The prominent sign for 80-year Mount Pleasant institution Heller’s Bakery will stay, but only four letters will remain illuminated at the restaurant/bakery/bar taking its place: “ELLE.”
Ellē (pronounced ell-ee) is the latest venture from Bad Saint and Room 11 owner Nick Pimentel and Paisley Fig founder/pastry chef Lizzy Evelyn. The name is not just a tribute to Heller’s, which closed in late 2014, but also an ode to Evelyn’s “feisty, strong-willed” grandmother, Ellie, who passed down several recipes.
Heller’s was an inspiration in other ways, too. The design of the space imagines what the bakery would have looked like when it first opened in the 1920s. Plus, the casual all-day spot will carry on the baking legacy of its predecessor, right down to resurrecting its 25-year-old rotating convection oven. Ellē is working out the kinks with limited hours and limited menu this week, but the daytime cafe officially opens on Monday, January 29, and evening service will begin a few days later.
Every day, you’ll find baguettes and country loaves, plus a weekly rotating bread such as fennel raisin or sesame wheat. A pastry case will be filled with scones, muffins, guava turnovers, maple-glazed doughnuts, and other baked goods. You’ll also find celebration cakes (customizable if you pre-order) and smaller, single-serving cakes.
The morning pastries will be accompanied by a full coffee program run by Evan Colondres, whose varied resume includes stints as a barista at Peregrine, general manager at Sally’s Middle Name, and sous chef at Little Serow.
Chef Brad Deboy, formerly of Blue Duck Tavern, will devote his talents to the art of the sandwich by day. (He’s busy masterminding the perfect egg and cheese, but vegans will find something too.)
Around 5 PM, the bar and full-service restaurant will open. Deboy is working on an unfussy, vegetable-heavy menu with lots of house-fermented ingredients and plenty of dishes incorporating the bakery’s bread. A team with impressive resumes is behind the drinks. Sean McPherson (Room 11, Columbia Room) will run the bar, while Alaina Dyne (Komi, Little Serow) serves as sommelier and service director. “It’s kind of all over,” Pimentel says of the cocktails and wine.
The dishes won’t stick to one cuisine either. A Miami native, Deboy cooked a little bit of everything—steak, Mediterranean, Indonesian, Thai—before coming to Washington and working at Vidalia and Blue Duck Tavern. He also wants his cooks to be able to contribute something from their own heritages to the menu. Echoing a common refrain of chefs lately, Deboy says, “We’re going to cook the food that we like to eat.”
The evening menu will kick off with a handful of snacks, which might include potato croquettes with gruyere or chicken liver mousse with sunchoke fries. More substantial dinner dishes will follow in the coming weeks: grain salads, spiced grilled carrots with carrot-top pesto, grilled cheese with broccoli, smoked fish, several pastas, and some “fun” larger format dishes that feed at least two.
“We can possibly change the menu here every day,” Deboy says.
A lot of the components will be cured and fermented in-house, whether it’s charcuterie, miso, pickles, sweet-spicy mustard, or hot sauce. The goal is to have a zero-waste kitchen where even vegetable scraps are turned into vinegars. Some of the condiments will be jarred and sold.
“I like to make weird things taste good,” Deboy says.
Ellē. 3221 Mt Pleasant St., NW.
CORRECTION: Ellē will serve coffee from Small Planes Coffee, not Paper Plane Coffee Co.