Fuel Pizza originally got its start in 1998 by two New Yorkers looking for a taste of home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Fast forward to 2012, and the only two locations outside of Charlotte are now open in the District. Granted, the DC locations are nothing like the old converted gas station that started the chain, but a lot of the interior detailing harkens back to their roots. The Penn Quarter location is on the corner of 6th and F Streets NW, and is in the old Oriental Building Association first floor banking space. The exterior maintains the original façade, leaving the historic building in untouched, but the interior space is drastically different. Upon entering what appears to be the front entrance, one is greeted with a variety of seating and table options. After aimlessly wandering towards the back of the restaurant, there are multiple cashier locations to place an order. One seems to be more for takeout, reinforcing the addition of the side door nearby. Adjacent to the cashiers are display cases full of the baked offerings, this space made tight with the addition of an vintage style gas pump. The rest of the interior definitely follows the theme of a vintage gas station, as there are mountains of oil cans, layers of metal signage on the walls, storage items out in the open, and unfinished concrete floor. It seems that someone made a phone call to the American Pickers and bought all of their stock. The exposed ceilings are littered with numerous metal conduit and ductwork, allowing for small glimpses of the deck above. In short, the interior has a bit of a garage griminess to it that, depending on the circumstances, can be quite appealing (more of a stop before or after a sporting event at Verizon Center across the street and less likely a dinner date before a play at The Sidney Harman Hall).
The food selection continues with the blue collared approach, as many of the options are simple and basic. There aren’t many appetizers, but the garlic knots help to diversify the selection of fries, cheese fries, and chicken tenders. Not considered an appetizer are the wings, which unless eaten another dish hardly constitutes a full meal. Wings come in orders of 9, 18, or 45 and are available in a few sauces. They have the standard hot sauces of mild to inferno, a variety of BBQ, Salt Pepper, and garlic, and of course ranch or bleu cheese is offered for dipping. The wings are a tad on the pricey side for their size and based on the surrounding market, with an order of 9 averaging out to almost a dollar a wing.
The sandwiches are also simple, with a few offering chicken, such as a Buffalo Chicken, Chicken Parm, or Ranch Chicken Club, and others covering the basic Italian items of Meatball Marinara and Sausage, Peppers, & Onion. There is also the Spicy Italian, which appears to be a mix of the previous mentioned Italian sandwiches.
The main reason for stopping in are the items that are baked with dough. The Stromboli is listed as a “real Italian meat pie”, and is filled with forms of pork and beef. Filling the space between the meat is sauce and cheese, and all ingredients are wrapped in a crispy dough with a side of marinara. The Calzones are also surrounded by pizza dough, however there are a larger number of options for fillings, and you are even allowed to create your own. The pizzas provide the greatest amount of choices when ordering, as there is no shortage of specialty or premium pizzas, the meat laden Extreme Fuel Pizza, the supreme style The Whole Engine, or the BBQ Chicken. Some of the classics are also represented, like the Margherita and Hawaiian. There are a few more experimental or modern style pizzas, The Riveria is covered in fresh spinach, tomatoes, artichokes, feta, and topped with olives and garlic, and the Bacon and Bleu is covered in garlic, tomatoes, smoky bacon, and mozzarella and bleu cheeses. Of course, custom pizzas are available with a per topping price. The specialty pizzas range from $15.00 to $24.00 depending on the size (from medium to super large) and the premium pizzas are even more due to their higher end toppings.
On the lighter side or as an addition to another dish, a grouping of protein and non-protein topped salads are available. The typical ones are covered, Cobb, Greek, and Caesar, and are rounded out with a Buffalo Chicken and Spinach & Bacon. If protein is not desired, they do offer a Veggie Salad which reads more of a house salad, and there are vegetarian options available for the pizzas, sandwiches, and calzones. In addition to having the vegetarian options, Fuel offers a vegan cheese, and prides themselves on having a gluten-free dough in addition to a wheat dough. It is surprising to see these additional dietary options available considering that Fuel is a pizza and wing place.
Fuel does have draft and bottled beers on hand, more on the craft side than mainstream. For the non-alcoholic, fountain drinks and water are provided. There are servers, yet they tend to be more for cleanup and initial order delivery, as all opposed to processing orders and refilling drinks.
Overall the restaurant is more geared to being a hangout or place to grab a casual bite to eat. Wanting to get out of the house, or enjoy the gritty ambiance of the space would be the main reasons for paying these prices, as there are other food services that can provide the same food for a much cheaper price. There are a couple of TV’s, so it is possible to watch a game, though there are establishments nearby that would be better suited for this.