Neapolitan pies are among the many styles of pizza you can choose from at the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods. Place your lunch orders at the computer screen. Photographs by Kyle Gustafson
Most local Whole Foods stores have elaborate prepared foods sections, but the week-old Foggy Bottom branch is taking things up a notch. A variety of made-to-order dishes and a seating area where you can sip beer, wine, and sake almost make you forget you’re in a grocery store.
Though meals get assembled at individual counters, you don’t place orders there. Instead head to the wall of six computers armed with credit card payment systems. Choosing between the main categories on the screen—sushi, burgers and all-beef hotdogs, sandwiches, pizzas, hot and cold noodles, and "good food" (meaning salad and rice bowls)—is just the first step. Once you're set on a category you can opt for one of the recommended combinations, or go rogue and customize your own.
Chef Kaz Okochi's sushi follows the same format and menu of his nearby Oh Fish!, so you can create rolls with a variety of seafood, veggies, and sauces. Almost as customizable are the hot noodle bowls, which come in three varieties—pho, ramen, and curry-infused laksa—and can be garnished with herbs, bean sprouts, and proteins like slow-cooked brisket and shrimp.
Those looking for a heartier meal can leave the quinoa to the organic salad bar. Burgers come in many forms (beef, turkey, veggie), sizes (regular or junior), and have toppings that range from chipotle mayo and pickled jalapenos to cheese, chili, and another griddled patty. When it comes to pizza, pick from individual wood-fired Neapolitan pies, puffy Roman-style squares, and oversized New York-inspired slices before getting into larger questions of mozzarella versus ricotta, veggie versus pepperoni, and so on.
But perhaps the most overwhelming decisions come with the ambiguously-named "good food" bowl, where a platform of greens (think arugula and kale) or grains (quinoa, farro) can be layered with grilled meat, seafood, or tofu, numerous veggies, and ladled with myriad sauces—Italian Puttanesca, Korean bulgogi—or vinaigrettes. Thankfully orders can be saved to the kiosk, so personalized combinations are retrievable upon return.
So after all the effort, how does it all taste? Whole Foods is striving for a restaurant-made feel, kneading the Neapolitan pizza crust with "00" flour, simmering its pho broth in-house, and grinding fresh meat daily for the burgers. Some of the touches stand out—handcut fries are crisp, the burger is juicy and perfectly pink, and the Neapolitan pizza crust is lightly charred and dabbed with tangy marinara. Other stabs at authenticity, like the weak, oddly sweet pho broth, still need work. But grab a pie, half-bottle of chilled Prosecco, and table for two in the cafe, and you could be doing much worse.
Whole Foods, 2201 I St., NW; 202-296-1660. Open daily from 8 AM to 10 PM (coffee bar opens at 7 AM).
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