The pepperoni roll has made its way past the borders of West Virginia and into Washington, D.C.
Pepperoni Chic, a Washington DC pop-up restaurant, features the West Virginia pepperoni roll in a number of original and "chic" versions.
It's the brainchild of Karen Shannon, a Fairmont native who left for Washington DC after college to find a career in journalism. Along the way, she began working in the food industry and it grabbed hold of her. Since then, she's worked to develop recipes from her Calabrian heritage.
The pepperoni roll, what we dub the “Appalachia’s Secret,” has been an integral part of daily life in my hometown of Fairmont, WestVirginia since Giuseppe (Joseph) Argiro began baking them in the 1920s or 30s. Argiro was inspired by the coal miners, who often took large sticks of pepperoni and chunks of Italian bread down into the depths of the mines. Argiro’s delectable result was a self-contained pepperoni bun the size of a hot dog where the oils of the pepperoni permeated into the dough while baking – a “handy subterranean snack for miners."
Each piece of her restaurant has been thoughtfully crafted. She makes her pepper sauce from only the traditional type of peppers, her onions from a particular region in Italy and hand-made mozzarella daily.
The restaurant features a small market, where you can get some of the homemade goodies found topping the pepperoni rolls.
Having owned an Italian restaurant for years and working alongside many Italian chefs and owners, I am well aware that what Americans recognize as pepperoni does not exist in Italy. Even though I am second generation Italian, I have always strived to be authentic and true to the classic cuisine of my Mediterranean ancestors.
However, in the case of Pepperoni Chic, my loyalty lies with my Italian-American predecessors. Pepperoni is the lynchpin of Pepperoni Chic and the history of Italian immigrants in northern West Virginia.
The complement of Calabrian cuisine to the pepperoni roll is logical. Even though pepperoni is actually an Italian-American invention, its similarity to the classic spicy salame of Calabria is undeniable.
Its exact origin is cloudy, but food experts believe pepperoni came on the food scene in the early 1900’s, created by Italian butchers in American cities. The dates also coincide with the inception of the pepperoni roll in Fairmont by Calabrian immigrants.
Some visual shots help illustrate the pepperoni roll for the uninitiated.
The pop-up shop offers seating for a few folks, but takeout is popular.
The more traditional pepperoni rolls are ones you can find with "the works" in West Virginia - peppers, chili, cheese. And, they're all named after members of her family.
The "chic" pepperoni rolls are modern-day takes inspired with Calabrian ingredients.
The menu features some backstory on the pepperoni roll, connecting it to West Virginia and its place in our food culture.
And, there are some goodies on the menu beyond the pepperoni roll: salads, pastas, and desserts.
These onions are from a particular region in Italy and give off a delicious, sweet flavor.
The "Tre" comes with sauteed, wild Calabrian-style mushrooms and mozzarella.
The pepperoni rolls are baked with stick pepperoni, then split open and toppings are added - much like Colasessano's.
The "Due" comes with Tropea sweet red onions and gorgonzola.
Wow, this one was so good I couldn't stop myself from eating the. entire. thing. The creamy, funky gorgonzola, the spicy pepperoni and the sweet onions were at home in the freshly baked roll.
And pasta! Rigatoni alla Calabrisella : Rigatoni, eggplant, tomatoes, black olives, onions, peppers and capers, tossed with provolone. Perfectly al dente with lots of delicious bites mixed inbetween.
Fileija alle Cipolle Rosse - Classic pasta from Calabria with “Tropea-style” red onions cooked slowly and tossed with parmesan cheese. The chew from this pasta, the sweetness of the onions - unreal.
And, of course, while there, I had to check out the gorgeous cherry blossoms!
Have you ever been? Be on the lookout for this shop to expand in the future!