‘Vace Italian Deli’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’
Vace in Cleveland Park isn’t just an Italian market, it’s a way of life. The best way to explain this is with this little story. A friend of mine loved the pizza from Vace so much that every time he ordered it, he never made it home without eating a good portion of his order mid-commute. Not so interesting? Well, let me set the actual scene. He would order a large pizza while on the train at Metro Center, head up to Cleveland Park and spend the walk down Connecticut Avenue to his place in Woodley Park chowing down on half his pizza. I certainly hope some tourists leaving the zoo snapped a picture of this crazy dude, box top askew with pizza down his face. Now THAT is love.
My first experience with Vace was in its capacity as a market instead of a pizza joint. My family ascribes to the grazing theory of holiday eating, so one Christmas a few years ago, my mom and I ventured to Vace for antipasto plate favorites on a recommendation from a family friend. We figured it would be a bit of a bump up from the deli counter at Balducci’s, but were delighted to find that it was so much more than that. We went home with plenty of marinated mushrooms, anchovies (yum!), and tons of Italian meats and cheeses sliced to order. We made quite the impressive dish, if I do say so myself. Santa was pleased.
Though it’s easy to be distracted by the counter filled to the brim with Italian delicacies, Vace really gets its street cred from the frozen food cases. Packaged in one pound bags, the stuffed pastas are to die for. Forget the crazy Bertolli ravioli with sun-dried tomato and goat cheese and other fancy pants ingredients. Vace is old school — you’ll get cheese, veal, beef and not much else, but you won’t need it. I’m a fan of the agnolotti, but the ravioli are fantastic too. Cooked just a bit and served with a touch of olive oil and Parmesan cheese, it’s about as close to Italy as you’ll get without the flight. The stuffed shells and lasagna are also not to be missed, I have one in my freezer at all times for unexpected company. Martha Stewart would be so proud.
As we move down the small, yet packed to the gills market, you’ll reach the refrigerator case. Here you’ll find your cheeses (don’t miss the mozzarella di buffalo) and your fresh pastas. I am also a sucker for their house-made sausages. They are flavorful and hearty, and they ain’t kidding when they say spicy. There is also plenty of cold beer and wine available to complete your feast.
Now are you ready to hear about the pizza? Well, the above picture is a taste of what the line looks like at any given moment. And if it’s a Friday night, well double it. The crust is crispy though not terribly thin, and though the pizzas are sauce heavy and cheese light, I tend to still order extra sauce since it is so heavenly. If you order your pizza ahead of time, and you must if you want a whole one, you’ll be able to go a little crazy with the toppings. They offer everything from the mundane (olives, spinach, pepperoni) to the more exciting (sopressata, pepperuncini, capicola). If you’re just walking up to get a slice you’ll be more limited, but there is usually a mushroom, a pepperoni, a cheese and a couple other options. Request the slice to be heated up and you’ll thank me, since though their pizza is divine, nothing can be too spectacular at room temp.
Let it be said that there is absolutely no seating at Vace, so if you’re going to have a slice you need to be creative with where you sit. Here, in no particular order are some of my favorite places to dine: 1) walking to the Metro; 2) the front seat of my car; 3) the bench in front of the library; 4) the stoop out front with the valets. It ain’t pretty, but it’s love.
Vace has two locations, the first at 3315 Connecticut Ave. NW and the second at 4705 Miller Ave. in Bethesda. The closest Metro stations are Cleveland Park (Red Line) and Bethesda (Red Line), respectively. For more information on the D.C. location, call 202-363-1999 and for more information on the Bethesda location, call 301-654-6367.