Stella Barra: Enlightenment at Pike and Rose

If you have lived in Montgomery County for more than a few years, a visit to Pike and Rose – the burgeoning development that keeps on growing- may induce a sense of discombobulation.  Located in N. Bethesda, this was once the home of Mid-Pike Plaza, where one could shop at Toys R Us, Filenes Basement, or G Street Fabrics and eat at la Madeleine French Bakery, Chipotle, and Silver Diner.

Times have changed. Stella Barra and Summer House, along with a host of other restaurants, are now nestled among numerous shops, entertainment venues, and multiple parking lots at Pike and Rose.  I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief every time I negotiate my way through the newly-created complex.

Stella Barra opened in February 2015.  The sibling to the popular Summer House features artisanal pizza. The restaurant is part of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), which is based in Chicago, and in this area includes Mon Ami Gabi, Wildfire, RPM Italian, and Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab.

The creative force behind Stella Barra is Chef Jeff Mahin. In creating the concept, Mahin worked on perfecting a wheat flour dough and incorporating toppings of sustainably farmed and organic produce, meat, and cheese.

Despite routine visits to the Rockville Pike corridor including Pike and Rose, Stella Barra isn’t on my radar.  I conduct a quick survey among friends who live nearby, and most agree. The majority haven’t dined here, and some even say they aren’t familiar with the local restaurant.

I am invited to dine at Stella Barra as a guest, and I ask fellow blogger Rick Eats DC to join me. Rick lives in Bethesda. He’s never been to Stella Barra, or even to Pike and Rose. I’m eager to explore the restaurant with a fellow food fanatic.

We find Stella Barra’s interior appealing, although a little difficult to fully appreciate, as it’s extremely dark inside. What we can see are handsome brick walls, wood-planked floors, and industrial lighting. (photo below taken in daylight)

photo credit www.underabushel.com

Booths are on a steep raised platform, and I must stifle a groan as I hoist myself onto the bench. The lighting is not ideal for photograph-taking food bloggers, or even for the conventional diner who seeks to capture their meals on Instagram.  Consider yourself warned if food photography is among your goals for dining out.

However, if you crave pizza with a crisp and flavorful crust, garnished with toppings that range from well-executed standards to inventive creations, then get on over to Stella Barra. Pizzas are available in three styles- red, white, and “thin sin.” If a pizza is listed on the menu in one style, and you would prefer it in another, just ask.  We switch avocado and arugula pesto from a white pizza to thin crust. In the end it doesn’t make much of a difference as we like them all, but it’s interesting to sample the various offerings.

The pizza I would rush back for- and Rick Eats DC agrees- is butternut squash with candied bacon, taleggio, fresno chilies, and green onion.  It’s easy to say that bacon makes everything better, but it’s more than that.  The creative combination of ingredients is accentuated by pizza crust that is well-charred and notably crispy.  This is a white pizza, delicately topped with just the right amount of parmesan cream sauce.

Butternut Squash Pizza

Impressing us in the red pizza category is a pie enhanced by spicy salumi and burrata.

Red pizza with spicy salumi and burrata

I am a fanatic when it comes to crispy pizza crust, so I anticipate a preference for Stella Barra’s thin crust.  The avocado and arugula pesto capped off with goat cheese and chili flakes is quite good.  Still, the red and white pizza crusts are sufficiently crispy, so I veer back- repeatedly- to the butternut squash pizza.

Thin Sin with Avocado & Arugula Pesto

While pizzas showcase creative ingredients, sides and salads stick to the familiar – calamari, burrata, meatballs. Crispy brussels sprouts with Moscato vinegar, breadcrumbs and parmesan makes for a satisfying starter.  A greens section of the menu offers more options to offset the carbs.  A generous Italian chopped salad includes roasted peppers, chickpeas, mozzarella, Kalamata olives, and pepperoni. These are pleasant, if not mind-blowing, foils to the pizza.

Italian Chopped

An added incentive to dine at Stella Barra? The food is well-priced.  Pizzas range from $13.95 to $17.95; appetizers and salads from $10.95 to $12.95. Our server mentions that Stella Barra has a brunch buffet on Saturday and Sunday, which at $18.95 per person sounds like a steal.

Stella Barra shares space with the light-filled Summer House Santa Monica.  The Market at Summer House is situated between the two restaurants, featuring a selection of fresh baked goods prepared in-house.  If you can’t top off a night of pizza with a hefty chocolate chip cookie topped with rice krispy treats, or a fruity strawberry cheesecake cookie, then really what’s the point?

Thanks to Rick Eats DC for providing a flashlight to enhance my food photos. It was an enlightening visit to Stella Barra, as we discover pizza well worth a return visit.

 

Stella Barra, 11825 Grand Park Ave, North Bethesda, MD

 

 

Stella Barra Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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