Heard on the Hill

Manchin Munchin': The Pepperoni Roll Explained

West Virginia delicacy makes its way to nation's capital -- at last

Karen Shannon, owner of the Pepperoni Chic pop up restaurant, serves pepperoni rolls to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III decamped Capitol Hill on Wednesday in search of a little slice of home, and he found it in far Northwest D.C., in the form of pepperoni rolls. But what are pepperoni rolls?

“Mmm-hmm. It’s the real thing,” the Democrat said as he bit into his state’s signature dish at Pepperoni Chic, the pop-up restaurant at 5111 Georgia Ave. NW, north of the Petworth neighborhood, as duly noted on social media. 

Long available almost exclusively at the West Virginia bakeries that beget them and gas stations across the state, pepperoni rolls are the Mountain State’s uber-snack: a soft roll baked around pepperoni, mostly rods, sometimes slices. Fancier ones throw some cheese in, maybe a little extra spiciness. 

Legend has it they were developed for ease of use by miners, much like the pasty in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In general, they’re primarily a product of the north central part of the state, roughly from Clarksburg up to Morgantown, with bakeries dotting the Shinnston Pike — the Pepperoni Roll Industrial Complex, if you will. 

Many displaced West Virginians in the nation’s capital have long relied on intermittent fixes, courtesy of friends or relatives visiting and remembering to bring back some back-home comfort food from the likes of the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, where the savory snack is said to have originated in the 1920s; Tomaro’s Bakery in Clarksburg’s Glen Elk neighborhood; Abruzzino’s in Gypsy or any neighborhood Go Mart.

The popping up of the Pepperoni Chic pop-up has some West Virginians skeptical. 

“As a southern West Virginian, I have no maven credentials when it comes to pepperoni rolls. Somehow, though, I doubt any D.C. establishment will get the proper grease proportion,” said a West Virginia native who now works in public policy but did not wish to be identified, for fear of reprisals from relatives. This source also said Pepperoni Chic “sounds suspiciously upscale.”

Washingtonians, and West Virginians, can judge for themselves. 

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