Pizzaiolo Cafe on Fern, Fairlington

goodeats, on 29 Jun 2015 – 10:28 PM, said:

I was very sad to discover that the Shirlington location served cardboard cheese pizza now. Maybe it was because it was delivery, but I was rather disappointed with their cheese pizza ordered two weeks ago…lacked flavor, pizza very flat, cheese had no flavor, crust was hard, and even the boys (playdate) didn’t really want seconds….

I went to Pizzaiolo Cafe on Fern in Fairlington for the first time Wednesday evening, having absolutely no idea what to expect. I have fond memories of when Cafe Pizzaiolo first opened on 23rd Street in Crystal City – it was really good pizza, both the Neapolitan and the New York Crusts.

Let me start by saying something positive: This is a nice little bar to have good beer (they have six taps of fairly serious beers) and watch sports on either of their two flat-screen TVs. I started my meal with a pint of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, flanked by The Lonely Divorcée on my right (who was somewhat show-offy to the server, and loudly wished me “Bon Appetit!”), and The Yeungling Demander on my left (who complained that his Peroni wasn’t “amber” like Yeungling), and I overheard my friendly bartender (everybody is really laid back and friendly here) mention that Wednesday night is 2-for-1 pizza night. Two-for-one pizzas! I immediately knew what I was having for lunch the next day.

Since things were half-price, I went ahead and got two large pizzas: one to eat in, and the second to go, and figuring that I’d try to be as helpful as possible to our readers, decided to get one Neapolitan crust, and one New York crust to compare. I also figured that the Neapolitan crust would be better then-and-there, so I got that one to eat in, and the New York crust to go.

For my eat-in, Neapolitan pizza, I got a large Caprese ($16.99, but $8.50 at half-price) with fresh mozzarella, chopped roma tomatoes, garlic, sea salt, olive oil, and fresh basil (sounds like a no-brainer, right?), and as soon as it arrived, I knew it was a disaster. To start with, I have never seen more chopped tomatoes or more garlic on any pizza in my life – it looked like someone had shot both of these from a fire extinguisher, and the “Roma tomatoes” tasted old and of industrial quality, with a taste that was nearly metallic. No other topping mattered because there was such an enormous quantity of these other two, that the pizza could have come with hot fudge on it, and I wouldn’t have noticed. It was disgusting, it was the worst pizza I’ve had in memory, and I’m ashamed of myself for eating half of it, but I had just come from the gym and I was *starving*. If it’s any salvation of my credibility, I told my bartender to just give the second half to the kitchen staff (I was originally going to box it and take it home, but there was no way I was ever going to even look at this thing again). One other thing I should mention is that the crust was in no way Neapolitan, and was oversalted to a San Andreas fault.

Stuck with a second pizza, I left it out overnight, and took a peak at it the next morning. This one was the New York crust, a large La Famiglia ($17.99, $9.00 at half-price) with mozzarella, potato, bacon, roasted garlic, sliced tomato, and grana parmesan. Considering how low my expectations had fallen, I was pleasantly surprised … no, make that darned near amazed at this pizza, which was not only edible, but very close to being pleasant. First of all, absolutely get the New York crust – even after sitting out overnight, it was worlds better. The “potato” topping was thick (and I mean 1/2-inch thick) slices of fingerling potatoes which, when eaten with the grana parmesan, were darned good by themselves, especially considering they had been flavored with the bacon topping (not just bacon grease, but bacon). Would I come back here for this? No, but I have to say that I came pretty close to enjoying it, and nibbled on it throughout the day, heating it in my oven on two separate occasions. Needless to say, when faced with these two choices, go with the second one; run like the devil from the first.

And remember the bar, the pleasant staff, the flat-screen TVs, and the six worthwhile draft beers at the ready.

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