The Best Restaurants in the DC Area: Tom Sietsema’s Guide to Fall Restaurants
Of all the challenges on Chef Rachael Jennings’ menu, the one that stands out is called Harambe Loved Big Macs. The pie, a riff on McDonald’s signature sandwich, is named after the gorilla whose unfortunate death in 2016 became a blank slate for America to lay out its many grievances — and bolster our knack for turning anything and everything around in joke.
The pizza seems to be part of the joke: the base, blistered from a hot Marra Forni oven, looks like it was dragged into Mickey D’s sandwich shop. It’s topped with seasoned ground beef, melted American cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced onions, homemade dill pickle chips, and parallel lines of “special sauce.” The fun here isn’t just digging into a Big Mac that’s changed shape into a pizza shape; it’s essentially about enjoying junk food in an artisanal context, that is, on a chewy, semi-crispy crust whose flavors have been developed during a 48-hour fermentation. Pie is brilliant in its subversion of norms.
Jennings, 31, doesn’t see his cooking in those terms, of course. She has a more self-deprecating take on her pizzeria at Dupont Circle. She uses words like “immature” and “ridiculous” to describe her naming conventions. She says she serves the kind of food she likes to eat, not the food you’re supposed to enjoy at those temples of fine dining that don’t borrow ideas from a clown.
“I would say I’m a pretty non-traditional person,” she tells me. Named after her dog, a remarkable mix of Siberian husky and German shepherd, and for the long-handled tool used to maneuver pizzas through an oven, Boogy and Peel, she says, is a “good representation of me as a person: you know, untraditional and a bit loud.
“I like things that are comforting and feel familiar in some way, but can still be surprising,” she adds.
If it feels like Jennings is trying to justify her first restaurant’s approach, you can blame people like me: the fooderati, the members of the artisanal industrial complex, people who are basically surprised by the path she’s taken. borrowed. It might not be what you or I expected.
A North Carolina native, Jennings is a culinary school graduate who did her externship at the respected City House in Nashville under chef Tandy Wilson before settling in for a years-long stint at Rose’s Luxury, where she became deputy head. She even served as a shipper at Tail Up Goat while building Boogy and Peel.
It’s not a resume that immediately screams goofy pizza. But while at City House, Wilson planted a seed that germinated years later for Jennings: that pizza is just a canvas waiting for inspiration. Wilson had a knack for trying idiosyncratic new toppings on his pies, Jennings recalled. It can be mayonnaise or a shaker filled with pulverized cheeses, the collected leftovers left behind after a busy shift. Jennings would take that idea and run hard with it.
Jennings’ menu isn’t long – last time I ordered there she only had nine pizza options – but that’s long on charisma. His inventions rarely embrace the pizza-making traditions of previous generations, except perhaps the one that says pies should be more or less round. Boogy and Peel isn’t the place to go if you’re looking for Hawaiian pizza or one of those now-ubiquitous Detroit pie slices with the racy sauce strip down the middle.
No, Jennings built his own pies. One mimics the flavors of Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza. (In fact, I’d say they’re closer in spirit to a Crunchy Taco Supreme, though that’s probably a no-difference distinction.) Another channels the ingredients for a Caesar salad (an ingenious version of coleslaw curly with the vinaigrette as a base, minus the anchovies, which you can add to your toppings for a few dollars more). Another riffs on a deli standard. (The Kelly Ruben, named after a friend, has pastrami, not corned beef, but the homemade kraut and caraway powder tips the pie completely, deliciously, towards the Reuben side of things).
Some creations allude to the normality of pizza. The Macha’ Roni is buried under enough meaty cups to satisfy any pepperoni lover, but the pizza hits Defcon 4 with a second wave of salsa macha, a fiery condiment created by sous chef Saul Zelaya. The marinara sounds standard, but I don’t think Jennings’ clever rendition would pass inspection in Naples, its flavors both mellowed and intensified with candied garlic and an herb vinaigrette.
Once you step away from the pizza menu, your options drastically narrow. The wings, brined and fried and served with Alabama white sauce, will have you giving up allegiance to everyone else. The side of Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Romesco Sauce, Feta, Pickled Craisins, Honey and Marcona Almonds will pull your palate in many directions. He will enjoy the ride.
Beverage director Krysten Hobbs has assembled a beer and wine list that, like Jennings’ pies, isn’t afraid to pair the high with the low, meaning you’ll find wild yeast wine and local craft beers on the same menu as Glace de Smirnoff. You’ll also find an ice-cold cocktail dubbed the Valenciaga Dreamsicle Slush, a neutral vodka-based libation that keeps the citrus fruits buzzing, sweet and tart, without undue interference.
The dining room is informal and lively, mixing wood with tiled floors, bar stools with mismatched chairs and communal tables. It looks a bit like a study room via Five Guys – if Five Guys’ favorite color was blue, of course. There is a neon quote against a tiled wall. Often attributed to Bill Murray, it reads: “Every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard and believe in yourself.”
But when it comes to inventive, Boogy and Peel-inspired pies, I prefer to invoke the cheeky alternate version of the famous quote: “A pizza of any size is a personal pizza if you eat it on its own.”
1 Dupont Circle NW, Suite 115B. boogyandpeel.com. Hours: indoor and outdoor catering, delivery and take-out, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Price: Sides $11-$13; pizza $12 to $23. Sound control: 68 decibels / Conversation is easy. Accessibility: No barriers to entry; wheelchair-accessible toilets. Pandemic protocols: All staff are vaccinated, but are not currently required to wear masks.