An Early Look at Cava Grill

The guys behind Cava open their latest project, a fast-casual spot with an eco bent in Bethesda.

Amid all the buzz surrounding Cava Grill’s opening, the description “Mediterranean Chipotle” has been thrown around—and rightly so. Co-owner Ted Xenohristos—who helped launch the sit-down Cava mezze restaurants in Rockville and on Capitol Hill—hopes to emulate the Mexican chain’s model of consistency in his first fast-casual venture. The less-than-$10 prices and ordering style—make your way down an assembly line designing your meal—are the same, too. Here, you start by choosing from a base (pita sandwich, basmati rice bowl, or salad) with a main ingredient (such as marinated chicken, falafel, or ground sirloin) and add toppings (hummus, tzatziki, and the brand’s signature “crazy feta,” among them).

Lots of the ingredients at Cava Grill came from well-tested recipes that are used in its sister restaurants. For example, the loukaniko—handcrafted pork sausage with fresh leeks, fennel seeds, and orange peel—is a small plate at the sit-down restaurants, and the recipe is from chef/co-owner Dimitri Moshovitis’s Greek family. The dips and spreads, which are served here as complimentary toppings or as separate mezze with pita chips, are the same as the restaurant versions and those sold in Washington and Philadelphia Whole Foods markets. Like any Greek chef worth his salt, Moshovitis puts lots of care into his lamb, braising it in a bay-leaf-spiked stock for three hours before marinating it in lemon, oil, and herbs. It then gets a quick sear on the grill before going into pitas or rice bowls. Right now, drinking options are limited to fountain soda and Horizon organic milk, but Mythos beer and wine will be available in the coming weeks. The interior shows the owners’ dedication to being eco-friendly. It features reclaimed wood and LED lighting, and the utensils, containers, and cups are all compostable.

Cava’s expansion has been fast. In less than five years, the company grew from a single Rockville restaurant to a local chain and a purveyor of packaged foods sold at Whole Foods. The team is looking for a downtown DC space to open another Cava Grill as soon as possible. But if the owners can maintain the Chipotle-like consistency that they’re after, the Cava crew won’t have to worry about growing pains.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.