DC pizza is an abomination.

When weighing the challenges of DC life, people will zero in on different issues. A few popular gripes: rent is astronomically high, but government and non-profit gigs pay particularly modestly. The town is full of pit-bullish resume builders, and it can be dehumanizing to find that you’ve been objectified as a networking contact after a playful party chat. There is pressure to be in the know – I would rather show up at an orgy in granny panties than suffer the embarrassment of being caught blank-faced during a political debate in DC. None of these, however, is the worst thing about living in the District of Columbia.

The worst thing about this city is its pizza. I keep trying new places with a sense of hope. I keep thinking that there are other fish in the sea, that I just haven’t found the right pizza yet. I work my way down the lists on Yelp and Yahoo! Local with an increasing sense of desperation. I have already lived here for six months, and I haven’t found a pizza I want to eat more than once or twice.

I like my pizza like Oprah likes her books – safe and middlebrow. I want something more than a drugstore paperback, but I’m not after Dante’s Inferno in the original Italian, either. My real objection to DC pizza is that it fails to cater to the silent majority of us who need something in between a jumbo slice and ‘arugula, basil, pesto, pecans, organic turnips, and dried cranberries on a thin baked crust.’ I have no idea what the hell arugula even is, but I have ingested enough exemplary pizzas to doubt the wisdom of spoiling an already successful, simple formula with a cheese that sounds like it could be the name of a sovereign island. On the other hand, although I am far from above an occasional foray into greasy, mass-market pies after a boozy odyssey, the cheap-and-quick chain pizza leaves me feeling unfulfilled. This emotional conflict is perhaps best represented by a recent dining experience I had with Lindsay.

Some friends invited us to join them for dinner at Rustik DC, a posh pizza kitchen in the Bloomingdale / LeDroit Park area. Although we could not see our menus in the trendily-low lit space until we held them dangerously close to candle flames, I was disheartened to find a total of 14 ingredients I had never heard of. I initially counted 15 before I realized that “watercress” had been used twice. Watercress, for those who don’t want to open up a new Wikipedia tab, is a “fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plant native to Europe and Central Asia.” Although I commend the especial pretention of Rustik’s desperation to appease hipsters by providing them with the flora of faraway seas, I question the decision to put it on something that ought to consist of bread, sauce and melty cheese. I imagine that an uber-hip, mint-scented restaurateur got buzzed one night on imported sake while watching independent French allegorical films, and was just STRUCK by the sudden realization that pizza suffers a troubling deficit of foreign plants. I am consistently shocked by the prevalence of these designer pizza joints – I feel bullied by the very suggestion that an “undershrub with sweet pine and citrus flavours” (marjoram – another Rustik ingredient,) could possibly be better than any non-marjoram situation. It is also worth noting that although I pulled that definition from Wikipedia, I am guessing that the wizards behind Rustik’s also add the extra ‘u’ to ‘flavors,’ just as they have fashionably swapped their ‘c’ for a ‘k.’ Furthermore, the very existence of ‘undershrubs’ makes me sad, because it makes me envision a very hungry person so desperate for sustenance that they would peek under shrubs and lick whatever is there in order to note whether or not it tastes like ‘sweet pine.’ Not to mention the fact that ‘sweet pine’ strikes me as more of a smell than a taste, given the fact that I don’t run around town suckling the needles off of trees.

After getting the up-tilted nose from the wait staff after ordering ‘just sausage and cheese,’ Lindsay and I locked eyes and shared a fixed gaze that can only mean, “we’re going to New York Pizza after this, yeah?”

…but this is still the District of Columbia, and their pizza isn’t stellar either. Thank God for their calzones.

– Natalie

About Natalie Shure

literature, life and latte lady

8 Responses to “DC pizza is an abomination.”

  1. Although I hope I’m not going to be an obsessive commentator on every blog…I’ve never read such an eloquent, yet hilarious, piece on Pizza (pardon the unintentional pun). Oh, how I pity you guys and you’re lack of such fab pizza selections, but this was another fantastic read. ❤ Love.it.

    • and by “you’re” I mean “your” … see how I’m not in the business?!
      I’ll leave it to the pros 🙂

    • I remember there was a place called Red Rocks Pizza in Columbia Heights that was pretty good. They had a nice mix of normal and slightly exotic toppings–nothing too alienating, though. My roommate Ben swore by the hot olives appetizer. And when I lived in Arlington we got solid delivery pizza (definitely a couple steps up from Pizza Hut) from a place with ‘Dog’ in the name… Did a quick search and I think this is it! http://www.lostdogcafe.com/menu.htm

      Good luck in your search for great pizza!

  2. Dear God, how baselessly snarky of you. What on Earth is the problem? Yes, Rustik has some esoteric toppings (watercress not being one of them — it has been a popular foodstuff in the United States since the 50’s), but why not try what they’ve done with them before you criticize? Is there some kind of honor in being closed-minded and bullheaded for no discernible reason? Besides, you got your sausage and cheese in the end… and then don’t even mention whether it met your seemingly arbitrary standards.

    The unabashed hipsterism in this neighborhood is a little off-putting sometimes, but please, don’t cast aspersions at decent, locally-minded business people simply because you choose to revel in willful ignorance. Trust me, they are not in it simply to offend or “bully” you in some way.

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  4. If you can make it down to the Fairfax area, out by the Fair Lakes shopping center is Tony’s New York pizza and it is the real deal (or as close as you can get when not in NY) – verified and sought out by my New York friends when I lived in the area. Pomodoro’s, also in the Fair Lakes neighborhood, is also a good bet. Good luck on your quest! 🙂


  1. Further ruminations on watercress | broadsofthebeltway - 2011/06/23

    […] My last post elicited some strong reactions. The editorial board of Broads of the Beltway is in strong agreement regarding the sass about Rustik Tavern, and about DC pizza generally. Others (I am not identifying them as ‘my friends and co-workers,’ because I want to give you the impression that this blog is more popular than it is,) have made strong cases for other DC pizza joints, have defended the fancy pizza movement, or have accused me of harboring Chicago-native fanaticism that effectually precludes objective pizza evaluation. I was most delighted by the feedback of bold commenter Rob, whom I swear I haven’t met, who asked, “Is there some kind of honor in being closed-minded and bullheaded for no discernible reason?” To which I say: Rob, I appreciate the flattery, but I do not believe I am worthy of much honor, insofar as I have never won a duel or donned a manacle. As for being closed-minded and bullheaded, they are really just old hobbies of mine. That’s a discernible enough reason for me! […]

  2. Well-played, DC | broadsofthebeltway - 2011/07/15

    […] which an appetite for nothing but whining. When I am not bitching about bars with no chairs or inappropriate things to sprinkle on comfort food, I manage to find things about this city I really do enjoy. Since it is Friday, and since I am […]

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