The people: Joining our area’s group of young, forward-thinking men partnering in fast casual concepts (i.e. the guys at sweetgreen, Taylor Gourmet, Cava Mezze Grill) are Steve Salis and Michael Lastoria, early thirties-something transplants from New York. With their business, marketing and restaurant industry backgrounds, the two set out to devise a modern, innovative take on the pizza parlor. In just two years, they’ve opened four District shops plus the Bethesda location, and three more restaurants (downtown, Gaithersburg and Germantown) are slated to open soon.
The place: With 700 square feet and minimal seating, it’s the smallest space in the chainlet, meaning that during the lunch rush, it can get cozy or claustrophobic, depending on your point of view. The décor telegraphs dark and sleek, with black and chrome touches—a refreshing change from the ubiquitous reclaimed wood and earth tones found at other upscale carry outs. If you look up at the menu board, you’ll spot photos of B-CC High School football players, a nod to the community flavor sprinkled into each restaurant.
The food: There’s a reason a line forms out the door starting at 11:30 a.m. With thin, crackly crusts; thoughtful ingredients and inventive topping combinations, pizzas here are a great sum of their parts.
Like other fast casual set-ups, you place your order at the counter and watch as the staff assembles your pie from a sizeable array of dough, sauces, cheeses, veggies and proteins. The generous, oblong-shaped pizza then travels through a 600-degree specially-designed conveyor oven for 90 seconds before emerging on the other side, where “finishes’ such as pickled red onions or fig marsala are added.
Although you can dream up your own concoction, I tried four of the signature pizzas devised by the restaurant and liked them all. My top two favorites: the Kiss and Fire, a terrific contrast of zesty, creamy and slightly sweet, with its spicy tomato sauce, quattro formaggi blend, ricotta spread, meatballs, mushroom blend and strawberry balsamic vinegar, and the Maverick, a surprisingly light version of a meat-heavy pie with classic tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella, parmesan reggiano and judicious additions of top-notch salami, pepperoni and hot sausage. Splashes of green oregano oil are added as a finish.
The Bethesda location offers three kinds of crusts—traditional, ancient grains (a mix of nine grains) and gluten-free. And while the nutrition police might have me arrested, I’d bag the dry ancient grain in favor of traditional. The gluten-free is a thumbs-up option for those with gluten allergies.
The bottom line: Hip, high-quality pizza at a reasonable price.
&pizza, 7614 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, www.andpizza.com. Pizzas with dough, sauce or spread and cheese cost $6.82; the signature pies or those with any combination of self-selected ingredients cost $8.86.
Related: &pizza Opens on Old Georgetown Road – The story behind the expanding fast-casual restaurant that’s looking to disrupt the pizza industry.