The last time I made it, I got great advice on where to eat in Rome from a woman who lived there and a cheerful plate arranged with pale pink slices of a Bologna specialty.
“I do bologna,” says an attendant, handing out some of the most sublime pork sausages in recent memory. The crispy brown bread that accompanies the meat, seasoned with coriander seeds and dotted with circles of fat, is its equal. Does 2 Amys bake her own bread? “Yes, and we grind our own flour,” says the same man, behind a wooden counter that’s as much a kitchen as it is a bar.
Right on cue, owner Peter Pastan opens the swinging kitchen door to take the temperature of one of Washington’s most beloved restaurants. True to form, the shy and talented chef (remember his delicious reign at the Obelisk of the Cercle Dupont?) stays half in the kitchen.
Since its opening near the Washington National Cathedral, 2 Amys was one of the first champions of Neapolitan pizza, a style defined by the strict standards set by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association. Pastan volunteers to say he’s a bit of a rule breaker. The association reprimanded 2 Amys by letter several years ago when someone reported that staff were shaping pizzas on a peel rather than a counter. (The horror!)
Does it really matter? As much as I appreciate tradition, as much as I care about taste. 2 Amys makes a pizza that wins me over with char marks reminiscent of leopard spots, lips that rival Angelina Jolie’s, a pleasant chew, and a lovely yeasty flavor. My favorite filling, Pozzuoli, continues to scatter tangy homemade sausages, silky red peppers, hazelnut fontina and more on a 10-inch canvas. You will be asked if you want your pizza cut or left untouched. Go for Door #2. This last option prevents wet linings from sliding into cracks and forming a soggy crust, and that’s how Pastan recommends it.
Quality and regularity go hand in hand here, year after year, especially when it comes to the “little things”. The dishes I remember ordering early in the restaurant’s life continue to set the standard. No place makes deviled eggs more seductive than 2 Amys, whose deep golden yolks come from farm-fresh local eggs (plus curry and dry mustard) and whose emerald sauce – a puree of parsley, chives, capers , garlic and olive oil – seals the deal. One is never enough. I could just as easily start a graze-a-thon with salt cod fritters. The longtime appetizer springs from a whip of salt cod made on site, potatoes, heavy cream and garlic; the balls are fried until slightly crisp and give way to fluffy fillings. Pastan appreciates history, but he is far from sentimental. Those oven-roasted olives everyone loved? “I don’t care to do them again.” Something about the aroma of bay leaf and garlic carried it.
The 2 Amys menu is almost like a calendar. Winter was cradled with blood oranges and other colorful citrus slices in a salad lifted with red onions and a whisper of Sicilian oregano. The list also highlights the spirit of the owner. You will find, for example, wonderful “piggy” rillettes, lined with an inch of fat, under the heading “French things that are claimed to be Italian”. Even better, the extensive wine list, grouped by price, features select quaffs starting at $40 a bottle.
The pizza may be the shiny bauble in the window, but a handful of dishes lead you to think of 2 Amys as an upscale ristorante. Taste vitello tonnato and tell me it wouldn’t look at home in Tosca, Centrolina, Modena or any other respected Italian establishment. Thin slices of veal blushing with dollops of mayonnaise-rich tuna sauce are alight with lemon, anchovies and fried capers, the last of which offers a nice touch amid the sweetness. A steak at a pizzeria is so good when it comes from a super beefy, richly marbled dairy cow, hand-slaughtered and dry-aged on site for up to 100 days. (“Tuscan Steak Night” is usually weeknights only.)
The desserts show the same thought given to the other dishes. 2 Amys’ moist almond cake comes with wine-poached cherries and gorgeous vanilla ice cream, and candied grapefruit zest enhances the ricotta filling of the handmade cannoli. Delicate cookies also call me, more recently lemon poppy seed.
During the pandemic, Pastan got a second domed oven and placed it at the back of the dining room to help his staff practice social distancing. (Want to get rid of the igloo shape? Pastan is open for sale and says the oven, including installation, cost him around $20,000). Other than that, the interior hasn’t changed much over the decades. The main dining room still bears the buttery paint and sports prints of 19th century Naples. Tile floors, bare tables, and a pressed tin ceiling aren’t enough to absorb the clamor of a busy lunch or dinner, but hey, no one goes to a pizzeria to meditate.
Even after the city lifted restrictions, 2 Amys continued to ask customers for proof of vaccinations and identification, a precaution that Pastan says doesn’t always go well in what he ironically calls “the city largest in the world”. It seems that some of its citizens do not want to be disturbed. (“I am a doctor. Sure I’m vaccinated,” his staff heard.) If you’re still reluctant to dine in, keep in mind that 2 Amys has a patio out back and offers take-out. Since its reopening last June, initially in the open air, the pizzeria has sold nearly 78,000 pies. It’s a lot of ding! blows! the bell that calls the waiters when the pizzas are ready.
Another legacy of the pandemic: no tipping. Instead, hospitality is included in the bill, a detail waiters routinely point out (and grazie for it). For such a fast frame, the crew is vigilant. I especially appreciate the easy back and forth with the people behind the bar. When a mate sniffed the idea of my order of mackerel crudo, a listening keeper rushed in with a taste of the entree – and sold the naysayer on the strong-tasting fish whipped with fruity olive oil. But even the servers in the busy dining room do a great job of juggling taking orders and delivering food.
Pastan imagined 2 Amys as a place that would welcome everyone from “the child who cries out to your grandmother” and attributes the restaurant’s long life to a menu for everyone whose dishes “are not expensive”. . Pause. “Maybe I’m just lucky.
He is wrong, of course. His clients are the ones who should count their good fortune.
2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria
3715 Macomb St NW. 202-885-5700. 2amyspizza.com. Open: Indoor and outdoor dining and takeout from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Price: Appetizers $8 to $15, pizzas $12.75 to $19.75. (Special offers may be higher.) Sound Control: 82 decibels/extremely loud. Accessibility: A ramp leads to the entrance; one toilet is ADA compliant. Pandemic protocols: diners 12 and older must present proof of vaccination and identification at the door; all staff are masked and vaccinated.