“Down for the count” read the bold letters across a wall at Lark chef/owner John Sundstrom’s new pizzeria, Southpaw. The restaurant name is an overt callout to the term used for a left-handed boxer. And that phrase? It’s how you’ll feel after one too many slices of Title Fight.
The six-month-old Capitol Hill restaurant’s name also refers to an unorthodox style of pizza, and you’ll notice that in roughly half of the menu’s signature pies, including the Title Fight ($22/16-inch pie)—with wild mushrooms from local Foraged and Found Edibles, lardo, fresh thyme, roasted garlic and arugula—and the Middle Eastern-inspired Contender ($21), which is topped with fennel sausage and feta over a base of basil chickpea pesto. These show Sundstrom’s stamp. “As I started thinking about what kind of pizza I wanted to make, I realized it had to represent my aesthetic as a chef,” Sundstrom says. Of course, he hasn’t forgotten the “everyday pizza people,” as he calls them, so there’s also a thick-sliced pepperoni and a four-cheese. The few salads, such as the hearts of romaine tossed in simple, lemony buttermilk dressing, are, predictably—given his reverence of vegetables—some of the menu’s highlights.
Connoisseurs, however, know that a pizza’s success rides not on the quality of toppings alone, but on the dough. Sundstrom worked with head baker Ben Campbell to develop a recipe that gets its structure from Small’s Family Farm’s high-protein flour (the same flour is used in Lark’s bread and pasta) with a touch of Bluebird Grain Farms’ hard red wheat for complexity. The wood-fired oven out back creates a pleasantly chewy New York-meets-Neapolitan pie blistered and burnt just enough.
Located in the space where Lark built its reputation for 11 years before moving into its current, beautiful home a couple of blocks over, Southpaw seems kitschy compared to Lark’s grace. Boxing references abound. (I fully support the Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots game kids can play while the pizza bakes.) But Sundstrom knows what he’s doing: This is a casual, more affordable eatery meant to utilize “the same ingredients I would use at Lark to make a $40 entrée,” Sundstrom says, the same way his Slab Sandwich restaurant does. The price point, though, is meant to appeal to the many students nearby—something Lark has never done.
His salty chocolate chip cookie ($3, also served at Slab), warmed briefly in the wood-fired oven.