December 1, 2017 |

Conversation: Tony Conte, Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana, MD

By Denise Greer

Tony Conte, Inferno Pizza Napoletana, Darnestown, Maryland

Chef-owner Tony Conte opened Inferno in 2015. He applies his fine-dining culinary background to his artisanal, wood-fired pizzeria.

I’d always wanted to open a pizzeria, so Inferno is my passion project. We serve six different Naples-style pizzas that change seasonally and a variety of small veg-forward plates. Right now we’re doing a Burrata with Maple Vinegar, our classic Roasted Brussel Sprouts in bacon oil, and an Autumn Salad with Ginger Gold apples and pumpkin seeds. All of our menu items change seasonally and we source our produce locally from neighboring farms and orchards. Most of our menu items are unique takes on classic Italian fare, like our Mushroom Bolognese pizza — for the “Bolognese” component, we subbed meat for hearty mushrooms. Our pizza is VPN-certified, and right now we’re focusing heavily on our dough. I like a puffy, light, airy crust. It sets the tone for the entire dining experience.

Inferno is a 42-seat eatery, but we work with a relatively small staff. It’s a really tight-knit group, we spend so much time together. I’m always at Inferno, so it’s a very hands-on experience working together.

I got my start at Jean-Georges in NYC before heading to D.C. where I was executive chef at the Oval Room. Both restaurants utilize small plates or tasting menus, and the dishes are like works of art. They’re exquisite. In every dish I create at Inferno, I want precision. I want to put out the highest quality product possible, and I certainly think that’s a reflection of where I’ve been. You could say it’s just pizza, but it’s my bread and butter. I need it to be perfect. Same thing goes for our small plates. They need to be different, packed with flavor. And, of course, we put them together with a little flare, so they’re beautiful, too. That’s definitely an influence from my past.

On tasting events — You could say it’s like paying homage to the Oval Room, where I worked with small plates and occasional tasting menus. I really enjoy putting them together. It gives me the opportunity to play with new dishes we don’t work with on our current menu. I wanted Inferno to be a casual pizzeria, so our tasting menu program allows for an exciting creativity. Right now I’m doing a pasta only tasting menu program that occurs once a month on Tuesdays. I love playing with pasta in its many guises, so it makes for a great evening. Our consumer base really enjoys them too. When I first started doing it I wasn’t sure if it would be a fit here, but the response has been great, so we’ll keep it up!