Italian Pizza Kitchen
4483 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC
410 Lincoln St, Rockville, MD
Beware the golden aura of overgrown drainage ditches passing by the MARC train window. Pizza Club is easily mesmerized this time of year when all sorts of influences are abroad on the wind. We were compelled to travel to the nation's capitol under such a geomantic power. Unfortunately, Pizza Club was going the wrong way, which we didn't realize until the conductor informed us that the MARC also runs to Perryville.
Why does the MARC system go where it goes? Why is Baltimore just a waystation along one wing of this fraught, frayed transit “V” that converges on Washington? A thread of dilapidated rail serves for the DC commute, but if Baltimoreans find employment on that fabled "Technology Corridor" to the west, they find no spoke leading from the gem of the Chesapeake out to Silver Spring, Columbia, Rockville, Gaithersburg, and the like. Hub-gravity eludes us – you must pass through DC or perish.
Many claim that another, better-connected metropolitan region is possible, but few apprehend the peculiar way in which it already exists. Baltimore has long felt the occult push and pull of suburbia. Space and time collapse in the force field of strip mall simultaneity; vibrant commercial matter coalesces in Canton Crossing as it decays on Security Square Boulevard. One can unknowingly bi-locate between a pizza dive in Timonium and one in Rockville. The same goes for the glitzy brick-ovens of Harbor East and those of DuPont Circle. Pizza Club has traversed the poles of the pizza Rota Fortunae and returned to tell the tale.
I didn't actually go to Perryville because the very kind MARC engineers let me switch trains at Martin State Airport. There was a parking lot, a series of chain-link fences, and a rusty barbeque grill. I hung out in the crew trailer while everyone got drug tested for random drug testing day. I didn't have to participate because they assumed I was high, which was incorrect, I was just really absorbed in Nicholson Baker's description of tying his shoelaces and got on the wrong train, which could happen to anyone. Eventually an empty, nonstop MARC carried me to DC in its streamlined nose. Passing all the familiar commuter stops at full speed, we accelerated onto an extra-dimensional plane, the channel used mostly by thoughts, odors, and spirit animals, where there's always room to put your feet up on the upholstery.
Briefly flitting through the gilded circle of DuPont, I proceeded to rendezvous with a Pizza Club quorum in the wild and dreary Forest Hills. There, perched on the lip of a dignified suburban refuge, is an Italian Pizza Kitchen. Italian Pizza Kitchen sounds like a chain, but doesn't seem to have other locations. The neutral moniker establishes rapport with people in DC who gravitate towards unimaginative things. However, it lacks the uncanny tastefulness of your standard DC fast-casual restaurant secretly underwritten by Kraft Foods. Maybe it's just a pizza place, I have to do more research.
The encouraging Eastern-European staff made up a nightly special for us. We obtained a mushroom and garlic pizza with whole roasted cloves of garlic winking at us from a bed of mozzarella. This pizza achieved a pillowy crust with a meaty balance of mushroom savor. Then we watched a soundless documentary about pointy buildings in Bavaria projected on the wall behind our table. The solid scouting of Pizza Club alumna Katy saved us from the chasm of high-end fast-casual simultaneity. Gallons of cannoli cream that came with the nightly special anchored us firmly to Connecticut Avenue.
A cool stateliness, hinting at contempt only in its ornamented reticence, characterizes DC's Northwest suburban gradient. Pizza Club found diplomatic accommodations within the wood-paneled walls of a haunted 1960s Swedish embassy. However, the weight of history personified in a golden cherub-chandelier by our bedside took on spectral animation in the midnight shadows. We awoke with a desperate urge to flee that place, and history, towards an open vista of highways, parking structures, and desolate civic plazas. We had to go to Rockville, where the past is a distant nightmare because the entire city has been demolished and redeveloped at least five times since then.
Pizza Club ventured on foot into the winding suburban expanse seeking a place called Pizza Palace. Instinct led us onward through the dim, warm mist, past morbidly-decorated lawns and drifts of vivid but dead autumnal leaves. Suddenly we reached a clearing in the residential grid, and a wind swept away the fog, revealing a parking lot and a strip mall like a row of perfect artificial teeth. Each tooth had an identical glass face with identical food offerings: bread, chicken, steak, cheese, potato, and a deep fryer to meld them all together.
Pizza Palace belongs to no decade or region; it offers both low-calorie pizza and stuffed-crust pizza. We ordered the latter, honoring the ingenuity of those pioneers who first figured out how to put “ribbons of awesome hidden cheese” inside a pizza crust. It's still delicious, offering a differently-textured experience from the pizza's middle expanse. This cheese has been sheltered, coddled, allowed to retain its original ropey arrangement of lactose fibers.
The pie also had some toppings – perhaps Greek – which we found pleasantly abundant but inconspicuous. A baseline plain pie was absolutely standard in every way. The crust was bready and crisp enough to support a healthy slather of well-browned cheese atop a sweet unseasoned tomato sauce.
We asked the Palace's proprietor if there was any distinctive P.P. product we should try. He answered that the “Philly cheesesteak” pizza was popular. A man sat alone by the window eating a large plate of French fries, unadorned.
We breathed a sigh of collective relief – on this neutral ground we could once again attune ourselves to the subtler vibrations that would carry us back to the fringes of Baltimore. Passing through a heavy pall of darkness and nonentity, we rose above the grease-sheened ductwork of the Pizza Palace. A strange procession of failed urban renewal projects rose and fell before our eyes. The retail paradise of Rockville Pike receded – with a galvanic shock we found ourselves back in Baltimore and bent our steps eagerly towards home.
Italian Pizza Kitchen
Photo credits: Graham
A Tale of the Ragged Mountains: Edgar Allan Poe