If you’re in the Bethesda area, or just want some really good thin-crust pizza, stop by Haven Pizzeria on Wisconsin Avenue. Last Tuesday, the owners of the pizzeria and Andréa — of The Bethesda Foodie fame — threw a little shindig at the self-proclaimed “pizzeria Napoletana.” Though it started a bit late (7pm) for a mid-week happy hour and tasting, the food was delicious overall and the hospitality, impeccable.
Mark, the manager, told us about the restaurant’s finer points. He began with the twin 100,000 pound brick ovens heated with coal, which cooks the pizzas evenly and provides an authentic char on the bottom. The fresh, organic, local produce and seasonal berries used for the salads, gelato, and pizza toppings are one of the points of pride for Haven. The organic dairy products from Wisconsin create the delectable foundation for the artisan gelato, which is made in house daily. Last but not least, Haven imports Italian cheeses, yeast cultures, and olive oil for that irreplaceable Mediterranean flavor.
After making a few introductions amongst ourselves, we were turned loose upon the bar. I sampled the Parducci Pinot Noir and instantly loved it. The clear ruby red wine was fruity and bold with a smooth finish. It’s a great red to pair with the tomato or mozzarella pie or the Romano salad. During the food tasting later on, I tried a glass of the Orvieto — a white wine imported from Italy — and it went beautifully with the clam pizza, as well as the spinach and mushroom pizza. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The first item brought out for us was something called the “potato chip”; essentially, it was a small pizza crust topped with garlic, olive oil, and pecorino-Romano. It was crispy, salty, and cheesy — and did in fact taste similar to a potato chip. The other appetizer served to us was the Haven White Clam Pie. Fresh clams, olive oil, garlic, and cheese top the pizza. Alas, I missed out on the appetizer version but redeemed myself during dinner.
After a tour of the pizza ovens, wine bar, and gelato churn, it was time for dinner. Mark sent out about six pizzas, and they were all delicious. Two important notes about their pizzas: the first is that before going into the oven, each pie gets a drizzle of olive oil for moisture and flavor. The second note is about the crust. Haven pizzas have a thin, slightly crispy crust that gains flavor from the char added by the brick ovens.
During round one, I tried a slice of the White Spinach & Mushroom Pie and a slice of the Tomato Pie. The spinach and mushroom had sliced mozzarella rounds distributed over the toppings, and the pizza had no tomato sauce, hence “white.” I appreciated the fresh mushrooms and the olive oil drizzled over the pizza. I would order this pizza if I were in the mood for something a little fancy-tasting. The Tomato Pie consists of freshly ground plum tomatoes and grated pecorino-Romano cheese, both imported from Italy. If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying a tomato pizza, get one at Haven. Their version has the char on the crust to contrast with the sweet tomatoes; it’s a beautiful thing.
Mark brought out several bottles of Foxon Park pop, which he has trucked in from Connecticut. Our table tried the Grape, Orange, and White Birch flavors. Yes, White Birch really is a flavor; it’s very similar to root beer, but it’s clear. The Grape was quite tart, while the Orange tasted bold. None of the flavors were overly sweet, which I greatly appreciated. I enjoyed the combination of the White Birch with the meat pizza, and the Grape with the Tomato Pie.
For round two, I grabbed a slice of the Mozzarella Pie with meat, as well as a slice of the Haven White Clam Pie. Liberally dressed with pepperoni and fennel sausage, the pizza’s tomatoes and mozzarella provided a tasty contrast to the meat. Try this carnivore’s delight while enjoying one of the many beers Haven offers. Then I was able to sink my teeth into the clam pizza. Let me begin by stating that the dinner version was a combination of the Haven White Clam Pie and the Coal Oven Roasted Pepper — with bacon. Nary a tomato was found on this pizza, but roasted red peppers, bacon, clams, garlic, oregano, mozzarella, and a healthy dose of olive oil completed the dish. I highly recommend this pizza for those who want a really fresh and good meal. The flavors went together incredibly well, and if Haven had thrown a few potato slices on it, it could have been called the Haven White Clam Chowder pizza.
Finally, we were given huge scoops of gelato to finish the meal. Haven makes five flavors; they’re all lower in fat and denser than ice cream, but the density makes the gelato taste creamier. A couple of my tablemates mentioned that the pistachio flavor really tasted like the nuts. I can personally vouch for the strawberry and coffee flavors tasting like the fresh ingredients used to create them. Haven can also make milkshakes from their gelato. After having tasted some their other foods and drinks, I can say with confidence that trying anything on the menu is a safe bet. Haven does not disappoint.
Disclosure: From time to time, we are given free items, meals, or events.