends a richer, nuttier quality to the dough." The lack of aging also preserves much more of the flavor of the wheat. It's something that's immediately recognizable as you partake in one of pies. The crust is heartier, darker, and bolder than pies made of more finely milled flour.
The oven is a red oak-fired oven that burns at a temperature that Curtz isn't overly concerned with. It burns slightly hotter than that of 2Amys, but "there are a lot more important things to worry about," says Curtz, "like whether or not the pizza looks and tastes good." It's a process that's "much less controlled than 2Amys" and results in a product that feels more organic and homemade.
At opening, Etto had a half dozen pies on the menu, including a classic Margherita ($17) and one topped with roasted cauliflower, capers, and anchovies ($17). The Margherita is an almost impeccable example of a fresh, understated classic. Topped minimally (bordering on sparsely) with substantial blobs of fresh, creamy buffalo mozzarella, scattered leaves of aromatic basil, and a light, tangy tomato sauce, Etto's Margherita is a thing of beauty. Prominent—at times excessive— leopard spotting marks the chewy crust, hinting at the less stringently controlled oven. The sweetness of the un-aged, loosely milled flour adds a pleasant dimension of flavor to its factory milled counterparts. Subtle, clean, and an impressive baseline for the newcomer.
Moving on to a pie with more of Etto's personal touch, the Roasted Cauliflower pairs a wider range of flavors. It balances a strong dose of piquant saltiness from capers and anchovies with refreshingly earthy cauliflower. The sweetness of Etto's crust plays a larger role in complementing the saltiness here. For good measure, an extra layer of texture is provided by pine nuts and breadcrumbs. It's an impressive balancing act, but not overwrought.
One caveat is that the prolific charring of the crust occasionally borders on being burnt and may be a turn-off to some. It never reached that level for me, though; I fully expect any inconsistencies in the firing to be worked out as the team has more time to perfect their method.
Etto is a welcome addition to 14th St., which, despite seeing an absolute deluge of openings so far in 2013, still lacked a killer Neapolitan-style pie. Come for the pies, stay for the excellent cured meats and wine.
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