Born in 2016 to the owners of D.C. favorite The Red Hen, All Purpose is a bona fide Cult Favorite. Between its original Shaw location and its booming Capitol Riverfront sequel, the pizzeria churns out up to 1,000 of its signature pies every day. And locals and travelers alike go crazy for them, in all their crispy, crunchy, slightly sweet, just-doughy-enough glory, all thanks to James Beard-nominated chef Mike Friedman.
Mike Freidman grew up in New Jersey eating classic New York-style pizza. But here’s a surprise: Friedman isn’t Italian. The would-be chef grew up in a Jewish household in an Italian community, which meant Italian-American cuisine and its red-sauce goodness was his comfort food. Friedman’s family lived five minutes from the center of Westfield, where two pizzerias, Ferraro’s and Cosimos “were very instrumental in my getting fat as a kid,” says the chef. “I still remember to this day, the crust above anything. It was sort of caramelized and sweet and crunchy but had that doughiness that you’re looking for. We would barely be able to get home with the pizza intact, because it would sit in my lap in the back seat and I could[n’t] contain my excitement about digging into a slice.” So it was nostalgia that fueled Friedman’s passion to open All Purpose.
The space came first and the concept followed shortly thereafter, one night after service at The Red Hen. While sitting at the bar with his business partner, Michael O’Malley, Friedman threw out the idea of a pizzeria. As Friedman puts it: “I wanted to figure out a way to create a restaurant that was a love letter to my youth growing up in New York and New Jersey, and what better way to convey that than deck oven-style pizza?”
The first order of business was to figure out the dough. As Friedman recalls, “I started doing a lot of research into bread,” which meant deep dives on slow and quick fermentation, yeast development, ‘mothers’ (the loving name for natural yeast starters) —“all the different components needed to make a unique dough.” Ultimately, looking at inspiration from notable pizzaiolos around the country and in Italy, too, with favorites including Lucali in Brooklyn, Philly’s recently reopened Pizzeria Beddia, and the original Bonci in Rome.
Friedman tested his product every day, until landing on the choice dough: a three-day cold fermentation recipe with 30% whole wheat flour base. Once cooked, this winning combination translates to “structure and flavor, but also digestibility.” As Friedman explains, “I didn’t want people to feel heavy and bogged down after eating a pizza at All Purpose.”
In a nostalgic nod to the chef’s roots, All Purpose calls its pizza “Jersey-style,” but there’s no confusing its type as anything other than the stuff of a classic New York pizzeria. Unlike Neapolitan—the “king” to New York-style’s “queen,” in Friedman’s opinion, which utilizes a four-ingredient dough of water, salt, yeast, and flour and cooks in a searing hot, wood-burning oven— a New York-style pie is baked slower, meaning the dough requires higher hydration, and has the added components of sugar and fat.
For his all-American dough, Friedman uses a combination of King Arthur flour from Vermont and Utah-farmed Central Milling whole wheat, plus malt powder for flavor and California olive oil for crispy outsides and crunchy insides (so the pizza holds when folded). When a just-cut, twelve-inch wonder lands on your table, you can enjoy every last slice handheld.
“New-school flavors meet Old World practicality” is what All Purpose is going for. For sauce, Friedman stocks an abundance of Bianco di Napoli tomatoes and buys Sicilian oregano still on the vine. “We have to shake it off, and it permeates the air with this old-school, Sicilian smell that’s intoxicating.” A bit of oregano and some Maldon sea salt is all the tomatoes take before being spread onto the dough; no cooking necessary. Cheese is where things start to get interesting. Frank Angeleno of East Haven’s Calabro Creamery makes all kinds of varieties, few of which Friedman hasn’t made pizza with: mozzarella, smoked provolone, pecorino tartufo, sheep’s milk ricotta, piave vecchio, gorgonzola piccante… the list goes on. Pepperoni comes from Salumeria Biellese, prosciutto is always San Daniele (the scraps from which are whipped with imported Calabrian chiles to make ‘nduja in house), and La Quercia’s Speck Americano is a third prized topping.
Threads of Friedman’s youth can be found throughout the restaurant. The Truffle Shuffle, sprinkled with black truffles, references The Goonies. The Duke’s #7 is an homage to Westfield’s Duke’s Deli, where Friedman once worked. It’s topped with ‘nduja, mozzarella, scamorza, sweet red peppers, and giardiniera, which creates a similar flavor profile to the #7 sandwich at Duke’s—Friedman’s favorite. “We make pizzas named after something that means something to us,” the chef says.
New concepts come into play often, as All Purpose is a seasonal restaurant. “We’re always playing, trying new products, tasting,” Friedman says. It’s why participating in Off Menu Week was a natural fit. For the week dedicated to experimental new dishes, the team has been developing a mozzarella-zucchini pie with mint and ‘nduja “to add a porky, spicy kick”; an antipasti of carrots, asparagus, and goat feta to signal the beginning of spring; and more with hyper-seasonal produce, pending the guidance of a few purveyors and farmers. The final dishes, however, “should be of-the-moment,” Friedman posits. His goal is for his chefs to receive fresh product, develop a dish over 24 to 48 hours, and then present it to guests during Off Menu Week.
When asked how Friedman would enjoy pizza at All Purpose, we’re let in on the restaurant’s best-kept secret: dippies. Hidden underneath the add-ons, are sauces ranging from creamy Parmesan fonduta to marinara— meant for guests who shy away from eating bare-bones crust, but crafted for everyone to “enjoy [their] crusts on another level.” Friedman recommends an off-menu pizza of sausage, peppers, and onions. “And if you really want to gild the lily,” he adds, “ask for a bit of Neonata, an ancient Sicilian hot sauce [that] we make with a puree of anchovies, ginger, garlic, Fresno chilies, red wine vinegar, and olive oil.” His favorite pizza on menu? That would be Enzo the Baker, named after a Godfather character, of course.