Three local spots that opened during the pandemic
Here’s a secret about Mahshad Modern Persian Kitchen, a fast-casual restaurant that opened in Rockville’s King Farm in June: If you call ahead, you can get a piece of tahdig—the crispy, crunchy layer of browned rice that forms on the bottom of the pan when making fluffy Persian basmati rice.
Businessman Alain Kalantar, who owns Harlot DC in Washington, co-owns the restaurant with a cousin, Shahrokh Hedayati. Kalantar’s wife, Vera, who earned a degree in confectionery in her native Kaliningrad, Russia, and owned food stores and restaurants there, serves as the restaurant’s creative director and develops most of the recipes. Her emphasis is on using organic foods whenever possible, lightening up on sugar and offering vegan options.
Kalantar didn’t expect to open in a pandemic. He signed a lease in the King Farm Village Center in March 2019. The space didn’t have natural gas, and by the time the landlord brought in propane as promised, COVID-19 hit and the restaurant inspection didn’t take place until early June.
The space—with bold ceramic tiles, lime green banquettes and a subway-tiled open kitchen—is inviting and so is the staff. There are six tables inside and four outside that allow for ample social distancing. The fairly brief menu highlights kebabs (ground beef and a vegan version of it; beef fillet; chicken marinated in saffron and yogurt, with a spicy option; and veggies) that come with warm pita bread, a roasted tomato and rice or salad or half rice, half salad. We can attest to the succulence and flavor of all the meat kebabs, especially the spicy chicken. Don’t pass up side dishes, particularly eggplant caviar, a chunky puree of grilled, peeled eggplant, caramelized onions, mint and turmeric that’s topped with kashk, a tangy fermented yogurt.
Hedayati develops dessert recipes. Try the basmati rice pudding made with saffron, almonds and just a bit of sugar.
Mahshad Modern Persian Kitchen, 404 King Farm Blvd., Rockville, 240-477-6333, mahshadmd.com
Unwrapping my Call Your Mother “Sun City” breakfast sandwich and opening the everything bagel halves reveals scrambled eggs in thin, sheeted layers, smoky Liberty Farm bacon slices, melted American and cheddar cheeses and spicy honey. It is a sight to behold—and tastes great, too.
Since mid-July, Call Your Mother has been selling its fare out of a tricked-out teal and hot pink refurbished Craigslist trolley named Honey in the parking lot of the Bethesda Community Store (which closed in 2016) at the corner of Old Georgetown and Greentree roads.
This is the third outpost of Call Your Mother, which co-owners and founders Andrew Dana and chef Daniela Moreira refer to as a bagel shop and “Jew-ish” deli. Their first location, in D.C’s Park View neighborhood, opened to rave reviews—and large crowds—in 2018. In June, after posting their support for the Black Lives Matter movement on Instagram, the couple received criticism for a lack of diversity on their management team and for appropriating Black culture in various ways, such as using images of Black sports and entertainment figures as decor and naming sandwiches after them. Efforts to address those issues included renaming sandwiches, which now reference retirement communities in Boca Raton, Florida, a nod to Dana’s Jewish roots and family connections there.
The trolley’s menu features bagels (baked in a wood-fired oven in the Park View location); cream cheese-based “shmearz”; whitefish salad and smoked salmon from D.C.’s Ivy City Smokehouse; and bagel sandwiches, including the Banyan Place (herb cream cheese, bacon, jalapenos and red cabbage slaw on an everything bagel) and the Atrium (peanut butter, seasonal jam and house-made granola on a plain bagel). The trolley is open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., but they often sell out before closing time. (Ordering online is a good idea.) There are benches and a picnic table, or you can eat in your car so that social distancing is not an issue.
Dana and Moreira opened a Capitol Hill location of Call Your Mother in April, and one in Georgetown on July 29. The couple (they are engaged) also opened a cafe, Mercy Me, in the Yours Truly hotel in Washington’s Foggy Bottom in June.
Dana says the Bethesda site is appealing because he and Moreira like the idea of spreading out and not leaching business from their other locations. “When we saw the spot, it made a lot of sense to us. The trolley is moveable, but we want to be in that location indefinitely. We signed a four-month lease through Sept. 30 for a test-out before signing on more long-term, which is the goal. We have the option to extend it or buy the property.” If the lines they’ve been experiencing are any indication, that spectacular Sun City bagel should be around for a long time.
Call Your Mother, 8804 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, callyourmotherdeli.com
One of those 90-plus-degree days in July provided the perfect excuse to head to Woodmont Triangle in Bethesda and check out Pitango Gelato’s first Montgomery County location, which opened on May 29.
The D.C.-based chainlet’s founder and CEO, Noah Dan, 65, and his daughter Alisa, 25, who oversees the company’s day-to-day operations, show me around the large, window-filled space—formerly Tapas Bar—where taped markings on the floor delineate social distancing requirements. A batch of gelato, pale green from pricey Sicilian pistachios, spins in a $26,000 batch freezer imported from Italy in the front window.
Noah Dan was born and raised in Israel, spending summers in Trieste, Italy, with his Italian mother’s family. There, he says, he was exposed to the best gelato. He met his wife, Sharon, who is the editor-in-chief of Rockville-based Home & Design magazine, in Curaçao in 1987. “Sharon brought me to Maryland in 1990 and we got married. I blame her every winter,” he says with a laugh. The Dans live in Potomac.
Noah Dan had a software company in Bethesda and got out of the business after the dot-com bubble burst. That’s when he turned his childhood love of gelato into a business, opening Pitango Gelato in Baltimore’s Fells Point in 2006 after building a plant near Spring Wood Organic Farm in eastern Pennsylvania. The farm supplies raw milk that is pasteurized at the plant; then gelato mixes are made and sent to Pitango’s six locations to be churned on-site in 6-liter batches. (Pitango, a fruit known as Surinam cherry in the United States, was Dan’s favorite gelato flavor in Israel.)
Each store features 10 gelatos and 10 sorbets daily from more than 50 flavors. No stabilizers, chemicals, preservatives, colorings or flavorings are used. They source chocolate, hazelnuts and milk solids (necessary for texture in some gelatos) from Italy and use fresh fruit for sorbets. Bestsellers are mojito sorbet and pistachio, chocolate (five varieties) and hazelnut gelato. As I sample freshly churned pistachio gelato, I savor its chewy denseness until I scrape the bottom of the cup.
It has been on Dan’s mind to open in Bethesda for years, but the pieces didn’t land in place until last fall. “It’s a great location because there are a lot of residential buildings. We’re not dependent on tourism, which is good in COVID times,” he says. Without COVID-19, the store would have been open in March instead of late May. “It was the hardest soft opening I’ve ever had. The important thing is to be here when things get back to normal. I consider myself a failed optimist.”
Pitango Gelato, 4901 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda, 571-495-0946, pitangobethesda.com
Comings & Goings
Greenhill Companies, the landlord for the building next to Pitango Gelato in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle, announced that a ramen shop would open there.
Attman’s Deli in Cabin John Village in Potomac closed in April but is relocating to Park Potomac.
Thai Pavilion and tapas bar La Tasca both closed in Rockville Town Square in May, as did George’s Chophouse in Bethesda and the Friendship Heights location of Asian restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s.
In June, Gumbo Ya Ya in Rockville Town Square and Union Jack’s, a British pub in the Rio shopping center in Gaithersburg, closed.
Addie’s in Park Potomac closed in July after a three-year run. The owner of The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg decided to close the restaurant in July, with the goal of selling it to someone else, after he refused to require his employees to wear masks; the business had received a warning from county inspectors. The Silver Spring location of the Not Your Average Joe’s chain also closed in July. Le Vieux Logis, a French restaurant that opened in Bethesda in 1980, and Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant in Bethesda both shuttered in July.
In August, JennyCakes Bakery in Kensington announced that it would close on Sept. 19 after an eight-year run.
Buena Vida, a Mexican restaurant in Silver Spring, closed; Tacos, Tortas & Tequila (TTT), its downstairs fast-casual sibling, will expand to include the upstairs space.