At noon on Saturday, April 30, a long line snaked around the block from Mess Hall in Edgewood Northeast. After a three year wait, New Kitchens on the Block returned with crowds eagerly waiting to be checked in as trails of smoke from the grill outdoors wafted over.
Starting in 2016, the pop-up festival annually previewed upcoming restaurants and eateries, with many of its more than 60 alumni becoming successes like Michelin-starred Jônt and Maydan, as well the popular growing bagel empire Call Your Mother.
This year’s NKOTB class included Shababi Diner, Your Only Friend, Tawle, Cenzo’s Upper Westside, Hill East Burger, Tori Sumi Yakitori and DC Vegan. With many of the chefs and restauranteurs of these newer concepts hailing from established favorite local spots like Maydan, Compass Rose, Columbia Room (RIP), Bubbie’s and Sloppy Mama’s, the two-hour sold-out food palooza was sure to please even the toughest critic.
Here were some of the most memorable bites and sips from the festival.
Tawle – Lamb Kofta and “Little Suns” Iced Tea
Full disclosure, as a Greek person I am obligated to gravitate toward lamb, so I was elated to pick up a lamb kofta bite accompanied with pickled turnip and garlic sauce, wrapped in lavash. The richness of the lamb was well balanced with its pairings — and when sipping the bright chamomile citrus iced tea that had a touch of heat — it was truly a delight. Tawle is led by Compass Rose and Maydan restauranteur Rose Previte and chef Omar Hegazi, and will focus on Middle Eastern cuisine. The restaurant is set to open in Mosaic District this fall.
Shababi Diner – Knafeh Waffles
If it’s one thing Washingtonians love, it’s brunch food and Shababi Diner knew the assignment. Throughout the two-hour event, there was a consistent line for these delectable sweet bites with a Palestinian twist. Each mini waffle was soaked in fragrant rose syrup and topped with shaved pistachio, kataifi pastry, maple flakes and whipped cream. I overheard people raving about the waffles being the most buttery they’ve ever had. I even watched one woman sprint to their table at the end of the event to make sure her last bite was the waffle. Shababi Diner is led by former Maydan chef Marcelle Afram, and Joyce Miller. While they are still looking for a set location for the Palestinian diner concept, they already have a loyal following from their Alexandria pop-up.
Cenzo’s – Fried Chick’n Parm Sandwich
There’s no question vegan food’s made great strides in creating imitation plant-based meats, yet it still never ceases to shock me when I try something so close to its once-living counterpart. The chick’n parm sandwich from Cenzo’s not only brought the flavors of the Italian-American classic but exceeded expectations in texture with the crispy fried chick’n holding up to the perfectly seasoned marinara sauce. The bite was topped with vegan cashew-based mozzarella cheese and peppery arugula sandwiched between a fresh roll. Although vegan cheese is still on its way to reaching perfection, Cenzo’s offered a vegan cheese sampling and the almond-based goat cheese was alarmingly close. The concept is spearheaded by restaurateur Shaun Sharkey and chef Margaux Riccio of Bubbie’s Plant Burgers and Pow Pow. We can expect Cenzo’s to open in August where Bubbie’s is currently located in Dupont Circle (Bubbie’s will move to a new location in Adam’s Morgan).
Showmanship Award – Tori Sumi Yakitori
The source of the smoke trail that wandered over while waiting in line was from Tori Sumi Yakitori’s table. Throughout the event, there was someone constantly rotating and fanning chicken skewers over a charcoal grill. The end result was a pepper forward succulent ground chicken meatball lacquered in a sweet smoky tare sauce. Tori Sumi Yakitori plans to focus on Japanese-style grilling with skewered chicken and have their sights set to open a storefront in the summer of 2023.
Check out the photo gallery below from the festival.
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