FOOD: Pie-Tanza, Flippin’, and the Pizza Situation

Falls Church Times Staff

March 5, 2010

What do you look for in a great slice of pizza?

It’s a simple question that often gets a complicated answer.  Pizza is a unique culinary invention, one that for whatever reason has created fierce loyalists that praise particular styles and cooking methods.

Should the crust be crackling crisp, chewy like bread, or a mixture of the two?  Should the cheese be sprinkled liberally, seeping over the sides and oozing everywhere, or should it be applied with restraint, like in the classic Neapolitan Margherita?  Should the sauce be oregano-heavy or nothing but sweet, tangy tomatoes?  Are toppings pleasant additions or unnecessary add-ons?  Is a little grease desirable or disgusting?

The food blog identifies at least 21 regional styles of pizza, ranging from the well-known New York and Chicago variations to more obscure styles like Old Forge, a Pennsylvania-based, cheddar-heavy pie. Clearly, everybody has their own idea of what constitutes the perfect pizza.

What do I look for in a pie?  Well, I like mine minimally-topped with a bright tomato sauce, a little cheese, and a crispy-chewy, heavily charred crust.  I suppose that puts me in the Neapolitan camp.  But I like floppy New York pies and coal-fired New Haven ones too—and other styles as well.  Pizza can only be judged on a case by case basis in my opinion.

When I set out to write a story about pizza in the City of Falls Church I wanted to do an all-out pizza war, but the logistics were a little daunting, so I settled on a showdown between the city’s two newest pizza peddlers: Pie-Tanza and Flippin’.  I dragged my mom and brother along with me as we sampled both places, back-to-back, on the same night.

The wood-burning oven at Pie-Tanza imparts a nice flavor, but it can't save the too-thin crust (

We began at Pie-Tanza, which replaced the Pizza Hut in Falls Plaza almost two years ago.  The sit down restaurant bills itself as a wood-fired pizza joint, but it has a full menu of pastas, salads, and other Italian-American favorites as well.  It’s also a quasi-chain, with locations in nearby Arlington and in Columbia, South Carolina.

At 6 p.m. Pie-Tanza could’ve easily been mistaken for a day care center if not for the giant wood-burning pizza oven.  Little kids were everywhere—and they weren’t just sitting down.  They were running around like they owned the place, playing with pizza dough and screaming at their parents about the pictures they just drew.  That might bother some people, but it didn’t bother us.  We were a focused group that night.

The plan was to get a plain cheese pizza at both places to do a basic assessment of the crust, cheese, and sauce.  But when we saw how small the pies were at Pie-Tanza (they are painfully tiny and somehow 12 bucks a pop) we decided on a classic cheese pie, which at Pie-Tanza includes both mozzarella and fontina cheeses, in addition to a sauce-less white pizza.

My brother, who went to college near New Haven, Connecticut, and lived off the legendary pies at Pepe’s, declared the pizza horrible, shaking his head with every bite.  My mom and I were a little more positive. Being the food-obsessed family that we are, we discussed the pizza at length.

The crust was the biggest problem.  Pie-Tanza rolls its dough paper thin, and it simply can’t hold up to the cheese.  The edges of the pies were nice and crisp, but most of the middle was soggy.  There was a thicker layer of cheese than crust.  It just didn’t work.

I did, however, love the sauce.  It was bright, fresh, and simple, with a great tomato flavor.  The edge of the plain pizza, with just a little cheese, a good amount of sauce, and a nice crispness, was a great bite.  If I returned I’d be inclined to get the Margherita pie, which usually has a just a few slices of fresh mozzarella, not a blanketing of cheese. I certainly wouldn’t get the white pizza again, which everyone agreed was a little heavy on the herbs and cheese and suffered from the same super-thin crust.

My brother and mom said they wouldn’t come back.  My personal verdict: Pie-Tanza makes a pie from good ingredients but it falls short in terms of structure and balance.  Go at your own risk.

Moving on to Flippin’, we all commented on the polar opposite vibe of the place.  Instead of a glorious wood-burning oven as the centerpiece, the small, mostly empty restaurant had a window of stale slices waiting to be re-heated in a lifeless gas oven.  There were also no kids.

Perhaps the freshly made whole pie at Flippin'–seen here at the Reston location–is a better option than by-the-slice (Washington Post).

A blossoming California chain with a New York theme, Flippin’ has gained many fans because of its by-the-slice offerings.  Abandoning my cheese-pizza-only premise once again, we ordered four different slices, taking advantage of the signature “two slices and a drink for $5” deal.

After a trip to the oven the pre-cooked pizza slices only partially came back to life.  They were crisp and hot, but still a little old tasting.  Next time I’d order a fresh, whole pie.  Nevertheless, the chewy, sturdy crust blew Pie-Tanza’s out of the water in terms of texture.  Flavor-wise it fell flat though.  Both the crust and the slices in general were woefully under-seasoned, causing me to make a mad dash for the parmesan cheese shaker and hot pepper flakes.  Much of the blandness stemmed from the fact that there was literally no sauce on the pizza to speak of—nothing to counteract the oiliness of the cheese or bring any freshness into the equation.

Because of that inherent tastelessness the cheese pie was the worst one.  At least the pepperoni, many-meat-topped Brooklyn and Tomato Basil slices had some flavors going on.  If I was itching for two big honking slices of pizza and I was in the immediate area I’d return for some of the topping-heavy options.  My brother vowed never to return and my mom said she would take it over Pie-Tanza, but only because it was a better bargain.

The bottom line: After one visit to each, I can’t recommend either of the newest kids on the block without some serious reservations.

And the rest of the current pizza landscape doesn’t fill me with confidence.  Aside from four chains—Papa John’s, Domino’s, Zpizza, and Jerry’s—there’s only Anthony’s and Argia’s in the City of Falls Church.  Perhaps a showdown between the two locally owned spots is in order.  One of them could hold the key to pizza greatness in the city.

Expect Pizzeria Orso's pies to look a little something like the Margherita at D.C.'s 2 Amys (Washington City Paper).

But my money is on a restaurant that hasn’t even opened yet: Pizzeria Orso.  Perhaps you’ve heard the rumblings online about this pizza project, which has been in the works for several years but is constantly getting delayed.

Pizzeria Orso is a joint venture between the owners of 2941, the ritzy Falls Church restaurant with a fantastic bread-baking reputation, and Edan MacQuaid, the former pizzaiolo (that’s pizza-maker in layman’s terms) at 2 Amys and RedRocks in Washington D.C—two of the leaders in the artisan pizza revolution that has swept the district in the past decade.  By the grace of the pizza Gods, the restaurant is slated to open on the ground floor of Pearson Square’s Tax Analysts building on Maple Avenue.

I walked by the construction site the other day and several burly men were there telling me I couldn’t take any pictures.  One man said he had “no idea” when the restaurant would open, but I saw a huge Naples-imported pizza oven, so that’s a start.  There are rumors that the doors will open as early as May of this year, but given how long it’s taken to get to this point, I’d expect to wait a little longer.

I was able to get a hold of Amber Pfau, a publicist for 2941, and she indicated that a formal press release with all the details is still in the works.  Much seems to still be up in the air, but she assured me that MacQuaid will be the man flinging the pies, and given his track record that’s all that really matters.

If Orso is as good as it sounds on paper, the Little City will be the Lucky City.

Pie-Tanza is located at 1216 W. Broad St., Falls Church, VA, 22046.  703-237-0977.

Flippin’ Pizza is located at 800 W. Broad St. Suite 103, Falls Church, VA, 22046.  703-752-8672.

Pizzeria Orso will be located at 410 S. Maple Ave, Falls Church, VA, 22046.

March 5, 2010 


17 Responses to “FOOD: Pie-Tanza, Flippin’, and the Pizza Situation”

  1. tbva on March 5th, 2010 3:29 pm

    I agree with you about Flippin Pizza. Hubby and I ordered slices, they were reheated and…pretty bad. I can put leftover pizza in my own oven at home. We have not returned and probably won’t in the future. I would love to see a pizza show down….maybe a feature event at the Farmer’s Market sometime?

  2. Michelle M. (Falls Church City) on March 5th, 2010 6:34 pm

    I have to disagree about Flippin’ Pizza. We just ordered out last night and it was a fresh-made pie. The crust was perfectly crispy and tasty. We got a tomato basil pizza which is a white pizza and it was spot on for me. Just enough garlic and basil… I’m usually a fan of the Italian Store in Arlington, but it’s a bit of a hike on a weekday. I’ve enjoyed the red sauce pizzas too. I think the key may be getting a fresh whole pizza versus the reheated slices. I haven’t been disappointed yet and would go to Flippin’ before some of the other chains.

    Look forward to what Pizzeria Orso will have to bring though!

  3. tbva on March 6th, 2010 8:53 am

    I think the difference is betweeen ordering a whole pie vs. a slice. The thing I love about pizza is there are so many different styles, flavors, crusts and all that everyone can have a favorite. While outside Falls Church, Pulcinella in McLean has our favorite.

  4. Hendrik Jasper, Falls Church on March 6th, 2010 10:22 am

    We stopped going to Flippin’ Pizza after they “forgot” our order two times in a row, essentially doubling the wait time for our order. In the second case, the pizza was burnt. We really want to patronize Falls Church businesses, but they make it hard to do so.

  5. Gerald Pressman (Falls Church CITY) on March 6th, 2010 12:37 pm

    Jimmy, I’m not much of an expert on pizza (or anything else for that matter), but thanks for using CITY of Falls Church in the written part of your article. I’m sure you would get no serious disagreement if you also wanted to use Falls Church CITY. In order to be consistent, can I suggest that you also use CITY (one way or the other) when giving the addresses of the eating establishments at the end of your article(s)? Thanks.

  6. Hendrik Jasper, Falls Church (yes, City, for those who care) on March 6th, 2010 6:03 pm

    Per Gerald’s admonition, I’ve clarified, again, that I’m a resident of the independent City of Falls Church. I hope it’s okay that I haven’t used full caps.

  7. JA on March 7th, 2010 3:40 pm

    My family and I love Pietanza. We order take out from there very frequently. Our kids love eating in also. It is a great atmosphere! The pastas are great and the pizzas are pretty good also. The prices are a little steep though.

    As for Flippin, I loved it when if first opened here, but since then, feel like the quality has gone down. They are too skimpy with the sauce and the toppings are sparse. I don’t go anymore. It is too bad because it is great to have a place where you can buy pizza by the slice that is convenient and local.

  8. Gerald Pressman (Falls Church CITY) on March 7th, 2010 6:35 pm

    Hendrik, My note about using Falls Church CITY was directed to the writer of the article. Somehow, you assumed I was talking to you? You’ve now taken the additional step of adding (yes, City, for those who care) to your Falls Church Times address. Congratulations, you’ve been added to the list, going back to 1948, of folks who clearly do not understand the marketing potential of Falls Church CITY as a unique place to shop, dine, do business and start a business. It’s the reason for using CITY when writing about or advertising businesses and activities in Fall Church CITY. I’m sorry this simple marketing concept escapes you and that you seem offended by the use of CITY.

    Falls Church is an area of Fairfax County that’s 7 times the size and 10 times the population of the Falls Church CITY. It runs from Tysons Corner to Bailey’s Crossroads and from Lake Barcroft to Seven Corners, and encompasses the ZIP codes of 22041, 22042, 22043, 22044, 22046, 22047. For the most part Falls Church CITY has it’s own ZIP code of 22046. At the absolute minimum, its important to use Falls Church CITY in your business address, if for no other reason than it reduces the search for your business from 14 square miles to 2.2 square miles.

    So Hendrik, continue to use Falls Church if you think it’s not important.

  9. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on March 8th, 2010 12:26 am

    I am a Flippin’ fan. I like Pietanza too. I love having a slice warmed right at Flippin’. I like that I can choose from several varieties. They are best eaten right out of the oven, and don’t warm as well at home. My favorite memory was at the Haiti relief fundraiser watching three teens sit down with three boxes, open their individual boxes containing 18″ pies, and start eating right out of the box. That’s good pizza, right there!

    Flippin’ is also going to have a shop at the Nationals stadium this summer. I understand the Falls Church store is their top performer nationwide.

  10. Ron Peppe (Falls Church City) on March 8th, 2010 7:42 am

    I am with Gordon on this one- I eat way more pizza than I should, and was thrilled when both Pietanza and Flippin opened. My previous gold standard was Il Forno in Frederick and Rockville, Before Flippin and Pietanza, nothing withing a reasonable pick up radius of home came close.

    For me it is all about the crust. A little charred, not so soft and doughy, works with most anything on top. I admit I could live on bread- about 15 years ago when you could not find decent Italian bread anywhere close to Frederick where I lived, I used to order bread online and have it shipped frozen. Now, if we could only get a decent bialy in Falls Church!

  11. Steve (Greater Falls Church) on March 8th, 2010 10:58 am

    For the record, that oven at Pizzeria Orso sat in the empty space for almost a year. It was a sad, forlorn looking oven, with nothing to keep it company but the dust motes. I will believe it is open when I see it with my own eyes.

  12. Meg Wiant, Falls Church on March 8th, 2010 11:46 am

    As somebody who has to eat gluten free, I’d like to put in a good word for ZPizza. It is the only place locally (in the City of Falls Church – that I know of at least) that I can get a gluten free crust, and darn it if it doesn’t taste good. It may be that I’ve forgotten what “real” pizza tastes like, but it was a happy day at my house when we discovered that we had options again. I sing ZPizza’s praises to everybody I know who is on a gluten-restricted diet.

  13. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on March 8th, 2010 12:43 pm

    Pizzeria Orso’s oven was delivered on May 7th of last year (I saw them moving it in – I work upstairs). I can’t say for sure that that they will open soon (I’ve heard May) but I can say that tons of construction has been going on over the past several weeks. Drilling, hammering, you know, stuff that makes a lot of noise when you’re trying to talk on the phone.

  14. Gary (The Lillte City of Falls Church City) on March 8th, 2010 2:14 pm

    Thanks for that heads up on gluten free pizza at ZPizza. I will check it out.

  15. Hillel Weinberg, Falls Church on March 8th, 2010 9:59 pm

    I grew up in the Bronx (back when pizza was 15 cents per slice) and like both Flippin and Pie-tanza — but am also looking forward to welcoming Pizzeria Orso, which now has a Facebook page featuring a link to, um, this very article. (Disclosure: Investors in Pizzeria Orso are friends.)

  16. Tony Adams – Falls Church – FAIRFAX COUNTY on March 11th, 2010 3:09 pm

    To Gerald Pressman of the CITY – In the words of the great film Stripes: “Settle down Francis”

  17. Rachael Harris, Falls Church on April 23rd, 2010 10:58 am

    The address you have for the new Pizzeria Orso is incorrect. It’s 400 S. Maple Ave. Not 410 S. Maple.

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