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Lonely Hunter: Chef Johnny Spero’s Pizza Party of One

Cover Image for Lonely Hunter: Chef Johnny Spero’s Pizza Party of One
By Sophie Brochu
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Categories:Interview

“Party of One” may be the tagline for acclaimed chef Johnny Spero’s latest concept, but launching Lonely Hunter was a massive team effort. The crew at Reverie went from tasting menus to pizza pop-up almost overnight. It took a couple of hundred pies, some recipe testing, and temperature tweaks to get it right. We caught up with Spero about surviving through the pandemic, being booze-free, supporting restaurants, and cooking in overalls. You can support Lonely Hunter by dining on the patio or ordering takeout in Washington, DC.

Johnny Spero opened Reverie in 2018.

Tock: Which pizza are you most excited about?

Spero: The pizza I love the most is the potato pizza. The sauce is a combination of our tomato sauce made from Jersey tomatoes and coal-roasted bell, Fresno, and Jimmy Nardello peppers. The potatoes are cooked in a beurre monté until they are tender then broken up. The pizza is topped with pecorino, low-moisture mozzarella, and fresh parsley from our farmer Jon at Karma Farms. Once it’s cooked we top each slice with Stracciatella di Bufala. There are still a few touches to the sauces and seasoning that are very much Reverie. I think almost every pizza gets a small dusting of fennel pollen.

It’s hot, thin, crispy, and delicious.

“We aren’t phoning it in with pizza. It’s been harder than some of the tasting menus we’ve put out. Flexing a different muscle always hurts a little at first.”

 

Tock: You’re selling out of some pies. We take it the response has been positive?

Spero: Yea! It’s been overwhelming. We went from tasting menus to pizza basically overnight. We had some hiccups obviously, getting our dough prep time down and quantities. Within a few days, and a couple of hundred pies later, we nailed down our “style” and are super happy with how they are turning out.

Behold, the anchovy pizza.

Tock: How is your staff enjoying the change of pace?

Spero: I’m lucky that we have a staff that looks at all of these obstacles as a challenge to push ourselves no matter what we are serving. From smashing burgers to switching to operating “Bar Spero.” Doing clarified gazpacho and Basque Talos, then back to Reverie, and out of nowhere going hard into pizza, they all have been super excited about it because everything we do has to be executed at the highest quality possible. We aren’t phoning it in with pizza. We have changed our recipe for dough several times, tweaked oven temps over and over again, changed the size of the grate for certain cheeses, and the order on how toppings are distributed. It’s been harder than some of the tasting menus we’ve put out. Flexing a different muscle always hurts a little at first.

Tock:  Any chance a pizza will stay on the menu when Reverie returns?

Spero: I love the pizza, but when Reverie goes back to normal, we are going to push hard. This has been a great incubator space for working on ideas that might work elsewhere, but this space was designed for something different, and it’s wild that it took a global pandemic for me to realize what I really wanted out of this restaurant. The last menu we did before the shut down was the best we’ve sent out, and I want to continue to push in that direction.

Lonely Hunter partnered with Marra Forni to use a proper pizza oven.

“It’s wild that it took a global pandemic for me to realize what I really wanted out of this restaurant.”

 

Tock: The beverage list looks fantastic. Do you have a favorite pizza/cider or wine pairing?

Spero: I’ve been booze-free for over two years now, but I still get excited about the beverage list we put together. Two bottles that stand out right now to me are actually from the same producer, Birichino, out of Santa Cruz. The first is their “Mr Natural.” It’s 100%  Mourvèdre, the perfect amount of acidity, black cherry, and violets. I also really enjoy their Pet Nat, the nose is just in your face elderflower and lychee but it doesn’t have the same sweetness on the finish that you would expect. 

The nduja pie is topped with braised fennel.

Tock: What do you want guests to know about Reverie, Lonely Hunter, or the industry at large?

Spero: Reverie barely existed for a year before Covid hit and we had to start rethinking our plans on how to maintain and succeed. Supporting my small family at home, and making sure we kept the doors open during the first two years of a restaurant’s life should have destroyed me, but I’m lucky that my wife and daughter bring me more joy and happiness than any accolade or star rating ever could. We cook food that we like to eat, whether it’s a pizza, burger, or a beautiful piece of turbot glazed and grilled. We will come back stronger from this, but every restaurant needs your support. Buy merch*, order carryout, or just reach out and tell your favorite neighborhood spot they are fucking amazing because this isn’t going to be resolved in a week or two. It’s mentally exhausting and this upcoming year will be a challenge to go back to normal. 

Johnny’s brother, Bobby Spero, designed the Lonely Hunter logo and merch.

“Buy merch, order carryout, or just reach out and tell your favorite neighborhood spot they are fucking amazing because this isn’t going to be resolved in a week or two.”

 

Tock: Anything you’d like to add?

Spero: I just recently purchased a pair of overalls to cook pizza in, and I’m upset I didn’t explore this option earlier on. They are freeing.

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*Seriously, check out these fanny packs, zip hoodies, and totes.

Book Lonely Hunter on Tock

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