There’s a string of expletives coming from chef Randall Doetzer at Pizza Tonight Restaurant & Bar. He’s just discovered that his roasting pans are too large for the oven located in the front of the restaurant. “I’ll just have to figure out a work around,” he says, with an air of frustrated resignation.
It’s par for the course for any restaurant about to open. Unforeseen difficulties pop up on a regular basis. Owner Victoria Deroche began the process last June, started serving lunch only last week and is waiting on Pizza Tonight’s liquor license so that she can begin serving dinner this week.
It’s been a long, seven-year road that she didn’t anticipate would end at the old Aziza’s space at 2110 E. Main St. Originally, Deroche and her husband, Joe, played host to a monthly get-together they called Pizza Club. Friends brought toppings and the couple provided the sauce, dough and wood-burning pizza oven. The idea evolved — Deroche, a graphic designer at the time, created pizza kits that she began selling at farmers markets and small grocery stores such as Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market. The business went mobile in 2011 when she invested in a wood-fired oven she could tow from place to place. But food truck courts and festivals weren’t really her thing.
“I was standing in a field — it was 40 degrees and raining — and I was thinking about how nice it would be to have a brick-and-mortar,” Deroche says. “[The restaurant] was utterly inspired by being out in the elements.” She also wasn’t interested in producing quantity over quality.
Doetzer was key to realizing that vision. In his spare, Italian-focused menu, ingredients shine and each dish is composed of just few elements. “We’re taking a pretty hard-nosed ethical approach to how we’re preparing it,” Doetzer says. “It’s lighter, simpler stuff.” He hasn’t found a local purveyor he likes for beef, so that won’t be on the menu until he does. “There aren’t a whole hell of a lot of cows in Italy anyway,” he says.
Dishes such as wood-roasted sardines — the space has two wood-burning ovens, front and back — braised lamb, rigatoni with tomato, eggplant and ricotta salata dominate the menu, along with pizza — old favorite Fig and Pig, made with prosciutto, gorgonzola and fig preserves, and new ones, such as a pizza composed of potato, rosemary, chilies and Grana Padano cheese.
Sitting at the bar, Deroche, with dark hair pulled back, stares intently with her large, light eyes. “I really liked the people aspect of [Pizza Club] — having them eat the food,” she says. Her self-deprecating tone belies her look when she talks about how she made her way from those monthly parties to opening a Shockoe Bottom restaurant. She claims accolades drove her forward. “It really was very selfish,” she says.