Del Ray Pizzeria Attracts Locals, POTUS
By Warren Rojas
In the year and a half since it came into existence, Del Ray Pizzeria has evolved from a low-key, neighborhood sports bar into a headline-grabbing political landmark. And the kudos for that epic transformation must be showered upon its uncompromising and unrelenting chef, Eric Reid.
The once-proud proprietor of the now-defunct Del Merei Grille had barely packed away his knives before being snatched up in October 2010 by the struggling DRP brain trust. Reid’s mission: Rescue the gourmet pie- and craft suds-slinging operation from sliding into total obscurity on the heels of a protracted and critically panned opening.
“The owners are good family friends,” Reid explained of the forced retirement about-face that thrust him back into the Del Ray culinary scene shortly after the obligatory shuttering of his cherished DMG.
The mandated fine-tuning at DRP provided Reid with the rare opportunity to both salvage that which he loved most about DMG (well-seasoned staff, carefully developed signature dishes) and shepherd forth an entirely new restaurant concept. And exploit this incredibly redemptive twist of fate to the absolute fullest.
Reid spruced up the dual-themed pizza menu—they specialize in crispy thin crust and spongy deep-dish productions—with more artful ingredients (meaty porcinis, smoked chicken, chipotle-spiked marinara sauce) and imaginative combinations (17 specialty pizzas and counting). He restored various DMG favorites, including: hearty bacon-crab-artichoke dip, zesty jambalaya pasta and mouthwatering “frickles.”
The signature pickle chips—vinegary cukes, battered, deep-fried, sprinkled with cheese and flanked by ultra tangy, house-made remoulade—aren’t for everyone. Then again, only Reid’s longstanding regulars even know they exist.
“I think it’s fun not having the frickles on the menu,” Reid said of the unadvertised house specialty. “It lets us know our people from DMG are here.”
It doesn’t take much to warm up to the place. The interior features an l-shaped, tile-studded bar that serves as the sports watching HQ and chitchat central, while a handful of hightops and glowing fireplace flesh out the adjoining lounge. The main dining room is decked out with a few comfy booths, one long table befitting large groups and a smattering of smaller setups ideal for lovey-dovey date-nighters. Our visits were spent mingling with a mélange of Del Ray’s most faithful, including extended families (inverting high chairs to accommodate car seat-bound infants), exuberant sports fans chasing the dream with a cold one in hand, and single parents splitting well-dressed pies with their cherubic charges.
One hardworking dad in particular—I believe folks refer to him as “President Obama”—swung by while still in the throes of the caustic payroll tax cut extension stand-off with House Republicans, pausing from all the political posturing just long enough to haul away three freshly made pies: the signature Supreme Clientele (built around tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, peppers, red onions, olives and mushrooms); a custom sausage, green peppers and onion construct and a traditional pepperoni pizza.
We tore into a number of thin- and thick-crust pies, ultimately coming down in favor of the less dense product. Sales seem to reflect that most people have come to the same conclusion. “Thick is like eating a loaf of bread with sauce and cheese,” Reid readily admits of the inches-tall rounds that are plucked from his deep-dish pans.
Our favorite pies include: the Hero, with red sauce, feta and whole anchovies, the smokin’ hot chick, outfitted with zesty grilled chicken, smoked gouda and chipotle-powered sauce, and the dairy-rich gringo, layered with rich alfredo sauce, melted mozzarella, milky ricotta and salty Parmesan.
Sandwich lovers are well tended to by the I’ve Had That—Reid’s riff on the Big Mac puts Ronald to shame with twin patties of cooked-to-order beef, melted American cheese, breathtaking fried shallots (totally awesome) and tangy 100 Island dressing—and an enviable turkey melt that pairs the tender bird with punchy chipotle mayo and slices of buttery avocado.
Grilled wings were just OK (“They’re the second most favorite after the spicy ones,” one waitress assured us). Pepperoni-laced butcher rolls deserved better accompaniments than bland ranch dressing.
Heartier appetites should keep a lookout for daily specials (the smoked duck scattered about one salad left our tablemates green with envy) and other DMG carryovers (the protein-packed jambalaya is a top seller for a reason).
And Reid’s not done retooling. He recently acquired a dedicated meat grinder and oven for desserts, committing to upping the ante with even boozier monthly beer dinners.
“I’m incorporating new ideas at DRP to continue to challenge myself,” he asserts.
Del Ray Pizzeria
2218 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-549-2999; www.delraypizzeria.com
Hours: Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$).