Capitol Hill's infamous Park Cafe has at last been replaced, to the relief of a neighborhood long frustrated by the restaurant's inability to live up to its prime location's potential. But can they expect better of its successor? To find out, we stopped by Ninnella, which softly opened Tuesday.
and Alessandro Forte
(flanked above by Chef Emanuele Simeoni
and GM Matthew Campanella
) come from a family of cooks in Naples
, Italy. Their grandmother
Anna—affectionately known as "Ninnella," or "little lady"—was a wizard
in the kitchen, both at home and in her Naples restaurant, also called "Ninnella." After 30 years
of successful operation, the original Ninnella was closed when Ana passed; her grandsons have opened Ninnella in Capitol Hill as a tribute
to the family legend
The brothers tell us that though they still live in Naples, they have always dreamed
of opening a restaurant in America. They searched all over
the country for the perfect
location and fell in love
not only with the Park Cafe space, but also the Capitol Hill neighborhood
. They ate their way through Manhattan
in search of the ideal
chef and found Chef Simeoni, who comes to DC after 15 years
of cooking in Manhattan and running his own Upper East Side restaurant, Barbaluc.
Basil Panna Cotta
Ninnella's menu will represent cuisine from all over
Italy, with a focus on pasta
in Chef Simeoni's self-dubbed sophisticated Italian
-style of cooking. They opened Tuesday with a one-page dinner menu,
but plan to greatly expand
their offerings soon. Once dinner service is running smoothly, they will offer brunch
on Saturdays and Sundays, eventually expanding to weekday breakfast
wine and espresso are a must at any authentic Italian place. Ninnella will have a lengthy reserve
wine list for special occasions, and a second, more moderately
priced everyday wine list as well. Lavazza
espresso shots are pulled from a shiny, state-of-the-art machine perched on the bar. The street-level dining room seats 30
and features a small gas fireplace
for added coziness. When the basement
level opens, it will seat another 15.
There will also be patio
seating out front come spring—a necessity, given the area's high population of dogs
The new owners want the neighbors to know: things are going to be very different.
H street's wildly popular H &pizza
has just announced the location of its second
shop, which they hope to open late spring.
The fast-casual gourmet pizza shop will be taking over the former Quiznos space above the metro
at 13th and U St NW.
This prime location has significantly higher foot traffic
and a rich history that owners Steve Salis
and Mike Lastoria
plan to pay homage
to by featuring local and historical art, just like their H Street shop. Steve tells us they've learned a lot from running their original shop and that the new space will be better suited to higher speed
While the new space is actually 300 square feet smaller
than the original, its wide,
rectangular layout (as opposed to H's long, narrow layout) will allow for a service line that is twice
as long as H Street's. This means room for more people
assembling pizzas, which means speedier
service. They also plan to have a separate
line to accommodate large
orders, which currently jam up
the line at H Street. A good thing, as the lines in the population-dense
U Street neighborhood are bound to be much longer.
We stopped by the Jimmy John's booth at ICSC last week to learn about its expansion plans for DC. Real Estate director Chris Newman tells us that they are working on eight deals in DC, mostly focused on the central office district area. But they've been facing difficulty locating viable sites because of skyrocketing rental rates here. This market is so hot right now that some businesses are willing to operate at a loss and/or knowingly overpay in order to secure prime locations—tough tactics for smaller players to contend with.
We also spoke with Streetsense's James McCandless
to get the broker
perspective on whether smaller and local players are getting priced out
of DC. He tells us that local shops actually have an edge
in the DC market, partly because their superior knowledge
of local spaces gives them an advantage
. Also, the transient
nature of the DC population means customers are more willing to try unique local brands
like Sweetgreen or Taylor than folks in other markets. And finally, James tells us that DC is fortunate to have sophisticated
landlords that understand that a better mix
of businesses is better for everyone, so they don't just go with national brands that sound familiar.