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Last weekend, the soft opening of Matchbox in Rockville, Maryland boasted an hour-long wait for over 500 guests eager for a slice of this vintage pizza bistro. The largest location yet, the cavernous restaurant seats up to 400 people, with two outdoor patios and fire pits, as well as a labyrinth of smaller rooms and bars. There’s a pizza bar where you can sit and pick your own toppings before it’s flung into one of two brick ovens.  (At 800 fiery degrees,  you don’t want to sit too close.)  The upside of these hand-built infernos is that your pizza comes out sizzling hot, bubbly and crisp, right before your eyes.

The highlight of the lofty space is the “matchbox” that sits in the center of the main dining room, for you and up to seven of your friends, six if you count your ego. I was struck by the expansive wall lined with 200-year-old wood planks reclaimed from old barns in Rochester, New York.  Clean, white lighting lend a hypnotic glow to the aged wood that pictures simply don’t do justice.

Relax at one of two bars with the Watermelon Tease ($8) made with house-infused watermelon vodka, rum, gin and tequila. (Hey, everyone’s here!) It is smooth, sweet, and light as summer. If you can’t be seen holding a pink cocktail, order the manly Match-hatten ($8) with Maker’s Mark bourbon, sweet vermouth and orange.  See the complete cocktail menu here.

If you want a simple salad ($10), there are mixed greens, pear tomatoes, and dried cherries in a balsamic vinaigrette, topped with a generous parmesan crisp.  If you want to pretend to eat a salad, try the Matchbox chopped salad ($10) with crispy bacon, red onions, pasta ringlets, and a creamy herb vinaigrette. Chef Johnny Mack gets creative with daily specials, and is always happy to accomodate special orders.  Tonight, a delicious experiment results in a tender, luscious pork belly on a bed of cheese risotto, topped with a poached egg.

There are sixteen pizzas to choose from, or you can create your own.  If you love cheese but hate Domino’s and the USDA, then you’ll love the four-cheese white ($20), with lots of roasted garlic, ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, pecorino toscano, pecorino romano, but not an ounce of red. The Coppa ($20) with Italian ham, thick pesto, ricotta, Roma tomatoes and mozzarella, topped with fresh arugula, was a unanimous favorite.

Not in the mood for pizza?  Order the mini burgers ($8-$18, top right),  juicy little patties of certified Angus beef on seedless brioche from Lyon Bakery, which also bakes the buns for sister restaurant, DC-3. Served with pickles and onion straws, under a fine dusting of Parmesan cheese. Add your choice of Gouda, mozzarella or Gorgonzola for extra flavor.

I happily dug into the coffee & doughnuts ($8), a basket of sugary cinnamon doughnuts, dense and cake-like.  The teeny cup of espresso Kahlua crème tastes and feels like melted chocolate ice cream, except spiked.

Matchbox Rockville
1699 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
(301) 816-0369

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