I’m feeling homesick, and my DC hosts and I cooked up a plot to try DC’s shockingly nonzero number of Detroit Style Pizza restaurants. (Unfortunately, Jalisciense food wasn’t an option– metropolitan DC’s Latinx population is overwhelmingly NOT Mexican, so I am missing the taco trucks on every corner in Southwest Detroit. Opined one Twitter commenter, “Detroit isn’t known for its Mexican culture– why wouldn’t you just go to LA instead!?”
Indeed, a good question. It’s just around the way! )It’s a thing I’ve discovered in a surprising number of cities, even among restauranteurs who themselves have zero connection to the Motor City. Is it like Shinola capitalizing on the gritty working-class “authenticity” of the Motor City? Or, do Americans just really love shitty pizza? I refuse to accept the second one, having grown up with plenty of good pizza. The first one is possible, certainly. In one case, a guy running a Detroit-style pizza food truck in Birmingham, Alabama said that he actually discovered Detroit-style pizza while he was living in Asheville. Like our cars, our shitty pizza is manifested from sea to shining sea, apparently.
Downtown Silver Spring
So, for this entry of Burgerbanism, we hit up Underground Pizza in Downtown Silver Spring. Downtown Silver Spring– which is often abbreviated as DTSS in writing, but for which “Silver Spring” is an acceptable stand-in- is just north of the border of Warshington, DC proper (Eastern Avenue, which forms the northeast diagonal of the would-have-been diamond shape of the District). It’s got tall buildings. There’s a huge transit hub. Colesville Road is a Michigan-wide thoroughfare that carries a large amount of traffic through. The Purple Line, when it is finished by the time I retire, will eventually connect to the Red Line station as well as a huge bus depot.
The below map, from Greater Greater Washington, shows the relative densities of the inner ring suburbs of DC. There are pretty heavily densified corridors that radiate out from the city, some of which indeed end up feeling quite urban in spite of technically being “the suburbs.” Silver Spring is just north of the northeastern boundary of the District (Eastern Avenue), and where our food adventure begins (and many other food adventures to come).
The Strip – Georgia Avenue
Amid the conflicting urban planning paradigms of, variously, Edge City, dense multifamily housing (new, luxury), dense multifamily housing (old, depreciated), a sprinkling of single-family homes, and a weird mix of commercial storefronts that range from strip malls to classic urban zero-lot-line configurations, there’s a surprisingly diverse food scene in Silver Spring. Much of this is clustered around the Georgia Avenue corridor, which is a major north-south street in DC that continues up north from the city.
The “underground” part is perhaps a bit confusing, as there is actually one of those glorious, maybe-1980s arcades right next door that does, in fact, descend underground, so my friend meeting me there started walking down the steps before I pointed out that it’s actually above ground. Underground Pizza is currently not allowing dine-in, so we had to take it across the street to Astro Lab, which was engaging a BYOF policy (though not all the time? It was not entirely clear to me).
We had a chat with a couple of the gentlemen working in the front, about why Detroit style (“why not” was the distilled response– no actual connection to Motown), about the menu (relatively limited but sufficiently calibrated for vegetarians and vegans as well as traditional omnivores). Owner Evan Weinstein opened up the spot in what was formerly an Italian restaurant in February.
The service was fast enough– we got two pizzas and an order of arancini faster than they had originally said. The prices were, well, DC– something I’m having a hard time getting used to. Why is a four-piece square pizza $18? Why is a full-sized pizza $34? Three people ended up with a full-sized pizza, a “half-sized” pizza (more than one not-ravenous person could eat in one sitting, but still $18), and four small arancini.
Arancini are good, but unless they’re really, really good, I don’t differentiate them substantially from mozzarella sticks. They’re fried and gooey and delicious. But so are mozzarella sticks, which can usually be purchased from some place like Jimbob’s Sports Bar and Grill down the block– and usually for cheaper.
There was a pineapple and slow-cooked pork pizza with jalapeños, which I found intriguing. One of my most cancellable food takes is that I love Hawaiian pizza and really anything that combines pineapple and pork, because they’re both pretty great (even if I am not eating much meat these days). The execution wasn’t exquisite, but it was a nice departure from the average pizza.
But at the end of the day, it was all just gooey bread with lots of sauce and lots cheese and lots of doughy dough. I’m giving them three out of five stars because the staff seemed like pretty nice guys. Also because this is, if you love Jets and Buddys, a plausible attempt at Detroit style pizza. It’s just that there are plenty of other much better options for Detroit-style pizza in and outside of Detroit. And the fact that Jets and Buddys are, well, abject. I will die on the hill, but that doesn’t mean we should penalize the folks at Underground. (★★★)
This post on Burgerbanism – Underground Pizza in Downtown Silver Spring is part of a series in which we eat way too much food and explore the urban context of that food. Burgerbanism is made possible by the support of our readers. If you’d like to suggest a particular restaurant, hit me up on Twitter at @nzorach.