Although it can be tough to get a table here at dinnertime, we had no problem securing a reservation for lunch. Ghibellina is housed in a large and deep rustic space that was inviting and comfortable. We chose to split two salad appetizers and three pizzas for our group.
One salad was full of lively greens, and excellent on all counts. However, the memorable appetizer was the insalata di farro e zucca with delicata squash, farro, roasted root vegetables, pomegranate seeds, and a sherry vinaigrette. It was ideal in flavor and its combination of textures - creamy orange squash topped with a layer of crunchy/chewy farro.
Because the pizza is Neapolitan, we didn't need to wait long for the main course. Each pie was a large personal size. I've eaten a lot of Neapolitan pizza all across America, and this was only the second time that the pizza came to the table in true Neapolitan fashion: uncut. Italians eat Neapolitan pizza with knife and fork and don't apologize for it.
Here, diners are supplied with a large set of shears to cut the pizza. The idea is that once you cut a Neapolitan pie, you create vulnerable edges into which the wet toppings can be absorbed to make the crust soggy. If you cut the pie only when you are ready for a slice, you can defer or avoid ruining the crust.
Nice theory, but with five hungry diners all eager to try each of the three pies, we cut them all right away. Our three pies included:
- Margherita di Bufala with tomato sauce, basil and buffalo mozzarella
- Funghi with herb roasted mushrooms, goat cheese, spring onions, pecorino, and truffle oil
- Salsicce e cipolla with tomato sauce, sausage, roasted onions, provolone, grana padano, basil, oregano, and peperoncino
We were pretty evenly divided over which pie we liked best. The Margherita is the standard for Neapolitans, and this one sported a superb crust, tender, chewy, puffy, leopard-spotted, and full of its own rich bready flavor. The flavors of the sauce and cheese were also ideally balanced.
However, the entire pie was soupy, well beyond the normal standard for Neapolitans. "Wet in the middle" can be expected for even some of the best Neapolitans, such as the superb pies at Capofitto in Philadelphia, but this one was compromised by a soggy crust for the first half of every slice.
|Our sausage pie|
The sausage pie built on the base margherita with the added flavors and textures of the meat, onion, and mix of cheese. The flavors were impeccable, but like the Margherita, the pie was soggy, swimming in its excellent tomato sauce. Approaching the cornicione, every bite improved as the ratio of crust to toppings improved and there was less wetness.
My favorite was the funghi, because the entire pie held together much better. Lacking red sauce, the wonderful crust did not get overwhelmed with moisture. As with each pie, the toppings were expertly balanced in flavor.
What went right, what went wrong? I can be certain that the ingredients in these pies, top to bottom, were all top shelf. Each pie was especially well balanced in flavor. What went wrong is that two of these pies were simply overloaded with wet toppings. Perhaps a rookie pizzaiolo was working the lunch shift?
|Beautiful char underneath|
Overall, Ghibellina was a terrific destination. An inviting interior, good service, superb appetizers, and wonderfully flavored if not perfectly rendered Neapolitan pizzas.
DC is a great pizza town. 2Amys remains on top, but Ghibellina can stand with the other top purveyors, including Seventh Hill, Wiseguy NY Pizza, Comet Ping Pong, and (across the Potomac), Pupatella.