A new restaurant makes pepperoni chic... as well as pasta, vegetarian and more

The "Pepperoni William Joseph Roll" is a dynamite sandwich.

A new pop-up has appeared on Georgia Avenue, one that calls back to the famous pepperoni rolls popular in West Virginia, and throws in a large menu along with it. Pepperoni Chic, located at 5111 Georgia Avenue NW in the old Straw Stick and Brick Deli location, specializes in showing all the glorious ways pepperoni can make rolls (sandwiches) sing with flavor. 

Owner Karen Shannon, no stranger to running restaurants in DC, has long wanted to open a restaurant focused on showcasing pepperoni. She teamed up with Chef Phillip Smith to create a large and varied menu that offers options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with vegetarian and meat lovers options. From my own experience, I can tell you it's all insanely good.

Karen and Chef Smith talk with a customer at the restaurant.

Karen used to own the popular Petitto's Ristorante D'Italia in Woodley Park, as well as Dolce Finale, a dessert shop that might have been even more popular with locals than Petitto's was. She's taken some of the dessert recipes to Pepperoni Chic, including the tiramisu that was one of the highlights of the dessert cafe. 

Along with Chef Smith, Karen has pulled together a menu that includes meat and meatless options along with the different pepperoni styles, and features eggplant, "tropea" sweet red onions, wild Calabrian-style mushrooms, lentils, olives, capers, slow-braised pork, 'nduja (a salami spread with hot chili) and more. All the sauces are made in-house. In fact, when you come into the restaurant, you can see the different spices and vegetables Chef Smith uses to make the sauces laid out in the display case, where you can purchase them individually or in pre-made sauce containers to take home. Some are pretty spicy, all are really good.

You can take home the flavors of the pepperoni rolls and dishes as a meal, or pick some selections piece-meal.

All of the different pepperoni rolls are named after someone in Karen's family past -- using the "Jo" in their names. So there's the Pepperoni JO-an, the William JOseph, the Pepperoni Sandi JO and so on.

"The restaurant honors my Italian American heritage and my family," Karen said. "I want to be sensitive to being as authentic as possible with our Calabrian dishes."

Karen's family emigrated from San Giovanni, Italy, to Fairmont, West Virginia over a hundred years ago to mine coal. It's there in Fairmont that local chef Giuseppe Argiro of Country Club Bakery created the pepperoni roll in the 1920s as an easy meal for miners to take down into the mine. It quickly became a favorite meal and famous all over West Virginia.

With chili sauce, peppers, provolone, a crunchy crust and soft interior, the William Joseph fills your mouth with flavor.

While pepperoni is an American invention, not Italian -- it's originally from Chicago -- Karen says she honors her Italian American heritage with the sandwiches, with the bold flavors and other dishes the restaurant serves honoring her family's ancestral home in Italy.

"Back when the pepperoni roll was created in Fairmont, the pepperoni was cooked directly into the bread or thick sliced, and then wrapped so the miners could stuff the sandwich into their pocket," Karen said. "It's been in the back of my mind for years to open a restaurant like this and introduce the West Virginian pepperoni roll concept to the DC area. We wanted to honor that and our heritage."

The sauces are amazing, made with fresh tomatoes, chilis and sweet peppers, and they're even packaged up so you can take them home.

If meat is not your thing, they offer no-meat rolls that use eggplant and other vegetables along with their phenomenal chili sauces, Calabrian-style mushrooms, sweet red onions and various cheeses (skip the cheese to go full vegan).

Beyond the pepperoni rolls, Chef Smith has created a full menu of meals including salads and pastas. The Insalata dei Tempi Antichi features Calabrian farro, green lentils, wild mushrooms, Swiss chard, vinaigrette and almonds for $7.

Fileija alle Cipolle Rosse is slow cooked onions and pasta that will make your tastebuds happy.

The Fileija alle Cipolle Rosse offers a classic take on pasta with Calabrian "tropea-style" slow-cooked red onions, with parmesean, for $14. It's insanely good -- like eating a hearty French onion soup, so it may not be for everyone. In fact, I'd recommend getting it as a side dish for a table and splitting it. It tastes too good to pass up, but you might be tasting those delicious onions for a little while after. 

Fusilli Rustici -- a big plate makes it look small, and it's more than delicious.

The Fusilli Rustici is just stomach-pleasing delicious. Even though I was lucky enough to taste a few different dishes, I kept coming back to this dish and didn't want to put my fork down. Featuring slowly braised pork in a tomato sauce with fusilli pasta and parmesan cheese, you'll dig in and want to visit the chef later to give him a high five. It's a large dish (bigger than the photo above makes it seem), you won't be hungry if/when you finish the dish. At $15, it's a smart choice.

Rigatoni alla Calabrisella (photo courtesy of Pepperoni Chic)

Karen is particularly proud of the Rigatoni alla Calabrisella ($14), which offers eggplant, tomatoes, black olives, onions, peppers capers and provolone, made with rigatoni.

People have come from all over the DC area (even from as far away as Baltimore) to buy the sandwiches. "We've seen a real response from West Virginian folks who are nostalgic for the memory of the rolls," she said. "They come here with a childhood memory and leave with a happy feeling."

If you want to enjoy Pepperoni Chic, don't wait or you may miss it. Karen said she loves the Petworth neighborhood, but they only have a one-year lease at the location since the owner (a friend of hers) has other plans for the building next year -- hence it being only a pop-up. If the concept is successful, Karen will look for a larger space. "I want to do the whole concept of an Italian restaurant," she said. "Big bar with extraordinary wines, more pastas from Southern Italy, Calabrian cheeses and different appetizers." 

Owner Karen Shannon: "This was a concept in the back of my mind for years..." 

"When we were trying to come up with a name for the restaurant," Karen said, laughing, "my niece asked me, 'Are you going to have a down home place or a chic place?' And that was it, that was the name: Pepperoni Chic."

Right now, carry out and catering is what they're focused on, though they do offer the option to dine-in (there's really only one large and rustic family-style table and some high stools along the wall). They also do a brisk catering business preparing either "every day meals" or for special occasions, including stuffed peppers, different roasted meats, and desserts, so reach out if you want to impress the guests. 

Petworth News readers can get 10% off
two pepperoni rolls, two pastas, or one of each.  

Pepperoni Chic
5111 Georgia Avenue NW

Eat in, carry out and catering

Tuesday - Thursday: 11:30am - 9pm
Friday - Saturday: 11:30am - 10pm
Sunday: 10am - 2:30pm
Closed Mondays