1250 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001 (http://allpurposedc.com/)
*** and 1/2 (Excellent/Outstanding)
Sometimes restaurant hype can be difficult to live up to. With high expectations, even a so-so meal can bring everything crashing back down to earth in a hurry. So when the braintrust behind Red Hen opened up the pizza-centric All-Purpose right down the street from the Convention Center, it was no surprise that the initial word was positive. After Tom Sietsema proclaimed All-Purpose his favorite D.C. restaurant in the Washington Post Fall Dining Guide, my expectations started to get a little out of hand. But there are occasions where restaurants justify the hype. And after securing two dinners recently, I can say without hesitation that All-Purpose is slinging the best pizzas in the District; and some of the best pies I’ve had, anywhere.
Walking into the restaurant, what stuck out immediately was its popularity. On our two separate visits, every table was filled, the bar was packed, and wait times were over an hour for walk-ins. The restaurant itself is cozy: with marble adorning the bar, plenty of hardwood on the tables and banquettes throughout the dining room. And at the center of it all: an open kitchen sending out those fantastic pizzas.
Service at All-Purpose, like its comfortable confines, is warm and welcoming; more familial than anything else. The service befits the restaurant, and leads to an easy rapport
with great dinner suggestions. First and foremost, the Grand Selezzione features all of the restaurant’s charcuterie offerings; with oregano-laced salami and toast points slathered with lardo and chives as the standouts. In particular, the lardo puts any bread and butter to shame, and it’s a dish I wish the restaurant offered on its own. Calamari Fritto is a straightforward take on the classic, with tender pieces of squid given a nicely crisped exterior, and a hit of lemon to brighten the dish. Don’s Meatball Surprise, while tender, is the one, and only, ho-hum dish of both meals.
Entrees at All-Purpose are limited: three house specialties and six different pizzas. But
what the menu lacks in options, it more than makes up for in quality. The Eleven-Layer Lasagna provides the familiar flavor of pork ragu, and boosts the earthiness of the dish with celery root and black truffle. The lasagna is perfectly crunchy on the outside and given some lighteness in the form of whipped ricotta; the entree is balanced and delicious.
All-Purpose’s pizzas, meanwhile, are perfection. The true test of a great pizza is always the crust. And with solid crunch, great chew, and a hint of sweetness, the All-Purpose crust more than delivers. My personal favorite: the Buona, which takes a classic pepperoni pie, and adds the sweet-heat of chili-laced honey to add depth of flavor. The Duke #7, meanwhile, provides a big, spicy kick with ‘nduja and giardiniera. At first bite, it comes off as hot, but I found that heat to be strangely addictive over the course of the meal. And finally, though it has since moved on from the menu, the Sleepy Hollow, balanced fresh Brussels sprouts, red onions, and pancetta with the ever-so slightly malty crust that is the hallmark of every All-Purpose pizza.
Desserts at All-Purpose are the work of Buttercream Bakery, which sits next door to the pizzeria and shares prep space downstairs. Our first dinner saw a Hazelnut-Chocolate Cheesecake which was creamy, mellow, and just sweet enough. Our second dinner, however, saw mixed reviews for a selection of sweets including Rainbow Cookie Cake, Blood Orange Cheesecake, and Peanut Butter and Jelly Soft Serve. While the desserts were all well-executed, they failed to reach the highs of our first trip.
It would be misleading to refer to All-Purpose as a just a pizzeria. Yes, the restaurant does its namesake justice, but just as importantly, it’s executing the entire menu at a high level, and exceeding its lofty expectations. Bottom line: believe the hype as All-Purpose offers D.C.’s finest pizza, and has more than secured a spot among the city’s dining destinations.
Atmosphere: With an open pizza kitchen centered in the back of the restaurant, weathered wood tables with banquettes and chairs fill the dining room on one side, while a long marble bar flanks the other. The staff make guests feel more like family than customers, but never leave you wanting. A great experience.
Noise: Loud. What else would you expect from one of the most popular restaurants in the district? There are lively conversations throughout the dining room and bar creating a warm environment; albeit one that needs everyone to speak up.
Recommended Dishes: Grand Selezzione, Calamari Fritto, Eleven-Layer Lasagna, Buona, Sleepy Hollow, Duke #7
Reservations: Recommended. Reservations are accepted up to one month out, and the slots tend to fill up quickly. During our two separate meals at All Purpose, every table was occupied, and the wait times were at least an hour for walk-ins.
$$$ – $50 to $100 for dinner for two