There’s no doubt that New York-style pizza is revered. Even hundreds of miles away from New York City, D.C.-area diners can find those big, foldable slices of pie at a number of local pizzerias. But the rarer treat is found at Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, which finds its inspiration a few miles up the road from The Big Apple.
New Haven-style pizza, an American offshoot of the Italian Neapolitan-style pie, is a crisp, thin-crust variety typically baked in a coal-fired brick oven. Locals debate the merits of the two heavyweights in the field, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza, just steps from one another in New Haven, Connecticut.
While it’s the stuff of local legend, and the pair of pizzerias is renowned for their pies, the New Haven-style pizza doesn’t travel as much as its New York neighbor. But in the D.C. area, the Pete’s business has expanded to four pizzerias, and for years has been a mainstay of local best-of lists. Its Northern Virginia location can be found in Clarendon.
The crust on Pete’s pizzas is the hallmark of the shop. They’re more than just crispy. If you’re digging in, get your jaw ready for a workout. When you pick up a slice, it holds it shape as though the pizza server were still under it. Its outer edges range in tone from a lightly cooked tan to blackened bubbles of well-cooked dough. A powder from the charred crust might appear on your fingertips, but that’s to be expected. When you take a bite, the bottom of the slice crackles as it breaks. And yet, between this super-crunchy shell and the toppings it holds is a thin, chewy layer with a taste and texture more mild than the smoky crust.
Pizzas at Pete’s come in 14- and 18-inch sizes. A sauce-and-cheese pie runs $14.50 and $18, and toppings can be added from that base. The simple pepperoni pizza ($16.50 as a 14-inch pie) is a thing of beauty, with salty pepperoni disks curling up and away from a bed of melted whole-milk mozzarella cheese. But pepperoni only scratches the surface of available toppings here. Salami and pancetta for meats, sautéed broccoli rabe and fried eggplant for vegetables, and Parmigiano-Reggiano and ricotta for cheeses are just a few of the pizza toppings offered.
The menu also features about 20 Specialty Apizzas, offering a few pre-set topping combinations – with names such as Wooster Square and East Rock paying homage to New Haven locales. The Nighthawk ($21 and $27), named for the ice hockey team that once called New Haven home, is a popular selection among them. Skipping tomato sauce, the pizza is coated in a coarse basil pesto. The pesto has a surprising depth of flavor for the bright herby spread, especially against strands of sweet caramelized onion. Added to the mix are big chunks of grilled chicken and wild mushrooms over fresh mozzarella cheese.
The Nighthawk is just one of several pizzas on the menu that showcases quality ingredients in smart arrangements. Sausage and meatballs are made from locally sourced meat ground in-house. Pancetta is cured in-house, as well. Two pizzas feature local Chesapeake clams. It all amounts to a focus on sustainability that’s not common of a pizzeria.
And Pete’s makes more than just pizza. As an entrée alternative, the pizzeria serves a few fresh pasta dishes, such as the rave-worthy Pumpkin Ravioli ($12) in Asiago cream sauce. It’s a vegetarian dish, and the restaurant has an impressive array of options for customers with special dietary needs. A number of dishes are or can be made vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free – yes, the restaurant even does gluten-free pizza.
Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza’s focus on health and sustainability are commendable, and its delicious cuisine that brings a less-than-common style of pizza to D.C. makes this spot a local favorite.
Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza is located at 3017 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. For more information, call 703-527-7383 or visit petesapizza.com. Restaurant hours are Sunday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Friday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 2:30 a.m.