Deciding on a place to grab a bite to eat is tough business, even when doing it in a familiar city. Do you go ethnic, or stick with more straight-ahead fare? Do you try the new spot, or head to the familiar joint? Is it close-by? Is it fairly inexpensive?
I manage to make things even more difficult because I’m a vegetarian, so that limits my dining options right off the bat. Plus, whenever possible, I try to eat organic and local, too. Yes, dining out with me is a lot like eating with the cast of “Portlandia.”
As a newcomer to the area, I started out not knowing my Busboys & Poets from my Five Guys. But a few friends took me under their veggie-friendly wings, and have pointed out some good spots. And as I’ve gotten more familiar with my neighborhood, I’ve discovered a few healthy options, perfect for those days when cooking feels like an impossible task.
Cava Mezze Grill
This Greek-inspired, locally owned restaurant chain moved in just as I was doing the same. The exposed brick and reclaimed wood décor, plus the promise of rich falafel and toasty pita bread, enticed me even before the remodel was done.
The original outpost was Cava Mezze, a sit-down restaurant with a tapas-like menu of cheeses, meats, salads and vegetables. The three friends who started the business—Ike Grigoropoulos, Ted Xenohristos and Chef Dimitri Moshovitis—have since expanded to three locations in the D.C. area: Capitol Hill, Rockville and Clarendon.
In addition to selling their hummus and tabouleh at grocery stores along the central part of the East Coast, the three friends recently opened up a spinoff eatery, Cava Mezze Grill. Although the grill started in Bethesda, two locations just opened in the District—Columbia Heights and Tenleytown.
The setup is similar to Chipotle or Subway, allowing customers to select which individual ingredients to add to the base of salad, rice or pita bread. As I made my way along the line of dips, spreads and dressings, I opted for a rice bowl with hummus, tzatziki, falafel and too many toppings to count. The falafel was perfect—spiced just right, with a slightly crunchy outside and a crumbly interior—and complemented the creamy and cooling tzatziki sauce. The side of pita chips I ordered added that all-important crunch to the meal, and was well worth the extra charge.
I’ll definitely go back, especially considering the quantity of quality food I got for the price ($7.95 for my rice bowl). But I will pick the salad as my starting point; too much rice at the outset overpowered the other flavors. And even though I abstain from meat, my omnivorous friends will be happy to know that Cava Grill’s beef comes from Pineland Farms in Broad Run, Va.
2Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria
This restaurant shows up on “Best of D.C.” lists a lot, but I’m proud to say I came upon it during a walk around the neighborhood and not during an afternoon tied to my computer. The prices are a bit steep for a 12-inch pie, but this is specialty stuff—pizza meant to be savored, not shoveled.
The original plan had been to get dinner at 2Amys some Friday evening; split a pizza, salad and bottle of wine with my partner in crime. But after investigating the menu online, I learned the chefs whip up donuts for lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays. Scratch the original plan; I want a brunch of donuts and pizza!
On a recent Sunday, we headed over, arriving about 30 minutes after the doors opened at noon. The main dining room already was packed with families and couples, their tables laden with donuts, bagels and pizza (aka, the trifecta). The host led us through the airy first floor, past the open kitchen and visible wood-burning stove, through the more intimate bar area, and up to the second floor. This section benefited from cork-paneled walls to absorb the excess sound, making for a quieter mealtime than what the downstairs patrons must’ve experienced.
After quickly ordering two of the foamiest cappuccinos I’ve had in a while, it was donut time. 2Amys’ spin on this iconic breakfast treat was yeastier than most mass-produced donuts, a doughy taste and texture softened ever so slightly by a light dusting of cinnamon and sugar.
Our plate of Santa Brigida soon followed, a simple cheese and tomato pizza with arugula on top. The fresh mozzarella lent a subtle tanginess to the slices, not to mention that kick of arugula at the end. But like the donut, the best part here was the dough, which somehow managed to be dense and light, crispy and chewy all at the same time.
These folks know their dough, so my next orders will likely be a bagel or a “stuffed” pizza, one of which got delivered to a nearby table and looked like an oversized calzone.
As a California native, walking into this organic juice bar felt a little like coming home. Fresh and wholesome options lined the walls, from the fruits and vegetables in the grocery section toward the back of the store to the listing of sandwiches and smoothies on the blackboard. Welcome to hard-core healthy eating.
JoAnna Hawthorne, owner and “chief juicing officer,” opened up her storefront in the Cleveland Park area at the beginning of 2012. From the outset, Hawthorne has partnered with local farms—Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative in Hustontown, Pa.; the Farm at Our House in Brookeville, Md.; and Farm 2 Family, in Richmond, Va.—for the produce that provides the foundation of her menu.
When I popped in for a late-afternoon sandwich a few days ago, Hawthorne herself was behind the counter, working the juicer. After looking over juice menu options like the Immune Builder and the Beety Green Liver Cleanse, I went with the Glowing Skin, a concoction of carrot, ginger, apple, kale and parsley. The flavors blended together perfectly, but the texture was too coarse for my liking—too many chunks of carrots floating around the bottom.
As I waited for my sandwich, I sat in the sunny window seat and people-watched the happenings on Macomb Street. (My findings? Late afternoon apparently is the prime time for Northwest D.C.-ers to walk around with their adorable toddlers.) Hawthorne delivered my sandwich—a combo of creamy herbed tofu, roasted sweet potatoes, garlicky kale and toasty whole-grain bread—with a small sample of the Green Goddess smoothie. The sandwich was filling and packed with yummy protein, but the smoothie made my day, a delicious fusion of kale, spinach and super-sweet pineapple. It’s on my short list of future items to order.
Hawthorne Homemade, which has been featured in the Washington Post and Flavor Magazine, feels like a perfect weekend treat, especially considering its morning menu of organic eggs, bagels, breakfast burritos, croissants and French-pressed coffee. It’s too pricey for regular visits on my grad student budget, but I know I’ll head back when I’m craving a healthy pick-me-up.