Chef Chris Morgan’s fine-dining career reads like the prime opportunity for name-dropping, from honing his skills at Zuni Café under the late Judy Rogers to acting as sous chef under the award-winning Jeremiah Langhorne at The Dabney to earning a Michelin star for his work at D.C.’s own Maydan. But these days, the James Beard Award semifinalist is focusing on food nearer and dearer to his heart: pizza.
“To be honest, I really like cooking food that I want to go eat on a daily basis,” he says. “I get really excited about all cuisines and different levels of fine dining or not, but for me personally, the food that I’m interested in cooking is the stuff that I want to eat on my day off, where I can decompress and grab a bite to eat.”
The casual vibe of his new spot, Pizza Serata, then, is kind of the perfect fit.
The project was a long time in the making, finally coming to fruition after a year and a half of looking at spaces. It was thanks to the folks from Crooked Run, a D.C. microbrewery also producing natural and low-intervention wine with Virginia-grown grapes, that the pizza project finally came to life.
“We thought, you know, why not?” says Morgan. “Pizza and beer work really well together, and they had a cool space, so we jumped at the opportunity.”
Given Morgan’s Michelin-starred experience, however, it’s no surprise that Pizza Serata isn’t your average slice shop.
For starters, he teamed up with chef Anthony Falco, who started the Roberta’s pizza program in Brooklyn, to ensure the dough is on point.
“I myself, not having had much of a background in pizza, thought that to be really exciting, as someone that I could work with shoulder to shoulder,” says Morgan of his partnership with this “dough master.” The resulting recipe begins with heirloom flour from the family-run Wade’s Mill in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, which dates back to the 18th century. The mix of white and whole wheat flours is the start for the olive oil-based dough, which ferments at room temperature for 24 hours to reap all the benefits of the eight-year-old starter. The resulting dough, Morgan says, is “nice and airy,” perfect for the pan pizza style Serata has quickly become known for.
The toppings, meanwhile, are “pretty playful,” according to Morgan. “It’s a fun opportunity to do more expected stuff but then to do some more fun stuff, off the cuff, that I think people aren’t expecting as much when they go to a pizza shop.”
One of his favorite creations is the Reading Terminal, inspired by Philadelphia’s DiNic’s, which he says is “one of two places I go for roast pork sandwiches in Philly.” House-made porchetta is paired with roasted broccoli rabe laced with Calabrian chiles and garlic. Topped with a double dose of cheese in the form of gooey, house-made mozzarella and sharp provolone, the pizza also takes advantage of pickled cherry peppers to counterbalance all that richness.
“They use long hots in Philly, but I like the pop and the acidity from the pickled cherry peppers,” says Morgan. “And then we finish it with vodka sauce, which isn’t traditional, but I think it eats really, really well.”
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He does, of course, also have some recipes that veer more into classic territory. While Morgan purports to be “a cheese guy, through and through,” one of his second-favorite classic topping combos — sausage and mushrooms — is here replicated with the Unicorn, which boasts fresh mozzarella, ricotta, shaved onion, pickled cherry peppers and roasted mushrooms with the option to add Italian sausage to boot. The resulting pizza, Morgan says, is “definitely one of my favorites.”
The team has also taken a tongue-in-cheek approach to another pizza shop staple: wings. Cured overnight before being tossed in baking soda and dried out for a second night, the wings are fried and tossed with caramelized onion, shaved garlic and a choice of house-made sauces. And we’re not talking your run-of-the-mill Buffalo: nduja, Calabrian chile or pecorino-parsley make these wings totally stand out.
“It’s like an ode to the Pizza Huts and old-school pizza delivery spots,” he says, “but kind of more elevated and fun.”
To accompany these unique pizzas, the team at Crooked Run has crafted Alora, an Italian pilsner inspired by “archetypes such as Tipo, Pivo and Luppolo,” according to Crooked Run Fermentation co-owner Jake Endres.
“It’s not a specific style we had brewed before,” explains Endres. “I think Alora turned out great.”
Serata’s pizzas have unsurprisingly taken off in D.C., but we tapped Morgan and Endres to share where they’re grabbing a slice when they’re not digging into their own pies. Here’s what the experts recommend.
Favorite Slice Shop
Morgan: “One of my favorite pizza places is Martha Dear. It’s a sourdough pizza. Demetri and Tara are phenomenal. Demetri is the chef, Tara is his wife and co-owner — she does all things front-of-house. They do a phenomenal job. I love their food. I love their pizza.”
Favorite Regional Pizza Style
Morgan: “For me, I like New York slice pizza, and I like pan pizza. Those are my two favorites. I’d say Neapolitan kind of falls third. I also really love my business partner’s other venture, with Grazie Nonna. Their pizza is amazing. They do beautiful whole pies; they call it ‘New York plus.’ They do a phenomenal job as well. And it’s a cool restaurant to go hang out in.”
Favorite Date Night Pizza
Morgan: “I’d say if I’m going on a date, it’s gonna be 2Amys or Martha Dear. I really love 2Amys. 2Amys has been around forever, and they do an excellent job.”
Endres: “Grazie Nonna, beautiful space and amazing pizza, plus pasta and other items as well, or Little Grand — cute little space and great sourdough pizzas. I’d also throw our space in there.”
Favorite Hangover Slice
Endres: “Whatever’s in the fridge/freezer! I also am not proud to admit it, but I’ve definitely ordered the monstrous steak and cheese pizza from Domino’s from time to time.”
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