For just over three years, the third venture of the Mindful Restaurants group has been serving 14th Street patrons upscale Italian food at a reasonable price. Ghibellina is owned by the husband-and-wife joint venture of Ari and Stacy Gejdenson. Ari got his start owning Ari’s Diner, an American restaurant in the heart of Florence, Italy. Ghibellina was the name of the street that Ari’s Diner called home.
A beet gazpacho and the signature salad, the insalata Ghibellina, set the stage for an incredibly versatile meal. While the refreshing gazpacho offered just-right relief on a hot day, the salad’s combination of avocado and basil pesto with greens was impossibly complex. A large portion of the Ghibellina menu changes with the seasons, said a spokesperson, but many items remain the same. The gnocchi, though on the menu year-round, is prepared different ways based on the seasons. Summer’s gnocchi al pomodoro, a simple recipe, will deliver an unexpected smoky twist.
The restaurant’s most noteworthy feature is its pizza. Though its margherita di bufala’s buffalo mozzarella and the funghi’s truffle oil offer unusual flavors, the real innovation is that each personal pizza is served uncut and with a large pair of scissors for the patron. “When you cut that kind of pizza,” the representative said, “it gets soggy.” Instead Ari and his staff like to preserve the optimal flavor and crispness of the pizza until the last possible moment.
Though not for the faint-hearted, an exciting option is the bistecca alla Fiorentina par due, a 45-ounce grilled porterhouse steak for two.
While the menu options and the classic atmosphere of the restaurant give customers a fine dining feel, a full, multi-course meal can be had for under $30. After dinner, guests often venture downstairs into another Mindful Restaurant, Sotto, which opened in early 2015. The bar offers a quiet, laid-back environment that is perfect for early evening dates and catching up, but later on becomes packed with patrons eager to hear the bar’s nightly live music selection, usually of the jazz or funk varieties.
Ghibellina (ghibellina.com) is situated at 1610 14th St. NW, just above Sotto.
Mindful Restaurants, in addition to its other eateries such as Acqua Al 2 in Eastern Market, is working toward opening three new restaurants in the coming months, all on the ground floor of Ivy City’s Hecht building: a Mexican restaurant, La Puerta Vierde; a soccer bar, Dock 2; and a new Ari’s Diner in the style of the original Florence location.
Smoke if You’ve Got ‘Em
For almost 20 years Metro Center has been rapidly growing around one bar/restaurant: Shelly’s Backroom. Since 1997 Shelly’s customers have been able to enjoy a cigar, a drink, and wings or a burger in the heart of downtown DC. Owner Bob Materazzi bought from none other than the store’s namesake and original builder in 2000. Since then, he’s seen the neighborhood, and his clientele, change. “We get a lot more lawyers, lobbyists, and political types,” Materazzi said, “and we get a lot of businesspeople that travel.”
The restaurant’s award-winning campfire wings are roasted, not fried. They’re marinated overnight and come with a choice of honey mustard, bleu cheese, or ranch. And they’ve been named the best wings in the city. Whether with a tender Shelly’s burger, a moist grilled salmon sandwich with a dill sauce that brings out the fish’s subtle flavors, or a grilled-to-perfection chicken fajita wrap, you can’t go wrong on the menu.
“It’s bar food, but it’s real good,” said Materazzi. A significant amount of business comes from “box holders.” Regulars have the option of leasing a personal humidified box in the restaurant to store their cigars.
Customers can expect to overhear a cacophony of business, political, and sports talk from the gathered masses on leather couches, bar stools, easy chairs, and normal wooden seats; but you’re always able to hear the people you’re with. The most popular cigars, according to Materazzi, come from the Arturo Fuente line. The extensive cigar menu will leave all but the most well-versed smokers in awe and perhaps even overwhelmed by the options. About two years ago, Materazzi said, he invested in a brand new, state-of-the-art ventilation system. You’ll know it’s working, because, as he said, “We may smell like cigars, but there’s no smoke in here.”
Over the years the lounge has hosted dignitaries, politicians, celebrities, and athletes alike, from Michael Jordan and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Rudy Giuliani and Al Sharpton. The restaurant’s unique offerings mean it also has little competition from outside. “We’re unique,” Materazzi said. “We don’t really compete with other restaurants.”
So, the next time you’re in the mood for some wings, or perhaps just a smoke, stop in on Shelly’s Backroom (shellysbackroom.com) at 1331 F St. NW.
Fresh from NYC
Dupont Circle’s newest restaurant is an import from New York City. Bareburger, an organic, fast-casual burger restaurant, is changing the way burgers are done. While most burger places offer one or two meat options, Bareburger’s menu features two kinds of beef, as well as bison, elk, wild boar, duck, turkey, chicken, and three vegetarian options.
Based on 20th Street NW in a location that used to house a Cosi, the restaurant features a full bar and a seating area. Despite the fast-casual nature of the restaurant, customers do receive table service by waiters.
The colorful menu guides patrons through seven burger-building steps:
1. Choose your patty. The 11 patty options are all radically different.
2. Pick a bun. While the traditional brioche is a favorite, healthier options such as a collard green wrap are available.
3. Next, add a cheese.
4. Bacon: one of the four “bacon” options is brisket, but each offers a smoky and/or crunchy zing.
5. Get healthier with some veggies. Standard vegetable options are joined on the menu by some rarer selections such as chickpea onions and pickled jalapenos.
6. Choose a sauce. While the special sauce is intriguing, the horseradish remoulade will add an unusual and exciting kick.
7. Select an optional spread. For a little extra, add tomato fig jam, kimchi slaw, and any of four other spread options.
While the build-your-burger option offers seemingly endless possibilities, Bareburger also serves several signature burgers. The southern caviar, which is made up of bison, pimiento cheese, country bacon, stout onions, and horseradish remoulade, all on a brioche bun, is mouthwateringly tender, moist, smoky, crunchy, cheesy, and more, all at the same time. While the numerous options and enticing sides allow you to build a relatively pricey (for a fast-casual restaurant) meal, the conservative spender can still get a delicious and filling lunch or dinner in the $10-$12 range.
Bareburger (bareburger.com) is located at 1647 20th St. NW, at the intersection with Connecticut Avenue, just north of the Dupont Circle Metro station’s Q Street exit.
Max Moline is a communications specialist living in DC. He frequents Nationals Park and enjoys writing about food as much as he does eating it. He’s always looking for new places to try, rooftops and cigar lounges being a plus! Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org; @MaxMoline425.