Famous Luigi’s, Downtown

(See the January 9, 2011 Review here.)

This may sound a bit daft, but after my tuna-based meal at Smith and Wollensky last night, I wanted a bit of cheese, but didn’t feel like running my tab beyond three digits.
So I went next door for a carryout “cheese course” at Famous Luigi’s, the Washington DC area’s oldest pizzeria, in operation since 1943.

Like Smith and Wollensky, it had a pretty decent crowd on a Saturday night. I ambled up to the bar, and very much unlike Smith and Wollensky, I got a smile, service within a matter of seconds, and a glass of ice water poured without asking the first minute I was there.

I’ve been to Famous Luigi’s perhaps ten times in my life, and although I’ve never loved it, I’ve never hated it either, and last night was no exception. For my cheese course, I ordered a carryout Cheese Pizza for 1 Person ($7.50) which consists of nothing more than pizza crust, tomato sauce, and melted cheese. I had no desire to finish it; I merely wanted a few bites of cheese to round out my dinner.

While I waited, I ordered a bottle of the reliable Moretti La Rossa ($5.75) which I like because of its maltiness, and as I saw it sitting on the bar, I remembered that this beer is exactly what I ordered the previous time I was in.

So I finished my La Rossa just as my pizza came out. I paid my check, left a nice tip to the friendly bartender, walked out to the car, put on Beethoven Op 12 No 2, and began driving home. The pizza was super hot, so I opened the box for a minute to let it cool, but there was no way I was going to make it home without my cheese course, so I began.

One thing I noticed, for the very first time, is that the underside of Famous Luigi’s crust has no char. Zero. It’s blanched white, with diamond-shaped indentations in the bottom of the crust. Although I can’t be certain, this tells me that it’s placed on some type of metal screen, and perhaps sent through a top-heated conveyor belt system (although I suppose it could be a top-heated non-dynamic oven) – the cheese is abundant, gooey, and beautifully browned which is clearly the main drawing card of the pies.

Even though the bottom had no char whatsoever, the pizza was still cooked (I didn’t feel like I was eating raw dough), so whichever method they use, they’ve got it down pat.

The cheese was gooey and satisfying; the crust was nondescript and I didn’t eat much of it – certainly none around the periphery (at $7.50, I have no problem wasting unexciting pizza crust). The tomato sauce tended towards being slightly sweet, but didn’t steal the show – it’s a benign pizza, undoubtedly loved for it’s gooey, well-browned cheese which I have to admit has a certain appeal.

By the time I got home, I was pretty well stuffed. I took the box, the remaining crust of the pizza, and the napkins, and walked directly to my recycling bin, where everything is sitting outside right now for a morning pickup.

At $7.50, there was nothing to complain about, but for the first time in my life, I realized why I’ve never loved Famous Luigi’s pizza: it’s the baking method. Well, okay, the crust is nothing to write home about either. But I certainly got my money’s worth, so I have no complaints. The pastas I saw when I walked around the restaurant looked like the restaurant didn’t skimp on meat sauce, so there is a primal appeal to this restaurant that (along with it’s relentless advertising campaign in key publications) is very attractive to customers, and especially tourists.

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