Big Bear Cafe Is Serving Some of D.C.’s Best Pizza

In the basement of Bloomingdale’s beloved coffee shop Big Bear Cafe now stands a wood-fired oven made from French clay bricks that can fit five pies at a time. That’s where you’ll find Chef Robbie Tutlewski topping 14-inch pizzas with pickled fresno chilies, arugula, hand-pulled mozzarella, fresh ricotta, parmigiano reggiano, shaved pecorino romano, and honey hot enough to have you reaching for a glass of wine to put out the fire.

Tutlewski didn’t expect to sell out on this particular Thursday, but he did. Despite manning a busy oven, the chef found time to run up to the fire-lit patio to drop off pizzas with neighborhood regulars eager to try his latest creations. He has a pizza pedigree. Tutlewski ran renowned, Bronx-born pizzaiolo Chris Bianco’s restaurants in Phoenix, Arizona, before moving to D.C. in 2017. Before cooking at Big Bear, Tutlewski worked at Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat in Adams Morgan. 

Throughout Big Bear’s 14 years in business, the gathering spot has reinvented itself and its food and drink options. For a number of years, owner Stuart Davenport was laser-focused on beefing up private event business. Many Washingtonians exchanged vows under the vines encasing the outdoor area, but that meant the focus on everyday meals waned slightly 

Now, despite the constraints of the pandemic, the kitchen is firing on all cylinders during dinner hours. In addition to “pizza on the patio” nights currently held Thursdays through Saturdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., the restaurant also offers multi-course dinners for two available for pick-up. This weekend’s feast is slow-roasted Happy Valley pork crown rib with Parmigiano-Reggiano potatoes au gratin and blueberry lemon shortcake for dessert ($38).

“I’ve been wanting to build an oven here forever,” Davenport says. “I used to work at Woodberry Kitchen when they started their brunch program. They had to bake all their breads overnight. I’d show up on a Saturday night and bake there for eight hours just to learn how the oven worked.” If you build it, Tutlewski will come. “With wood-fire, you need someone really talented and I found Robbie.”