Monday, April 23, 2012

First Taste: Haven Pizzeria Napoletana

There is a structure located a few miles outside of the nation’s capital that weighs 200,000 pounds, is supported by 18 steel beams, and takes almost five days to reach its operating temperature, and no, I’m not talking about one of the reactors found at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. 

Far from it.  The coal oven located at Bethesda’s newest face on the scene, Haven Pizzeria Napoletana, justifies its gargantuan dimensions by churning out some of the finest cooked pizza this food blogger has ever tasted.

I went to Haven on Tuesday night for a tasting and left feeling as if I had just taken the Acela up to New Haven and eaten dinner there.  General Manager and lead chef Mark Bergami, a New Haven native, prides himself on the restaurant’s ability to make apizza that rivals, if not exceeds, the quality produced at his hometown’s famous originator of New Haven-style pizza, Pepe’s.

He started us off with a glass of wine from Haven’s bar that boasts over 40 different Italian wines.  Held in an impressive, ceiling high wine shelf, the extensive selection towers over the rest of the restaurant.  I had the Trivento Malbec, a relatively strong red that served as a formidable complement to the pizza I consumed later in the evening. 

The massive coal oven leaves its mark on virtually every item that one is able to order.  The Coal Oven Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper highlight the non-salad appetizers that appear on the menu, caked with parmigiano and mozzarella cheese, respectively.  The Haven Potato Chip is a small loaf of homemade foccacia bread that combines a firm crust with a breathable, yet not too soft, middle that proves that the coal oven is able to bake with a delicate touch.
General Manager Mark Bergami displaying the appetizers in front of the coal oven.

The pizza is unlike any I’ve had before.  The dynamics of a coal oven are such that the heat spreads evenly among the bricks, providing for a consistent charring of the crust throughout.  My favorite pizza was the Haven White Clam Pie.  It’s definitely for a person that is accustomed to the pungent taste of clams, and is a direct descendant of the original white clam pies offered in New Haven.  Needless to say, it was unbeatable.  I also had the Haven Fresh pie, their version of the traditional mozzarella, tomato, and basil pizza that is known for providing a refreshing taste.  Haven’s version didn’t disappoint. 

Try the gelato sampler!
The common theme among the pizzas was the crust.  Made from in house yeast that is almost 300 years old, the dough has a unique flavor that is amplified by the coal oven cooking.  Once folks are done with their pizzas, Haven’s vertical batch freezer, another name for a continuously spinning steel drum, generates gelato that is a perfect conclusion to a pizza dinner.  The gelato is made with less air and more milk than ice cream, so it actually fools the palate with a different texture.  The gelato sampler is a great way to try out all five of the flavors, but you won’t go wrong if you choose the strawberry.

Overall, Haven Pizzeria provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere to enjoy authentic New Haven pizza and freshly made gelato.  Patrons are able to walk up to the massive oven and watch their pizzas made, and the high ceilings and archways provide for an open feeling to the interior.  The food is very reasonably priced and there is a 180 car parking lot in back.  I will most certainly be telling my friends and family and will be going again myself.
Haven Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

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