Table Talk: What Chefs Pack for Their Kids' Lunches

Table Talk: What Chefs Pack for Their Kids’ Lunches

Plus, Barrel and Crown and Urban Winery

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What do chefs pack for lunch for their children? If it’s any consolation, even they have to deal with picky eaters.  

Voltaggio photo by Ken Goodman

Bryan Voltaggio

Executive chef and owner of restaurants including Range, Aggio and Lunchbox in Upper Northwest, D.C.

Voltaggio says his son, Thacher, started rejecting his diet of all-homemade baby food by age 3. Now 8, Thacher likes crispy fried foods and pizza without sauce. “He’s into simple things…it’s hard to get him to eat outside the box,” his father says. A packed lunch is often a cheese sandwich, organic applesauce and some sort of fresh fruit or vegetable. However, the chef is holding out hope for his adventurous 2-year-old daughter, Ever, who “eats off Dad’s plate on a regular basis.”


Heineman courtesy photo

Jeff Heineman

Chef/owner of Grapeseed American Bistro + Wine Bar, Bethesda

On Sunday nights, Heineman cooks up a big batch of food for his family. Then, as part of weekday brown-bag lunches, 9-year-old Nicholas “eats dinner leftovers as if he’s going to a supper club,” his dad says. That could mean paella, barbecue or lasagna and other casseroles. Not so for his twin sister, Elyse, a picky eater who sticks with the standards, Heineman says.


Kronenburg courtesy photo

Eva Kronenburg

Executive pastry chef, Food Wine & Co., Bethesda

With a mom who specializes in sweets, it’s no wonder that 10-year-old Abigail Stafford’s lunch box desserts are hot commodities for bartering (Abigail has snagged pencils and necklaces in exchange). “She likes surprises to trade with friends,” Kronenburg says. Among the shared goodies: marshmallows dipped in chocolate or rolled in powdered sugar, Nutella-filled crepes or a scooped-out orange rind filled with chopped fruit.

Conversation Piece

Photo by Michael Ventura

WE HAVE TO HAND it to Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria e Bar, the attractive eatery that opened in May in Bethesda’s Westfield Montgomery mall. On one wall, a three-dimensional mural depicts dozens of Italian hand gestures. New York artist Nicholas Fasciano fashioned the 6-by-8½-foot creation, which features 49 gestures cast from the hands of real people. Fasciano, an Italian who talks a lot with his hands, said it took him about three months to complete the mural, which he made by having friends and relatives place their paws into a mailing tube filled with alginate, a gel-like material that’s used to make dental impressions. Resin was poured into the mold to harden after the hands were removed. Restaurant manager Mark Harkins says patrons may touch the sculpture—just no grabbing.

7101 Democracy Blvd., (Westfield Montgomery mall), 301-365-8300,   

FOOD FIND: Café Sunflower

BACKGROUND: Opened in April, the café is a retail operation for Sunflower Bakery, a Gaithersburg workforce training facility that teaches people with cognitive or developmental disabilities about pastry arts. Located on the lobby level of the North Bethesda office building owned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the clean, bright café provides separate training in marketing and customer service. The nonprofit café is a collaboration between the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and the United Jewish Endowment Fund.

THE GOODS: A full range of kosher baked items, including cookies, bars, muffins, pies and cupcakes, is delivered each weekday from the Gaithersburg bakery. For the upcoming Jewish holidays, look for desserts such as honey cake and apple cake. Café Sunflower also sells challah, bagels and light lunch dishes, which are not prepared by the bakery.  

Feivel Cohen (above) mans the counter at Café Sunflower in North Bethesda. Courtesy photos.

TASTE TEST: As Laurie Wexler, co-founder of Sunflower Bakery and Café Sunflower, puts it, “people will come once if they think you’re doing something good. They’ll come twice if they like the product.” There’s much to like; the raspberry crumb bars, blondies, oatmeal raisin cookies and mandel bread are especially good.

WHERE TO BUY: Café Sunflower, 6101 Executive Blvd., Suite 115, North Bethesda, 301-321-3280. Baked goods can also be ordered online and picked up at the Sunflower Bakery, 8507 Ziggy Lane, Gaithersburg, as well as at several synagogues in the area. 240-361-3698,  


Owners Laura Houlihan and Patrick Forest. Photo by Andrew Metcalf.

Former Grapeseed managers Laura Houlihan and Patrick Forest opened a neighborhood restaurant featuring local and regional cuisine, next door to their former employer. The two snagged culinary gems Chef Nick Palermo, formerly of the Old Angler’s Inn in Potomac, and pastry chef Rita Garruba,formerly of 8407 Kitchen Bar in Silver Spring.    

Barrel and Crow’s Lemon Blueberry Trifle oozes lemon cream, blueberry compote and lemon curd. Courtesy Photo.

TAKEAWAY: With contemporary, sophisticated fare served in a spare, handsome setting, the restaurant seems carefully planned but exudes effortlessness.
Maryland crab beignets, Virginia mackerel and the seasonal rhubarb crumble are terrific. 4867 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 240-800-3253,



Silver Spring residents Damon Callis, a former Marine and financial planner, and his wife, Georgia, a nurse and daughter of a late hobbyist winemaker, buy domestic and international grapes to make their own wines. Damon Callis says their winery is the first in an urban location in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Urban Winery in Silver Spring. Courtesy Photo.

TAKEAWAY: Friendly staff and a non-trendy atmosphere create a comfortable, inviting environment you gotta love. Cabernet Franc is the best bet wine-wise; other options are easy to drink, but lack complexity. Menu of light bites includes homespun renditions of avocado toast, Greek meatballs and chicken wings.

949 Bonifant St., Silver Spring, 301-585-4100,   


Restaurateur Francis Namin (Food Wine & Co., Beer Wine & Co., City Burger, Don Pollo) always had the idea to open multiple locations of Fish Taco, his fast-casual taqueria in Cabin John. And now it’s happening, with the scheduled November debut of a Fish Taco in Bethesda’s Wildwood Shopping Center and another location at 7200 Wisconsin Ave. in the works.

Tara Thai, which shuttered on Bethesda Avenue in March, plans to reopen in part of the former Legal Sea Foods space at Westfield Montgomery mall in Bethesda; look for a December opening. Jamaican Mi Crazy, a family-owned D.C. food truck, was scheduled to open a restaurant in August in the mall’s dining terrace.

And there’s more happening at Rockville Town Square, reinvigorated after several restaurant closings. Mellow Mushroom, the pizza chain with hippie roots that’s “been keeping it mellow since 1974,” takes over the former Oro Pomodoro space sometime this winter, joining a host of other new eateries.   

Shortly after Michael Harr, former executive chef at Bethesda’s Food Wine & Co., announced he would rebrand Largents Restaurant & Bar in Gaithersburg into Kentlands Kitchen, the deal fell through and the restaurant closed. Meanwhile,Ted’s 355 Diner in Rockville and Silver Spring’s Da Marco Ristorante Italiano folded in July.

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