There’s pizza. Then there’s Neapolitan pizza: an almost religious style of pizza making that involves special ingredients (such as Fior di latte mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes) and specific techniques. Distinct for its crispy outer ring of crust, it’s a delicious fork-and-knife pizza experience that’s rare in the D.C. Metro area. But Brookland has Menomale: a Neapolitan pizzeria to call its own.
While it seems like only yesterday Menomale first opened its doors, the restaurant now celebrates five years of business. On a recent afternoon, while the restaurant was still closed and the first wood logs were being lit in the restaurant’s beautiful new tiled oven, we sat down with co-owner Maria Rusciano as she reflected on Menomale’s anniversary – and its future.
How do you feel now that Menomale’s hit its five-year anniversary?
They say time flies when you’re having fun, and it’s been a great five years. We’ve had a very good time just running the business and being a part of the neighborhood. We’re also very proud that we’ve managed to make Menomale not just a neighborhood restaurant but a destination for the entire D.C. Metro area. Some people drive 45 minutes to get here to taste our pizza! We’re very thankful for the success we’ve had.
Why go into the Neapolitan pizza business in the first place?
My husband, Ettore, is from Naples, and I’m originally from Bulgaria. Every time we’d go to Naples, we’d eat this kind of pizza. This is the first business we started, though we both have backgrounds working in the restaurant industry. We love the simplicity of Neapolitan pizza, but also the intricacies involved in making it. You really have to stay true to the few ingredients you need to use. You have to respect the process. It’s not like in baking, where you can substitute applesauce for oil; if you make any changes, it’s not going to be true Neapolitan pizza. There’s an association [Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana] we belong to that protects this style of pizza.
Was Salumeria 2703 always part of your business plan?
We always had the idea of taking over the block because there were so many empty commercial spaces. We thought: Why not do an Italian deli? Brookland didn’t have one, and there are also not that many Italian delis in the D.C. Metro area. The ones that do exist don’t necessarily provide the same experience you’d get in a deli in Italy, so that’s where we thought we could make a difference. We’ve owned the space for more than two years, and Salumeria 2703 is already more than a year old.
What’s the story behind the new oven you just installed over Thanksgiving?
The old oven was not insulated at all and was releasing too much heat. It became too hot for the pizza makers to work there – especially in the summer. Our new oven, like the old one, was brought over from Naples. It’s covered in tile from a little town on the Amalfi Coast, Vietri sul Mare, that specializes in hand-painted ceramic tile. Not only does the new oven have improved insulation, it also looks more beautiful.
What can we expect from Menomale in the coming years?
We’re working on additions to the menu. We make fresh pasta at Salumeria 2703, so we’ll be adding lasagna to the menu, as well as eggplant parmasean. Another dish we’re adding is a specialty from Sorrento: gnocchi alla sorrentina, which is gnocchi baked with fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce. We’re also planning a new Mediterranean look to Menomale, centered around our new oven. We have nine more cases of Amalfi tile, so we’ll use some of that throughout the restaurant.
As a Brooklander, what do you enjoy about the neighborhood?
I really like the sense of community here. Through the business, we’ve gotten to know pretty much everybody in the neighborhood. I love that it’s very walkable; I have a small child, so we go for walks a lot. There have been a lot of positive changes in Brookland as well. When we first moved in, Noyes Playground was just an empty field. Now, it’s a beautiful park. The fact that Brookland just keeps getting better is something I really appreciate. It’s great for the community – and it’s great for business.