Places where I can play a good old round of Street Fighter II diminish by the day. Back in the 1990s, it was easy — just head to Arnie’s Place, my local arcade back home in Connecticut. I mention this because Arnie’s also housed an ice cream parlor, Georgie Porgie’s, replete with animatronics. It was a magical place for a kid.
For the spawn of the ’90s, Arlington’s Westpost is now home to a restaurant that spins a similar alchemy of vintage vibes, house-brewed beer, and applause-worthy pizza. And yes, Nighthawk Brewery & Pizza has a Street Fighter machine, along with three other arcade cabinets.
Nighthawk is a collaboration between restaurateur Scott Parker (who most recently opened Poppyseed Rye flower and sandwich shop, also in Arlington), chef Johnny Spero of Michelin-starred Reverie in DC, and Aslin Beer Company. “He’s a super talented guy — both Bon Appetit and Esquire named one of the biggest things to watch. He’s really hot now,” says Parker of his chef. Spero spent the early pandemic selling pizzas out of Reverie with his pop-up, Lonely Hunter. Those puffy, blistered-boned pies were a prelude to Nighthawk, but not a preview.
Instead, there are two American-born varieties of pizza at Nighthawk. What Parker calls “Midwest tavern pies,” identified on the menu as “Circles,” are ultra-thin and crispy. “Squares” are thick-crust Detroit-style specimens with sauce on top.
Service is mostly absent by design. A high-energy greeter tells diners how the meal will work at the door: Either order at the bar, or sit at a table and use the posted QR code to make your selections and pay on your phone. The latter is especially useful given the fact that on both my visits, there were dishes on the menu that were listed as “sold out.” I never did get to try the Little Neck Clam Circle, nor the one topped with potatoes and stracciatella.
A 14-inch Circle may cover a lot of surface area, but it’s best shared by two people at most. Gluttony could easily demand that one person work their way through alone. With a crust surrounded in a crackly charred frill, tangy tomato sauce and caramelized mozzarella and provolone are spread all the way to the ends. The skinny crust is similar to the New England-style bar pies at Colony Grill, but lacks the elasticity of that dough. As a Nutmegger, I can’t help but prefer my native pizza, but that won’t stop me from finishing a Nighthawk pizza on my own.
This is especially true of the Hot Honey pie. Slices of pepperoni and pickled peppers contribute an acidic spice that is by turns crisp and likably squishy. Mike’s Hot Honey is having a moment in the pizza world and it’s easy to taste why. Though at first bite, the sweetness can be disconcerting, the light smack of heat brings it down to earth. Ultimately, the pieces without the drizzle will taste like something is missing.
The same topping is available on a Square, too. At 8-by-10, the Squares are more compact, but far more filling options for pizza eaters who demand deep-dish. For this style, I prefer a simple classic, just thick-cut pepperoni, which are placed around the wide ribbons of tomato sauce on top. With a 30-to-35-minute cook time, it’s best to order the Square right when you sit down. Because there’s a limited supply each day, it’s safest to plan on it for lunch. But all this forethought is worth it. Crunching into the cheesy spine of the thick dough is its own brand of satisfaction.
There’s more to Nighthawk than the pizza and brews in its name. Appetizers run the gamut from hickory-smoked wings to vegetable antipasti worthy of a fine dining destination. Those wings are available tossed in either Carolina barbecue or Buffalo sauce. Go with the latter, which pairs exceptionally well with the dill-speckled, blue-cheese-dotted “Blanch” sauce.
On one visit, I learned that it’s only right to order all of the vegetable “snacks.” However, I found that the one I anticipated liking the most, fresh, roasted beets with feta, was my least favorite of the trio. The cardamom vinaigrette overwhelms the delicate roots. Marinated cremini mushrooms and artichokes in a pesto vinaigrette are a pleasure, but if I could only have one, it would be the green olives marinated with pickled mustard and sweet orange peel. This is a landmark for me. I’m typically no fan of olives. Spero’s bright recipe has me craving them.
Even for heretics who don’t salivate like Pavlov’s dog at the very suggestion of pizza, Nighthawk is worthy of a visit for its sandwiches. The best of these is the Dundee Burger, which combines a pair of crispy smash patties with fried onions and pickles held together with American cheese and a slick of “Ryan Loves Outback sauce.” That final ingredient, as far as I could tell, is horseradish cream. Next time, I’ll ask for the burger without it.
Horseradish works better on the beef and cheddar, Maryland native Spero’s take on pit beef. Whether a diner chooses one of those, Spero’s award-winning OKC Onion Burger, or a smoked chicken thigh in Alabama white sauce, the side of fries may wind up being the hit of the meal. That’s not to say the sandwiches aren’t mouthwatering. The hand-cut, skin-on potatoes simply approach crunchy, salty perfection.
In fact, no matter what your junk food of choice is, Nighthawk probably has a version of it that will haunt your dreams. And for ’90s kids, it’s a tastier version of a distant reality. 1201 S Joyce St. C10, Arlington
See this: Inspired by “Saved by the Bell” hangout The Max, the look is all primary colors and arcade cabinets until you get to the window that displays the Aslin Brewery beer fermenting. Grab a sample from the cooler out front.
Eat this: Hot Honey Circle, Pepperoni Square, Dundee Burger
★ Fair ★★ Good ★★★ Great ★★★★ Excellent ★★★★★ Superior