Exclusive: Mike Isabella Will Open Kapnos Kouzina in Bethesda

Greek fried chicken and other homestyle fare for the chef's first Maryland eatery.

Chef Mike Isabella expands the Kapnos line, opening Kapnos Kouzina in Bethesda. Photograph by Greg Powers.

Big news from restaurateur Mike Isabella: The chef’s expanding empire will stretch to Bethesda this year with the opening of Kapnos Kouzina. The 5,200-square-foot Greek restaurant will be Isabella’s first in Maryland, located in the Bethesda Row development at 4900 Hampden Lane. A summer debut is expected.

While some restaurateurs opt for a string of nearly identical eateries, Isabella is using the Kapnos concept to explore different areas of Greek cuisine with each restaurant. The first, on 14th Street, centers on whole, spit-roasted animals and the cooking of inland Greece, while the upcoming Kapnos Taverna in Arlington will focus on seafood-centric coastal fare when it debuts this month. Kouzina (translation: kitchen) draws from homestyle traditions, and will be outfitted like a market with pantry items and wine on display, and bowls of fruits and vegetables throughout.

Executive chef George Pagonis—who’s currently battling his way to the finals of Top Chef season 12—draws from his Greek family traditions for the menu, as well as his years working in his father’s Alexandria diner before moving on to grander kitchens such as New York City’s Aureole and Zaytinya. While a selection of small plates can be found at all the Kapnos eateries, along with dips, spreads, and fresh-baked breads, Kouzina will focus on rustic, shareable platters for two to four diners. A few early examples include Greek-spiced fried chicken with wildflower honey, braised lamb in a stew of lentils, tomatoes, and eggplant, and whole roasted sea bass in a spicy clam broth. The eatery will also serve lunch, a first for a Kapnos and Isabella; the menu will boast the chef’s first-ever burger, naturally a lamb version. (Sorry, G fans, the close proximity of Taylor Gourmet means the team won’t be opening an adjoining sandwich shop like on 14th Street.)

Isabella says Kouzina might not be the last of the Kapnos line, but wouldn’t elaborate on specific upcoming ventures. Not that he isn’t a chef on the move; Graffiato Richmond just opened, Taverna should debut in Ballston within a few weeks, the Mexican cantina Pepita is scheduled for later this year, and Isabella has signed on to two airport concepts in California and Florida. And that’s just what’s been announced so far.

“This is the biggest year of my life,” says Isabella.

Stay tuned for more details on Kouzina as the opening nears.

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.