Popular Green Almond Pantry Delights on Grace Street
By May 27, 2021 0 329•
A delightful herald of the rejuvenation of Georgetown’s restaurant scene is the relocation of nationally acclaimed chef-owner Cagla Onal-Urel’s Green Almond Pantry — a Mediterranean café counter and market — to 3210 Grace St. NW, near the C&O Canal and Wisconsin Avenue.
Onal-Urel’s vibrant, market-fresh mezze, focaccia, imaginative lunch plates and take-home dinners have been celebrated by Esquire, the James Beard Foundation and the Washington Post. Onal-Urel, an Obelisk and Etto veteran who once sold her mezze at the Georgetown Farmers’ Market, is delighted with the new collective space which includes Grace Street Coffee Roasters and South Block Juice Co.
She presides over a gleaming counter serve and take-out operation, with communal seating indoors as well as on a charming, adjacent patio. Now, she can expand her menu with grills and soon serve wine and beer.
Describing her cooking philosophy, Onal-Urel explains that her menus begin with the produce delivered by local farmers that she has worked with for years. “Whatever comes, we cook and pack,” she says.
What’s coming in this season are eggs, parsley, asparagus, ramps and goat cheese that she is using in her pillowy focaccia and savory tarts. She is braising fava beans that she says are so fresh that she need not shell them. Later in the season when tomatoes are at their sweetest, she will make tomato jam. Her frittatas feature those local eggs as well as flavorful Kennebec potatoes. She bakes fresh breads daily, allowing the focaccia dough to rise until the “yeast gets happy” and it “feels like clouds.”
Carrots are roasted and bathed in pickled mustard seeds, flaxseed and walnuts – ingredients that add flavor as well as nutrients to this vegan friendly offering. Onal-Urel consciously tailors many of her dishes for vegetarians and vegans. A blackboard menu board lists lunch plates like an eggplant confit sandwich with pesto and feta cheese, a cara cara orange and fennel salad with olive and anchovy, a seasonal tart, lamb kofta and her intriguing “little little in the middle.” The “little little,” she explains, is a sampler plate with hummus and her choice of mezze. It’s designed for “people who don’t know us and want to try our things.”
A display cooler is filled with take-home items like Turkish stuffed eggplant, farro and walnut salad, eggplant confit and prepared dinners. These can be pre-ordered online for pick up, as well as purchased on the spot. In addition, there are pantry items like tinned anchovies, olive oil, vinegars and grains.
Onal-Urel’s cooking heritage began in her native Turkey. She explains that to grow up as a woman there, “one cooks.” She still remembers the smells and tastes of food she helped prepare for everyday family dinners. And she makes some of those dishes for her market café – like her father’s favorite red lentils and cracked wheat, and her mother’s olive oil-based cake that is bright with freshly grated lemons.
She is excited about the prospect of having a wine and beer license and hosting a happy hour scene on the greenery-wrapped patio where customers can settle in with wine, light cocktails featuring a specialty vermouth, beer, cider and her celebrated little bites.
Right now, Green Almond Pantry is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. But she expects to expand those days in June when her daughter goes to visit family. Her hours and expansion plans are designed to leave her plenty of time for her 10-year-old “priority.”