Carlos’ Coppi’s

Down the road from Ben‘s Chili Bowl on 12th and U, tall cranes dot the skyline along the 14th St corridor. The young, vibrant masses are moving in, and shopping and dining out have become more fashionable.

After months of construction, the massive Louis at 14th was finally taking shape. As 270 apartments were getting built, D.C. small businesses were once again the victims of rapid gentrification.

Such as Carlos Amaya’s Coppi’s Organic which was renowned for its rich, authentic cuisine inspired by the seaside Ligurian Riviera in Northern Italy. The landmark eatery was forced to shut down for over a year due to the heavy construction. After completion, the street scene would surely look better and brighter, but Carlos couldn’t wait. It was time to move Coppi’s, the brick oven with the tricolors of the Italian flag, and all the Fausto Coppi’s biking decor back to the block where it all started 20 plus years ago.

“We’re in Cleveland Park now,” Carlos announced. “We’re not too far from the rest of civilization.”

“I’ll definitely ride my pedicab there the next time I visit the zoo or the Lebanese Taverna for belly dancing.”

The lions roared and the crickets chirped when I passed by the National Zoological Park on the way to Cleveland Park. I parked by Medium Rare, the local-favorite steakhouse known for its steak frites prix fixe menu, then ambled over to Coppi’s. When I entered, I noticed that the front windows could be opened to let in sunlight and there were several rows of church pew benches for booth seating. And just like the previous, iconic location on U, hundreds of vintage pictures hung on the wall, unapologetically old-school with a nice touch of evocation.

“Fausto Coppi was a great all-round racing cyclist,” Carlos said. “You don’t have to be a biker to appreciate his achievements.”

“He was a true legend. He won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. He is truly missed,” I added.

The next month, on December 4, 2014, the D.C. Food Bloggers flocked to Coppi’s to enjoy authentic wood-fired pizza, and fine wine and to catch up with old friends and make new ones. 

The wine list was very impressive and if anyone had any questions, their trusty manager Tom Bindley could make a recommendation. 

Anita Hattiangadi from Greg’s List and several food bloggers such as Jennifer Matta, Jason Shriner and Wendy Brannen were in attendance.  You can always rely on these reputable influencers to visit their favorite restaurants and then feature the cuisine and ambience in their lifestyle blogs and social media campaigns.

Restaurateurs loved to welcome them because their patronage implied their stamp of approval, even if they did more drinking than blogging. 

The Peroni was light and bubbly, and the wine list was something to write home about. If anyone had any questions, their manager Tom Bindley could steer you in the right direction.

Coppi’s Organic has two ways of cooking their food: The pastas are boiled, but everything else is cooked in the wood-burning brick oven.

To create the masterpiece, the pizza chef spinned the dough then tossed it in the air to ensure it stayed consistent and flat. A wide array of ingredients — fresh and organic —  were sprinkled on the pre-baked dough then returned to the Forno Bravo to give it the authentic wood-fired oven taste.  

There were more than a dozen inventive pizzas to choose from and choosing my favorite was a tough decision. 

The Prosciutto e Funghi (prosciutto and mushroom), Pancetta (Italian bacon, mushroom, onion, mozzarella), were two that I still daydream about.

“The smoked salmon charcuterie board is quite impressive. Artfully arranged and delicious,” said Jennifer.

Wendy is quite adept in the kitchen. She makes a killer pepperoni pie with sweet Vidalia Onions from Georgia and Jason Shriner’s homegrown oregano.

“The food is always fantastic. Love the shrimp and mozzarella in the Genovese,” Wendy said. “Simply delectable. I would travel from Georgia and back just for this pasta.”

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Serving to eager guests

“Thanks, we work with organic farmers and food cooperatives throughout the region to bring the freshest ingredients to your table,” Carlos said.

“Great, I’d be happy to source you some of my oregano,” Jason Shriner added.

“I’m still celebrating National Pizza Month. I’m so addicted to crack pizza, I need to go to Rehab,” Wayne Manigo added. 

“Yeah, and take Orlando with you,” I added. “He’s eaten his fair share.”

“Well this isn’t New Haven style pizza from Pete’s,” Orlando replied. “The pies are baked authentic Italian with a perfect crust and nonna’s fresh tomato sauce. I need to take a box or two home.”

“Good idea. You ought to start delivering pizza for Postmates,” Jason turned to me and suggested. “You can easily make one grand a week.”

“The secret is to deliver fast while still hot, and my pedicab is as slow as a sloth,” I responded.

“Yes, we only want our customers to enjoy their pizzas while it’s still piping hot,” Carlos stated. “That’s why we prefer to serve them here.”

“Then I’ll just pick them up and let them hop in the back. It can be a romantic night out and they can even pop a bottle of wine and smooch while passers-by stare.”

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Me, Wayne, Wendy, Orlando and many others

This was followed by a burst of laughter.  Everyone knew each other and were having an amazing time.

The dessert was well presented and absolutely irresistible, and would even make nonna proud.

“Please come back on Sept 9th,” Carlos said. “Every year on my sister’s birthday, we celebrate her life. And on Halloween nights, we host a salsa vigil. Nori was an amazing person with a great heart and a wonderful soul.”

* * *

On Halloween night 2009, Nori Amaya worked the early shift at Coppi’s on U Street before slipping out for the evening for salsa dancing. 

She visited the Rumba Cafe in Adams Morgan where she had been dating the owner, before heading to the Russia House and then to Bravo Bravo where she met up with her Salsa dance partner.  She took a cab home to her apartment and by Monday afternoon, Carlos knew something was wrong. When he got security to open the door to her apartment, he found Nori’s body, wrapped up in a comforter, dressed in her underwear.  When investigators arrived to examine the body, they found something chilling — all of her fingernails had been removed, in an attempt to remove traces of any DNA.

“Absolutely, we will find Nori’s killer and bring him to justice.”

“I will never rest until we do. We owned and managed the restaurant together. She will always be a huge part of Coppi’s and precious lives. She had many loving friends who want to know what happened that night.”