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Reservations Recommended

Pieces of Pizzas: RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria

By Alexandra Greeley

Perhaps a good pizza represents the mood of the times — something casual, something rather simple, and something that still has flavor and palate appeal. Pizza easily satisfies on all counts, which may be one reason why new pizza restaurants get such attention. Take the case of Columbia Heights’ newcomer RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria.Reading the local online postings one might think that the opening of RedRocks heralded a radical departure in the pizza world. Or that RedRocks was the only pizza place in town. One commenter even describes the pies as being as good as any found in Naples — which is management’s stated goal. But others take a different tone, and despite at least one positive review, it may just be that the jury is still out. After all, RedRocks is still relatively new, only a scant six months old, which is really nothing in DC’s restaurant world.

Just a short stroll from the bustling commerce of 14th Street, NW, RedRocks is an unlikely place to find a restaurant, never mind a pizza place. Situated on a residential street in a refurbished stone house, the restaurant really could be Uncle Joe and Aunt Emma’s corner dwelling, except, of course, for the discreet restaurant sign out front. But so not flashy is RedRocks that newcomers may try to enter through the ground floor kitchen entrance instead of hoisting themselves up the front stone steps.

So why all the fuss? Gleaning from online commentaries from the Columbia Heights and Petworth neighborhoods blogs, RedRock’s principal, James O’Brien, once owned a similar place in Adams Morgan. More to the point, he evidently loves pizza so much that he invested time and money in building a true brick oven (hence the name RedRocks) and hired a pizza consultant to teach the staff how to make perfect pies.

Do the pies live up to the hype? That depends, of course, on what you order. Standing out from the rest is the chicken and broccoli pie, starring roasted chicken and broccolini. Alas, while the crust meets expectations — tender, chewy, robust, and with a very delicate yeastiness — the topping disappoints. A sprinkling of shredded chicken and a mere toss of finely chopped broccolini add some color and texture, but the overall effect is so bland that you’ll probably find yourself reaching for the shaker filled with crushed red pepper. Yet during a recent lunchtime, this very pie was the pizza of choice of various other customers, so obviously for some people less is more.

The abbreviated menu highlights the “pizza-ness” of RedRocks: This is not about spaghetti and meatballs, folks, this is really about pizza. Other pie choices include such classics as pepperoni, puttanesca, mushroom, cheese with tomato sauce, and margherita, to name a few toppings. And, of course, patrons can build their own from a slew of topping choices, including, even, meatballs and mussels, pancetta and fennel sausage. What you won’t find are the edgy pies with such offbeat toppings as Thai chicken or spicy taco chips.

If you aren’t into pizzas, you are sort of out of luck, unless you’ll be happy with one of four different sandwiches — not heroes — with a filling choice of pesto chicken, fresh mozzarella, meatball and fontina, and the Capri with prosciutto, salami, and cheese. One of the best dishes may well be the appetizer burrata buffalo, a simple salad of baby arugula tossed with a balsamic dressing plus several cherry tomatoes and a scoop of buffalo milk mozzarella with an amazingly gooey-stretchy texture.

Well, yes, the tiramisu also gets a nod. Served as a giant square sitting in a pool of rum — the cake sponges up the liquor — it consists of two layers, a central slick of chocolate frosting, and a dusting of cocoa powder. But I’m not sure that the other two desserts, carrot cake and a triple berry pie, make too much sense in a pizza place. Why not a selection of gelati???

While the jury continues to mull over the qualities of RedRocks, know at least this: Management announces on its menu that the dough is made fresh daily with prime ingredients and is never refrigerated — apparently chilling affects dough quality.

RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria • 1036 Park Rd., NW; tel., 506-1402. www.redrocksdc.com. Hours: Tue.-Thu., 11am-12mid; Fri. & Sat., to 1am; Sun., 11am-12mid, brunch to 4pm. Price range for the pizzas: $8.95-$12.95. Major credit cards.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.