Could Matchbox become the next Cheesecake Factory?

There’s no sign outside Matchbox restaurant’s test kitchen. It’s tucked away in a stretch of personality-free warehouses in Silver Spring. The compact room features everything you’d find in the full-scale kitchens of the popular D.C.-based chain best known for its pizzas and mini burgers. There’s a brick pizza oven, glass door refrigerator, deep-fryer, flattop stove, grill, range, a pair of counters and a sink. A window on the far end looks into the Matchbox man cave — well, conference room — outfitted with a small artificial-turf putting green and an impressive flat-screen TV mounted on a wall of reclaimed barn wood.

Stephen Lyons, vice president of culinary operations for Matchbox Food Group, is moving around the tight kitchen space with a quick, studied efficiency. He’s preparing a selection of new dishes for a tasting, but he has more than Washington on his mind. Matchbox Food Group is about to launch a national expansion.

Finish reading the story on The Washington Post website now.


Washington Post’s Good To Go: Bronx Pizza & Subs

When I lived in Manhattan, the late-night pizza run was a near-sacred pilgrimage. Arlington residents looking to experience this New York tradition can now make a midnight pit stop at Bronx Pizza and Subs, which fired up its ovens in late August.

The self-proclaimed “Best Piece You Ever Had” is the brainchild of Michael Cordero, a Bronx native. When he was 13, he began working at a pizzeria called Italian Delight, which was just a home run away from Yankee Stadium.

Both places inspired him.

“I sleep, eat and breathe pizza and baseball,” says the 53-year-old Arlingtonian restaurateur, who owns several area eateries, including Primetime Sports Bar & Grille in Fairfax and AguaViva in Alexandria. Long before he committed to the restaurant business, Cordero played centerfield in 1978-79 for an international-league team associated with the Seattle Mariners.

Cordero created the recipes for the pizzeria, with input from his partner in this venture, Jeffrey Smith, 27, of Centreville. The main attraction is the cheese pizza (jumbo slice, $2.75; 16-inch pie, $14.95; 20-inch, $17.95). Crackly at the edges, the crust is soft enough at the center that you can fold it in half for NYC-style consumption.

Finish reading this review on the Washington Post website now.


Best Bites: Kauai, Hawaii

A recent trip to the Aloha State included a non-stop exploration of the local food scene. In this second of three posts, I look back at our favorite gastro memories from “The Garden Isle,” where we enjoyed a porky burger, primo poke, and, of course, shaved ice.

The Feral Pig

Hawaii’s heritage hogs are showcased at this easy-to-miss roadside restaurant inside an unassuming mini mall. Though it’s not on the menu, the namesake burger – made with half Kauaian beef and half local pork ground together – is the top choice here. A close second is the Kauai-Cubano, which bookends Kalua pork, ham, house-made pickles, Swiss cheese, and onion-mustard between a soft, yet hearty, roll. Both go down well with a refreshing glass of the homemade ginger-lemonade. 

Hanalei Dolphin

This Hanalei institution deserves the considerable attention heaped upon it. For a more casual happy hour or a relaxed lunch, sit out on the lanai; grab a seat at the sushi bar if you’re super serious about your sashimi; dine inside the restaurant if you want to be in the shade. The beer battered fish tacos (made with the catch of the day) and the spicy tuna ahi poke (it’s not on the menu, but it’s available) are your two best bets, though you can’t go wrong with the sushi. 

Shave Ice Paradise

Good shave ice is impossible to beat on a hot Hawaiian day and this stand makes a superlative version. Get a “root beer float” by asking for a scoop of vanilla at the bottom, root beer syrup, and a snowcap of condensed milk on top. My favorite featured a hidden globe of coconut ice cream at the core with lilikoi and mango syrups drenching the finely razored ice (seen above).

Salt Pond Country Store

You could drive by this shop a thousand times without looking at it twice, but you’d be making a mistake. This mini-mart stocks a wide variety of simple, freshly made Asian foods packaged to go. The rice-packed yuba and the fried chicken were both standouts and only cost $5 total, making it the meal deal of the trip.

Hanalei Pizza

The stereo at this slapdash pizzeria bangs out the requisite reggae tunes non-stop, while the half-stoned hippie hipsters behind the counter turn out surprisingly quality pies. The crust here is made with coconut water and comes topped with everything from locally sourced Kalua pork and Maui onions to more unexpected items, such as sauerkraut and beets. Friendly warning: your pizza will probably take at least 30 minutes to make, so bring along your vacation reading or take the time to walk around the nearby shops.


Best Bites: Oahu, Hawaii

A recent trip to the Aloha State included a non-stop exploration of the local food scene. In this first of three posts, I look back at our favorite gastro memories from “Hawaii’s Gathering Place,” which pleasantly surprised us at almost every turn.

Opal Thai Food

This food truck turned bustling strip mall gem may have been the best food we had our entire trip. As we were sucking down sweet ‘n’ strong Thai iced coffees, owner Opel Sirichandhra asked us what our preferences were, then proceeded to bring out a slew of winning Northern Thai dishes (consider it the North Shore’s budget-friendly version of Little Serow), including a particularly memorable pork larb that was equally sweet, spicy, and vinegary.


It’s no surprise that when Nobu lists “Shaved Ice” on its dessert menu, it’s not going to be a straightforward take on the classic Hawaiian dessert. Instead, this picturesquely presented version is made with finely razored strawberry ice drizzled with mango syrup and condensed milk, then paired with blueberries and raspberries, and a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream.

Dat Cajun Guy

The idea of traveling ten hours to the land of mango shave ice, ahi poke, and just-harvested papaya only to dine on deep fried favorites from New Orleans seems a little ridiculous. But this freshly minted food truck with a near impeccable Yelp rating was a welcome discovery. Sweet potato fries with a tingly green onion aioli (seen above) and the crispy, crunchy catfish po boy were both spot on.


Most zas made on the islands are artless and disappointing, a cheap and easy way to fill the bellies of unadventurous mainlanders. Thankfully, this forward thinking Neapolitan pizzeria is upping the game. Hands down the best pizza I’ve ever had on any of the Hawaiian isles. Go for the Di Bologna, which stars an orangey, soft yolked egg at the center surrounded by pepperoncini, mortadella, and guanciale.

Waialua Sugar Mill

Most shave ice stands use commercially manufactured syrups (which I have no guff with, for the most part), but this boutique operation makes all of theirs from scratch. One particularly winning option uses locally grown chocolate and coffee and a dash of coconut syrup. For a lighter option, get the sweetly tangy lilikoi (passion fruit) with a creamy snowcap of condensed milk (seen above).


Washington Post’s Good To Go: H &Pizza

When you walk into H &pizza on the main drag of the Atlas District, there’s a sense of deja vu. There are echoes of the classic pizzeria aesthetic, along with unique signature stylings. The exposed brick is painted white with black accents; a floor-to-ceiling tomato-red ampersand makes a statement on the left wall. There are picnic tables and benches. Historical black-and-white photographs of H Street hang along the right side.

You can watch your pie take shape; you’ll notice that it’s rectangular instead of round. The pizza is big enough to feed one hungry diner, though a trio could get away with ordering two. Co-owners Steve Salis, 28, and Michael Lastoria, 32, spent two years designing and testing; they are first-time restaurateurs who moved from New York to open H &pizza in mid-July.

Begin by choosing one of three crusts: a traditional white-flour crust that’s more Neapolitan than New York, a winning multigrain or a surprisingly top-notch whole-wheat. All three are resilient when loaded up, and survive a takeout box. If you craft a custom job ($6.82 to $8.64), you’ll next decide on one of several sauces. The best I tried was the spicy tomato, which started out smooth and ended with a swift kick. (The aromatic mushroom truffle was a close second.) However, the regular tomato sauce was under­seasoned and crying out for a salt shaker. Your composition is baked via conveyor belt, and the whole process takes about five minutes.

Finish reading this story on the Washington Post website now.


Lunch for Breakfast

When it comes to breakfast trends, pancakes are passé and omelets are out. An increasing number of diners want to eat lunchtime favorites as their first meal of the day.

L’asso in New York City rolled out a brunch pizza when it opened its first location in Little Italy in 2004. The Ouvo Pie comes topped with Mozzarella, crispy pancetta, an egg, and scallions.

“Cracking an egg over a pizza is a classic Neapolitan technique,” says co-owner Greg Barris. “That’s where we got the original idea.”

The concept turned out to be so popular that the restaurant added two further breakfast-centric pizzas to the menu when it opened a second location in the city’s East Village earlier this year.

Now diners can opt for the bagel-inspired Smoked Salmon, which sports lox alongside capers, red onion, cream cheese, Mozzarella, and dill, or the Mégane, which features Brussels sprouts, bacon, Mozzarella, and rosemary.

All three pies are big hits with customers. Barris estimates that 75 percent of brunch diners end up opting for one or more of the breakfast pizzas. “It’s an easy order,” he says. “Most people are coming in with a large group, so they’ll just get one of each with a few breakfast items.”

Finish reading this story on the Restaurant Management magazine website now.

Picture of Burger, Tap & Shake’s Five Buck Chuck.


Eat By Numbers: Matchbox – Rockville

When you dine out, you might think about the ingredients that go into your food, but you probably don’t think about all the numbers that make your meal happen. Restaurants are filled with interesting figures that might not be apparent when you bite into an enticing entrée or take a sip of a signature cocktail, but they’re all around you.   

This week we focus on the Rockville outpost of the popular and poppin’ pizzeria Matchbox.

Matchbox – Rockville

Seats in the restaurant: 416

Pizzas sold every week: 3,000

Topping possibilities: 21

Pounds of flour used every week: 4,000

Cords of wood burned every week: 1.5

Most mini burgers eaten by one person in a single seating: 15

Get the rest of the numbers by clicking over to CityEats’ The Plate blog now.

Photo courtesy of Matchbox.


Reach For the Pie: To Heck With Chicago, Neapolitan Wins the Day

Paccis Pizza

Since the early 18th century, Neapolitan pizzaiolos (pizza chefs) have been making pies the exact same way. They use just four ingredients for the crust — flour, water, sea salt and yeast — which must be handled delicately so that it remains light and chewy after it’s baked in a wood-fired oven. The restaurateurs who continue this tradition today strive to achieve a coveted DOC (Denominazione d’ Origine Controllata) certification, which means that the ingredients, procedures and equipment all meet rigorous standards — of the eateries showcased here, only Pupatella has earned this certification. The classic Neapolitan pizza contains simple toppings — tomato sauce, basil, buffalo mozzarella and olive oil — but imaginative chefs gussy up their creations. “It’s a simple concept: good ingredients on top of bread,” says Pizzeria Orso’s executive chef, Chris Nye. “It’s really approachable, no matter what you grew up eating.”

Pizzeria Orso
Next to this Falls Church spot’s wood-fired oven, there’s a giant mural of a brown bear devouring a pizza while Mount Vesuvius explodes in the background. It’s an arresting installation, but patrons are distracted by the fresh pizzas that executive chef Chris Nye turns out in quick succession. The eye-catching Capricciosa, above, includes the basics — tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella — and artichokes, crimini mushrooms, ham and olives. “You have to honor the tradition of Neapolitan pizza, while simultaneously advancing the style of it,” Nye says. “Have fun with it.”

» 400 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church; 703-226-3460.

Read about my other three picks over on the Express website now.