Welcome back, Spike: Former ‘Top Chef’ Contestant Opens We, the Pizza

Traveler intern Daniel Bortz stops by Spike Mendelsohn’s new restaurant We, the Pizza, sampling slices of spinach and artichoke pie and sipping cups of homemade Italian soda.

Wooden trays of wild mushroom pizza glide through the thick crowd that’s assembled at 305 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s Wednesday night and a red carpet stretches from the front door of Capitol Hill’s newest restaurant. The servers, a team of cute twenty-somethings wearing white Peroni, Italy T-Shirts, do their best to navigate the two-floor pizzeria as they carry fresh, out-of-the-oven slices to hungry patrons. Hands swoop in to grab the servings as the throng of guests clamors toward each new pan sent out.

Smells of freshly sliced pepperoni permeate the restaurant. Guests slowly sip glasses of champagne, while others down cups of homemade Italian sodas and nibble on bites of warm, cheesy goodness. It’s We, the Pizza’s opening night. Business is booming.

Former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn celebrated the grand opening of his new restaurant Wednesday. Located next door to his handmade burger joint Good Stuff Eatery, the pizzeria spans two floors of prime Capitol Hill real estate with a chic ambiance that upgrades the pizza pad to something a bit trendier, black leather booths and white brick walls to match. Silver pizza pans of all sizes even line the stairwell leading up to the second floor. But We, the Pizza’s fresh look isn’t the main draw for diners; it’s Chef Mendelsohn and his fresh recipes for gourmet pizza, homemade gelatos, and Italian sandwiches.

Follow the jump to read more about the restaurant’s owner.

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Spike’s no stranger to the spotlight, having appeared on season four of Bravo‘s hit televison show Top Chef and making it to the top five before getting the boot for a problem with his dish’s scallops. And while he wasn’t a fan favorite on the show, Spike’s a friendly guy off camera, where he still wears his signature hat. Granted he’s at his best in the kitchen, like helping the opening night’s staff of four cooks keep the pies coming, one rolling the dough, one applying sauce and toppings, another operating the oven, and the fourth cutting the pizza into small slices.

The menu emphasizes regional, farm-fresh ingredients, like truffle shavings and wild mushrooms. A fresh spinach and artichoke pie with aged provolone and Parmesan cheese tasted rich and creamy and became the night’s favorite, but the menu also includes roasted potato and pancetta pie topped with caramelized onions and fresh rosemary, buffalo chicken pie, and, of course, pepperoni pizza (think thick slices of spicy salami). Spike had a lot of friends stop by throughout the night but kept his eyes fixed on the kitchen crew, making sure everyone had enough to eat.

And enough to drink. “Like some champagne?” he asked a group standing by the bar.

Spike leaned over the black counter, kissed cheeks with a friend and fellow chef, who congratulated him on the new restaurant, then turned his head in my direction and smiled a genuine grin to the crowd.

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After a glass of Batch 19, a new pre-Prohibition style beer made with corn grits and malt providing a sweetness that offsets the peppery dryness of the hops, I opted for one of the Italian sodas: a house blend of rootbeer, chocolate, ginger, and seltzer, whipped up by Ian, one of the bartenders serving the delectable drinks. Though the rootbeer-based soda isn’t on the menu, the staff — a crew of young, friendly workers — will make special orders upon request, Ian said. Other Italian sodas served regularly include Heard it Through the Grape Vine, Love You Long Time Lime, and Good Morning Vietnam Coffee soda.

In all, the food and drink at We, the Pizza, proved tasty and fresh. And the hip New York-style pizzeria has somehow managed to infuse Spike’s fun, relaxed demeanor into the restaurant, creating a blend of food and atmosphere that transforms an outing to an everyday pizza joint into a refreshing dining experience.

Follow Spike’s steps and ventures into the food industry on his Twitter feed and read the Washington Post‘s review of
We, the Pizza’s next-door neighbor, Good Stuff Eatery, here.
Photos: National Geographic intern Mallory Werthamer

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