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Emmy Squared Has Something to Prove With a Detroit-Style Slice in D.C.’s Shaw

February 1, 2020

I breathed in deeply in an attempt to control the volume of what I eventually bellowed out, “Emmy Squared. From NYC. They’re in D.C. now!” With halting words and profound excitement, I said this to a room that didn’t know and didn’t seem to care what I was saying.

They didn’t know of Emmy Squared, the buzzy establishment hailing from Brooklyn’s hipster Williamsburg neighborhood where wood-fired pizza eateries like Roberta’s have sprung up to acclaim in a few years.ย 

Their signature Detroit-style pie has humbly attracted enormous social attention by way of Instagram to the tune of 64.9K followers; in social currency, this counts for a lot. 

So around 10 P.M., you could peer through the window of Shaw’s Emmy Squared to see James and I enjoying a glass of water dashed with lemon in a dimly lit room, our eyes gliding over the menu. 

Emmy Squared is a beautiful restaurant.ย 

The interior reminds me of restaurants attached to 5-star boutique hotels; sparkling glasses sit on the tables; rhythmic, slow-tuned music; and navy tufted booths and the complete absence of prints and patterns. 

There’s some greenery, and wood paneling, wood tables too.

Emmy’s contemporary interior is subjected to mostly muted colors, sparkly Edison bulbs, and the high-brow sensibility marble counters evoke warping the wide-spanning bar (serving an array of beers) and the adjacent seating counter.

The only thing I’m missing here –found in most establishments– is the view of all the action an open kitchen offers.ย 

But that’s hardly a cause for disappointment.

There’s no theatrics with Detroit-style pizza — tossing and such — anyway.

Detroit-style pizza is heartier than your N.Y slice and baked in a seasoned, steel pan; it’s a distant cousin of the pan-baked, square Grandmother slice originating from Long Island, NY.

With a D.C.’s food landscape bound to the Neopolitan slice, Emmy’s is a stand-out amongst copies.ย 

Still, I get the sense they’re looking to attract the respect of longstanding D.C. natives separate from there NYC-acclaim while remaining true to their roots.ย 

There’s proof of this with Emmy’s take on Mumbo sauce in their wing appetizer.

And it’s only right, Mumbo sauce is famous in D.C.; a right of passage almost.

“It’s a tribute. It’s an homage,” says Emily Hyland in an interview with Eater. “We’re trying to say, ‘We’re in your community, this is something you guys do here,’ and we’re just doing our own take to pay tribute, not to try to take it away or make it more ours.

The fondness of it often coupled with the thought of Chinese carry-outs, and from that menu, their fried chicken wings, thin-skinned and ultra-crispy made better with this sweetened, deeply-saturated, and spiced red sauce.

To see a sauce inspired by Mumbo sauce speaks to the regard for cultural ties this place carries to every new location. 

As I tore into the wings– the EC Shaw sauce and bits of peanut adhering to my fingers, ripping them apart, and watching the steam rise from the tear — I felt a sense of familiarity. 

I grew up on this sauce in my teenage years.

My family and I would have every-man-for-himself Friday’s and put in an order for egg foo youngbeef and broccolisesame chicken but would also get an order of fried chicken wings to share and to douse with- and dunk into mumbo sauce. 

ย And just like back then, Emmy Squared’s wings made me want to lick my fingers tucked away in a corner.

Am I saying it’s better than D.C.’s mumbo sauce?  

There’s no way I could — with respect to the culture– say that with conviction. 

 Everyone has a different opinion about what Mumbo sauce should be. 

What matters most is it’s just as addictive. 

Emmy also serves a cilantro-ranch sauce with the wings, but there’s no need.

The wings are the juice and the squeeze. 

The service, too, gives me this impression as we encountered a waiter who leaned on using terms of endearment like “sweetie” and “honey,” after acknowledging our request.

But I can only take so much kindness and have so much conversation before suspecting camouflaging of the simple fact that I still don’t have my appetizer.

And then there’s the pizza.

Emmy serves Red’s and White’s and offers to make any pizza gluten-free.

Of, the most notable, the Margherita, is a traditional pie you can have at any pizza shop in D.C.

Emmy’s spikes it up with burrata, and hopes you’ll make it the Big Al with sausage and Calabrian chilies for a few extra bucks.

Served on a two-tier pizza stand, big enough to hold half baker’s sheet and wire rack the pizza arrives on.

Don’t get it twisted, Emmy’s still brings the heat with their renditions.

I went for one of the Reds, Big Ang, wanting to go a little bit riskier than your regular cheese pizza.

On paper, Big Ang’s toppings of banana peppers, Italian meatballs, double pecorino, and housemade Vodka sauce seemed all the rave. 

And once scooped off the wire rack into my mouth, it packed all the punch I needed, mostly credited to those banana peppers.

The other ingredients are also intensely satisfying; I could sniff out and taste the fennel in the meatballs; the double pecorino gave me string-cheese realness, I could wrap it around my fork like al dente spaghetti.

Of course, all we care about is the crust.

The toppings can be as premium as caviar, and the crust as useless as a fart in a glass, and no one would care about your pizza.

I have to say when I first went to break the pizza up, the sturdiness of the dough concerned me like it might tear away, revealing an undercooked mushiness. 

But once I settled in my grip, and took a bite, I experienced possibly the lightest, airiest slice I’ve ever had.

Think Foccacia, or angel food cake, but with crackly, caramelized edges.

I nearly ate half the pizza, despite being half full.

There are a few other fun things worth your interest: Emmy’s has brought famed meat-purveyor Pat La Frieda with their delectable double-stacked burger (Le Big Matt), and a Chopped Cheese, both served on a pretzel bun.

There are cheesy garlic sticks that might be overkill, but still worth the journey to carb-overload. 

Emmy Squared’s fresh start in D.C. is a sign of the times, as D.C. continues to bend and expand to diversify so diners can have a little bit of everything and be tied to nothing.ย ย 

Asiah G.

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