There’s one thing Chef Dino Santonicola wants the public to know about his pizza: “It’s not like the American pizza,” he said. “It’s a real, quality product.”
With 22 years of pizza-making experience, Naples-born Santonicola is passionate about bringing a slice of his Italian hometown to American dinner tables. He’ll soon bring his expertise to Bethesda’s Pizzeria da Marco, a 5,000 square-foot, authentic Neapolitan pizza restaurant opening Monday at 8008 Woodmont Avenue.
Santonicola left Italy in 2004 to come to the United States, but he didn’t leave behind his profession in cooking. After settling in Seattle, he opened Via Tribunali – a pizzeria similar to da Marco – which now has four locations. When friend and Pizzeria da Marco general manager Alessandro Ferrro asked Santonicola to come to Maryland for a new project, he said he wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to explore the East Coast.
“I said, you know, it would be a nice change. Let me go look at the East Coast and see the difference,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I do what I do: because I know I can find a job anywhere.”
If you do some research, Santonicola said, Neapolitan pizza has grown increasingly popular in the United States, due to the taste of fresh Italian ingredients paired with the unique, wood-fire burned texture. “It’s not like American pizza, which is much drier,” he said.
And the difference shows: Neapolitan pizza, made with a crispy outside and soft inside, is thin, flimsy, and moist. “It’s made in a way that it’s soft and light. When you pick up a slice, the triangle is actually falling down and you have to tilt back to eat it,” Santonicola said. “It’s made that way. It’s really tasty.”
One of the secrets behind Pizzeria da Marco’s authentic pizza is its one-of-a-kind oven. The 5,000-pound device reaches 900 degrees and bakes a pizza in 90 seconds. It was custom made by a Neapolitan designer using coal, ash, and sand: “every detail is custom, from the tiles, shells, and colors,” Santonicola said.
Because of its comfortable atmosphere and affordable menu – with pizzas as low as eight dollars a pie – he hopes da Marco will become a spot at which customers will regularly “hang out.”
Monday marks Pizzeria da Marco’s soft opening. Beginning at 5 p.m., all pizza on its menu will be free. Other discounts will continue throughout the week.