Written by Anita
Photos courtesy of Lena's by Goran Kosanovic
December 28, 2015
The holidays are a time for gathering with family and friends, but sometimes finding a restaurant to accommodate your motley crew can be tough. Luckily, newcomer Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap offers a convenient Virginia location (with free parking in their next door parking lot and only a block from the Braddock Road metro), a family- (and wallet-) friendly menu, and that increasingly rare perk--reservations.
Lena’s is inspired by the matriarch of the Yates family, a family well-known for its long association to this part of Alexandria (dubbed Yates Corner). Born to Italian immigrants in the early 1900s, Lena provided her extended family with a legacy of family meals, comfort, and warmth. The restaurant’s interior reflects that, featuring homey red brick walls and banquettes, black-and-white family photos, flat-screen TVs, an expansive bar for socializing, and a 4,800 pound (!) Marra Forni wood-fire pizza oven. Out front, a seasonal garden plaza offers al fresco dining (with heat lamps and a fire pit during cooler months). In the kitchen, Italian Executive Chef Mauro Molino serves up a variety of Italian pastas, paninis, salads, and pizzas sure to please the whole family.
Starters here are generously portioned—we noshed on airy polenta fries, lightly coated in panko, fried to order, dusted in parmesan, and flanked by rich roasted garlic marinara. Although the kids might opt for the hearty 10 oz. housemade, mozzarella-stuffed beef meatball, we favored the calamari, tender tentacles grilled in a lemon-butter vinaigrette and served with a grilled Meyer lemon.
When it comes to mains, pizzas take center stage. Chef Molino makes the dough in a climate-controlled dough room with high-gluten double-zero flour, pure spring water, and fresh yeast and bakes them at 900 degrees for crusts that are fluffy inside and crispy outside. (Don’t worry gluten-haters, a gluten-free chickpea flour crust also is an option.) Organic San Marzano tomatoes (from Naples in the summer and California in the winter) lay the foundation for a variety of toppings. For a more traditional pick, sample the Diavola (the devil)—spicy sopressata salami, melted mozzarella, and crunchy fried kale drizzled with a sweet-n-spicy ghost pepper hot honey. For a global twist, try the Korean BBQ topped with sweet Korean BBQ short ribs, zesty gochujang sauce, chopped scallions, fresh mozzarella, and pickled peppers and carrots. Those eschewing (rather than chewing) pizza should try the decadent gnocchi—made in-house with sweet potatoes that burst with flavor from being roasted in the pizza oven. Wash it down with one of 16 craft or Italian tap beers or one of 15 wines by the glass. And don’t forget to save room for the Piedmontese chocolate bunet—the flavor of this flan-like dessert reminded us of our favorite chocolate-covered marzipan. Topped with a fresh mint sprig and a golden Amaretti cookie, it offers the perfect ending to your meal.
Want to become part of the family? Stop by Lena’s for a casual Family New Year’s Eve Dinner featuring its regular menu plus some holiday specials (including complimentary champagne toast and party favors). Or swing by for its next-day weekend brunch. Mama mia, there’s a new mama in town!