Chef Mike Friedman didn't want to serve just another Neapolitan-style, wood-fired pizza.
"Everybody's doing it," he says. "Any pizzeria that opens up in this area right now is wood-burning right out of the gate."
Instead, Friedman wanted to focus on dough at All Purpose, an Italian-American pizza-focused restaurant opening Thursday in Shaw from the owners of The Red Hen and Boundary Stone. A deck oven lent itself better to that. So, rather than baking his pies for 90 seconds in a 900-degree wood-fired oven, the 650-degree deck oven helps caramelize the dough over the course of six minutes. The resulting crust is crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and sturdy enough for the "New York fold hold."
Friedman has been perfecting his dough, which ferments for three days, over the course of seven months. Tiffany MacIsaac, who owns Buttercream Bakeshop next door, will oversee its production going forward. The dough recipe includes some sugar to help with the caramelization and some olive oil for some chew. By comparison, wood-fired pizzas tend to have a simpler dough because they have to cook quickly and get most of their flavor from the smoke, Friedman says.
To sauce the pies, Friedman taste-tested around 18 domestic and international canned tomatoes before settling on Bianco DiNapoli. The Californian tomato brand comes from Chris Bianco, a James Beard award-winning chef who Friedman describes as the "godfather of American pizza" for his Arizona pizzeria.
"I'm pretty sure we're the first ones in this area, if not the East Coast, to solely use this tomato," Friedman says. "They're so good that all we do is take them out of the can, [puree] them, and add sea salt."
And when it comes to the seasonally rotating toppings, Friedman repeats "the big thing is different." Some of the more unique pizzas ($16 to $18) include the Ferraro with artichokes, ramps, stinging nettles, pistachio pesto, smoked scamorza (similar to mozzarella), and feta as well as the Sorrento with prosciutto crudo, fennel agrodolce, mozzarella, gruyere, arugula, and lemon.
Cheese, salumi, and anitpasti make up the rest of the menu. Friedman describes a Sicilian tuna mousse (pictured below) as the "love child of a Jewish deli and an Italian salumi maker" and swears it's not at all fishy. An antipasti salad with iceberg lettuce, salami, sweet and hot peppers, olives, caciocavallo cheese ("the OG provolone"), and oregano vinaigrette may be super traditional, but the chef calls it his "favorite salad of all time." Meanwhile, eggplant parmesan is served Jersey-style, meaning it's not breaded, and layered in a casserole dish. Fried calamari is breaded with polenta, giving it an extra crunch.
Beverage Director and co-owner Sebastian Zutant follows the Italian-American theme on the wine list. "I really tried to keep it wine for the people, whereas pizza's like food for the people," he says. That means there's no bottle over $60 and the majority of the list is under $50.
That's not to say there aren't a lot of funky selections. "Everything is still Sebastian in style in terms of not a ton of recognizable stuff," Zutant says. Whites veer floral, while reds tend to be fruit-forward, high-acid, and low-tannin to pair with the food.
Drinkers will also find Zutant's own rosé wine, Dahlia, made in collaboration with Virginia Wineworks. Zutant is preparing to launch his own wine label with his brother and Early Mountain Vineyards winemaker Ben Jordan. They'll bottle the first of quarterly releases, a riesling, in about a month.
Other drinking options are much more limited. Beers are mostly local, and the menu's five cocktails include an Aperol Spritz and Black Manhattan.
The space aims to feel like a well-worn Jersey-style pizzeria/trattoria—not always easy in a new building, but the existing walls add some grit. Pretty much everything is custom, from the tiled floors to the chairs and tables, which are made by the same Pennsylvanian carpenter who also did the furniture for The Red Hen. Vintage flour bags hang on one of the walls—a nod to All Purpose's name.
The restaurant is walk-ins only for now but may eventually add some reservations. It's open for dinner with lunch and brunch coming soon.
All Purpose, 1250 9th St. NW, (202) 849-6174, allpurposedc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman