Saturday, October 9, 2010

Impressions: Mia's Pizzas

4926 Cordell Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 718-6427

(Photographs: Adam Lindsley)

After a nasty 24-hour battle with a debilitating virus sheared the schedule of my final days on the East Coast and pushed my available time to a minimum, my friend Christa and I made a mad dash toward Washington D.C. to check out as many sights as possible--and eat some pizza, naturally. I had hoped to cajole fellow pizza blogger, er, Pizzablogger, into joining us on the excursion, but time further slipped through my fingers at the conspiratorial hands of both Google Maps and the Maryland Department of Transportation.

This wasn't the first time Google Maps had failed me (see my recent trip to San Francisco), but trying to find my way to Mia's Pizzas in Bethesda with incomplete directions and the added frustration of MDOT's deplorable freeway signage meant the battle was over before it even began. At one point Christa and I encountered a split in the road and two signs indicating the highway continued down both offshoots, though we soon discovered this was completely false. We got off at the next exit--in Virginia--was forced to pay an exit toll, then got on the nearest onramp, paid another toll, and eventually navigated the convoluted route to Mia's.

Fuming, famished, we found the restaurant nearly empty at three in the afternoon and felt our spirits lighten a little at the welcome sight of the goldenrod-tiled wood-fired oven in the kitchen at the back. I dug into their Margherita ($12.95) hoping it would help me forget the mediocre pizza at Coal Fire I'd eaten a couple days prior, and while it didn't blow me away like I hoped it would, it still proved an overall step up. The sauce is a simple blend of crushed tomatoes spiced up with what I would guess to be ground red pepper, but it didn't have that punch of freshness that sauces from places like Delfina or Pizzeria Bianco deliver. In fact, it tasted quite similar to the ho-hum tomato sauce I make at home, a fact I mostly attribute to not finding good quality tomatoes. The mozzarella, fresh, didn't make much of an impression on me; it could have been better salted.

What managed to stand out, though, was the crust. On one hand, it's thick (about 1cm) and dense, quite doughy, without much airiness or spring to the crumb. On the other hand, it's very flavorful, yeasty, perfectly salted, and decently charred on the undercarriage. While I found the rest of the pizza just slightly above average, I came back to that crust again and again. Probably too bready for some, but I thought it made a great snack, even hours later. Think of a chewy, moist bagel smashed flat and you won't be far off. They even offer a Pizza Bone Dipping Sauce to dunk your end crusts into for a mere 95 cents, though I thought they were plenty flavorful on their own.

Also gracing our table was the Alsace ($12.95), which eschews the disappointing red sauce and mozzarella in favor of gruyere, parmesan, pancetta, caramelized onions, and thyme. It sounds rich--and it is--but those four ingredients are smartly chosen. The saltiness and fat of the smoky pancetta plays off the sugars in the soft caramelized onions like a symphony, offering a mature sweet/savory contrast. The gruyere, perhaps my favorite cheese, was not skimped on; its thickness rivaled that of the crust. Nutty and full-bodied, it provided an irresistible base for the other toppings to sink into. I'd like see it used more on pizzas. Our server offered to grate more parmesan over the finished pie, and we accepted. The additional sharpness was a welcome supplement to the already bold flavors on the Alsace, and I wish we had done the same for the Margherita.

Mia's is definitely onto something here in Bethesda. Certain aspects of the pies could be improved--the tomato sauce and mozzarella, namely--but the crust is delicious, and if they come up with a way to make the dough a little lighter and airier, they'll have something few will find fault with.

OVEN: Wood

RECOMMENDED: Alsace pizza 


  1. I went to Mia's once while I was on a break from hanging lights at Imagination Stage around the corner. The pizza I recall being good, but not great. The specifics of it are hazy. What I do remember is the beautifully tiled oven and the lovely wood-fire scent. I'll have to check it out again next time I'm home. My dad went recently and said he was fairly impressed, so it looks like I'll have someone to eat with.

  2. @Will: I'd heard that Two Amys was the best pizza in the D.C. area, but it's strictly Neapolitan, and I had already had Neapolitan on this trip (at Marco's in Denver), so that's why I opted for Mia's. I liked Mia's well enough, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that Two Amys is better.

  3. Two Amys probably is the best pizza in the DC area. On a good night their crust is as tasty as any I can recall having. Pupatella, in Arlington, made pretty excellent pizza out of a gas-fired oven in a cart. I dunno what their restaurant is like though. My folks also recently went to Facci, a relatively new addition to the neapolitan gang, and they came back with positive words. Though, I guess this is all pretty much useless info at this point.

  4. @Will: Not useless at all. I'll be back in DC at some point, so I'll definitely make a point of visiting Two Amys in the future, as well as a handful of other places.