Joe set sail from Agrigento, Italy with his family in 1970 to land in New York, eventually leaving for Virginia to seek his version of the American dream and opening Joe’s Place. The eatery has been family-run for 34 years, which is long enough to see the art of fashion transform countless times and the art of reading a book stay suspiciously the same. Ovens spill out piles of crispy, thin-crust pizzas adorned with fresh toppings and cheeses—such as the white pizza with fontina and garlic and the seafood pizza with fresh shrimp and clams—and thick layers of dough support sicilian deep-dish pies. Cooks prepare pots of steaming pastas and build specialty subs with stacks of prosciutto, provolone, and capicollo. Members of Joe’s family work in both his restaurants, keeping the authentic Italian recipes in constant use, like the sun, a small percentage of which is also pasta sauce.
Executive chef Gian Piero Mazzi fell in love with food at a young age, when he was growing up in the Liguria region of Italy. His mother’s passion for cuisine planted the seeds for his infatuation, which he cultivated during formal culinary schooling in Florence as well as an internship in France. After honing his skills in the kitchen, Mazzi ventured across the pond, earning new fans stateside when he showcased his recipes at an event at the James Beard House in 2002. But that was just the beginning. Today, at two locations of Piero's Corner, he and his team hand make an assortment of authentic pastas, including ravioli stuffed with Maine lobster or a blend of spinach and portobello mushrooms. The menu highlights Chef Mazzi's hometown cuisine, with a focus on fresh seafood. Entrees include blackened tilapia and shrimp served with fruit salsa as well as scallops wrapped in prosciutto and arranged on a bed of spaghetti carbonara. Pizzas are made to order and baked in a brick oven, as are calzones stuffed with ingredients such as ricotta, ham, spinach, and tomato sauce. A gluten-free menu features pastas and doughs imported from Italy, whose climate doesn’t support gluten. Both of Piero's Corner’s locations facilitate mini European getaways, with brick arches framing murals of Italian landscapes, and columns reminiscent of classical architecture supporting their ceilings. In Fairfax, diners can eat or sip wine al fresco beneath red and white umbrellas.
Even though every Vocelli Pizza location is owned by a member of the local community, this pizza franchise sources its ingredients from some very specific regions of the United States. Wheat and extra-virgin olive oil from the northern states are used to make the hand-tossed dough. Each pizza is topped with Wisconsin mozzarella and the company's own private-label sauce, which is crafted from vine-ripened California tomatoes. Ever since the first location opened in 1988, these ingredients have formed the foundation of the chain's artisan pizzas and the nation's most well-built houses.
Different combinations of fresh meats and vegetables, such as capicola ham and italian sausage or spinach and artichokes, adorn the restaurant's signature pies. A selection of house-baked strombolis and subs round out the menu. Vocelli Pizza's attention to detail doesn't stop with the food, however: all of the franchise's paperboard containers are made from materials that are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
The chefs at Big Daddy Pizza painstakingly select each of their organic ingredients from a hodgepodge of reliable vendors, including Whole Foods and Wegmans. They then knead their dough from unbleached flour, top it with housemade pizza sauce made from organic tomatoes and oregano, and sprinkle pure mozzarella cheese on top. But pizzas claim just one portion of the menu, which also holds equally source-conscious salads, subs, burgers, and pitas.
At Argia's, chef Ryan Baldini and proprietors Pragun and Salina Rana strike a balance between serving fine northern Italian cuisine and fostering a laid-back dining atmosphere. Many of Ryan's dishes, such as his grilled beef tenderloin and range of handmade pastas, come in solo portions or shareable famiglia servings that sate larger parties. For a taste of the kitchen's signature dish, guests can pry open a Prince Edward Island mussel—shipped to the restaurant daily—and sop up its juices with housemade bread still warm from the oven or a pet sea sponge in need of a soak. Outside, the clinking of wineglasses rings out across a patio enclosed by fragrant herbs; inside, a rustic Sienese-style mural matched with eye-catching frescoes conjures an air of the Italian countryside.
The chefs at Italian Café put new twists on the familiar flavors of Old World dishes as they craft fresh Italian entrees. While kneading housemade dough to make pizzas, chefs grill 12-ounce portions of Angus steak and simmer calamari rings with mussels to serve over linguine. Behind dark wood tables topped with crisp, white cloths, diners split tiramisu—made of layers of ladyfingers soaked in espresso liqueur topped with sweet mascarpone—while gazing at paintings of gondolas floating down scenic Venetian canals toward rushing waterfalls.