Thick Crust or Thin? Nighthawk Pizza Has Both
You'll also find local brews, a Michelin-starred chef, '90s decor and killer happy hour deals at this Westpost hangout.
Chef Johnny Spero is known for high-style cooking—his D.C. restaurant Reverie earned a Michelin star—but pizza is his favorite food.
Which is partly what led him to team up with Alexandria-based Aslin Beer Co. and Arlington entrepreneur Scott Parker (Bronson Bierhall, Barley Mac, Don Tito, Poppyseed Rye) to launch Nighthawk Brewery & Pizza, a 10,000-square-foot beer hall that opened in Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row) in March.
“I grew up working at crappy Italian restaurants in Baltimore County as a busboy, a runner and making New York-style pizza,” Spero says. “That’s when I fell in love with the restaurant business. I’d eat pizza every day if my family let me.”
Nighthawk, which seats a whopping 343 inside and 82 on the patio, was designed by D.C.-based 3877 Design as an homage to The Max, the student hangout in the ’90s sitcom Saved by the Bell. It’s a vast space filled with red and blue neon lighting, slick picnic tables, TVs set to sports channels and a sprinkling of video arcade games. The brewery part of the operation is on display behind glass windows.
Nighthawk offers two kinds of pizza: 14-inch Midwest tavern pizzas ($16 to $22) and 8-by-10-inch deep-dish pies ($17 to $22).
To achieve the tavern pizza’s thin-and-crispy crust, the dough is rolled out and left uncovered in the refrigerator overnight (“This creates a dry surface when it hits the stone,” Spero explains) and then baked at high temperatures in an electric deck oven. Fan favorites include a littleneck clam pizza made with mozzarella, provolone, fontina, pecorino and white sauce; and a pepperoni pie with pickled peppers and hot honey.
Chef de cuisine Ryan Garisek devised the thick-crust pizza’s focaccia-like dough, which owes its crispy edges to a liberal coating of olive oil and takes more than 30 minutes to bake. Carnivores will appreciate the pie topped with bacon, ground pepperoni and Italian sausage, caramelized onions and three cheeses.
Spero estimates that thin-crusts account for about 70% of pizza sales, but you can count me in the minority: I love the thick-crust pepperoni pie.
The brewpub’s menu also features a variety of appetizers (tater tot nachos, meatballs, hickory-smoked wings); sandwiches (try the Dundee burger with two smash beef or Impossible patties, fried onions, American cheese and pickles); snacks; and salads.
Spero couldn’t resist adding some chef-y items, like burrata with porcini oil, but he concedes that most customers come for the pizza, burgers and wings.
The beverage program includes a full bar, draft cocktails and about 20 Aslin beers (10 on tap) with low ABVs. Brews are $4 to $5 for half pours and $6 to $7 for full pours. Crowlers-to-go ($8 or $10) are available, too.
Nighthawk provides table service, although customers order and pay with QR codes. Happy hour (Monday through Friday, 3 to 6 p.m.) is a good deal. It brings $5 draft beers, house wines and rail drinks; $8 tavern cheese pizzas; $10 tavern sausage-and-pepperoni pizzas; and half-price starters.