dine | TABLE TALK
BY DAVID HAGEDORN
PHOTOS BY DEB LINDSEY
thought, ‘That would be a great place for a
Pizzeria Paradiso.’ But it never happened.
So, to come back to it 10 or 15 years
later, what was true then is true now—it’s
a small market with a big draw. Spring Valley is a surprising, dense neighborhood—it
can draw from across the river into Virginia, out to Bethesda, from [American University]. And there’s no pizza here! We like
to go places where there isn’t any pizza.
You were an early craft beer pioneer. The
Spring Valley location has 14 beers on
draft and 165 canned or bottled beers.
The whole idea is that pizza and beer go
really well together. Our beer program
started with the original Paradiso, but we
had limited space. We always had local
beer on tap and never sold large-brewery
beers. In 2006, I turned a downstairs
space at the Georgetown location into the
Birreria. No one at the time was focusing
on craft breweries, on the unique, the best
beers in the world. We were also careful
about the glasses, the equipment we used
and the temperature of the beer.
What has changed the most about the
restaurant business since 1991?
The amount of competition: There are so
many restaurants opening and there is development in a lot of neighborhoods now,
offering more choices. And social media.
There used to be a sense that if you made
good food and provided a good experience
that you could make it in the business.
Now, that might not be enough.
Where do you eat in Montgomery County?
Noodle King in Silver Spring. Our favorite
meal there is deep-fried salt-and-pepper
tofu and leek flowers sautéed with garlic,
which is high praise from an avowed
carnivore. In addition, Mi La Cay, Ruan
Thai, Hollywood East, Pollo Mex and, for a
burger, The Limerick Pub [Pollo Mex is in
Silver Spring; the others are in Wheaton].
And Zena Polin’s The Daily Dish for brunch.
IN DECEMBER, CHEF Ruth Gresser,
60, opened the fifth outpost of her Pizzeria
Paradiso chainlet, which ignited the Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza trend when
the first location opened in Washington’s
Dupont Circle in 1991. Her latest outpost
is in the Upper Northwest D.C. neighborhood of Spring Valley. We caught up with
the Baltimore native, who lives in Silver
Spring with her wife, Barbara Johnson, to
ask about her career.
How did you wind up becoming a chef?
I went to college to be a chemist, but when
I walked into second-year chem lab, I knew
I wouldn’t last because it didn’t smell
good. The other thing I wanted to be was
a chef. I grew up in a family that cooked.
I graduated in 1980, moved to San Francisco because I was a lesbian and it was
a mecca for food at that time. There I was
introduced to [chef and cooking authority]
Madeleine Kamman’s work. I went to study
at her cooking school in New Hampshire.
She placed me in D.C. around 1987. I
wound up at Obelisk as [chef] Peter Pas-tan’s sous-chef. Paradiso opened in 1991.
We were co-owners for 10 years.
You were a pioneer in bringing thin-crust,
Neapolitan-style pizza made in a wood-burning oven to the D.C. area.
I got tired of high-end cooking. I was
interested in a more casual environment
that my friends could come to. I always
liked working with dough, making bread.
We made bread at Obelisk and pizza for
family dinner [staff meal]. Pizza is bread
with things put on top of it and baked. No
one was focusing on making pizza in wood-burning ovens like we did. So it seemed
like a good idea.
Why Spring Valley?
Before the Chicken Out was Chicken Out,
I saw a ‘for lease’ sign on the space. I