Restaurateur Michael Schlow’s Prima Opens in Bethesda with Healthy, Gluten-Free Italian Bowls

Bethesda Row gets a cheffy fast-casual spot.

Prima, a healthy Italian fast-casual restaurant from Michael Schlow, opens soon in Bethesda. Photograph by Jennifer Chase

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When it comes to fast-casual Italian, the field is pretty carb-heavy—look at the new Stellina Pizzeria, Nicoletta Pizzeria, or Al Volo downtown. Restaurateur Michael Schlow is taking his first quick-grab spot, Prima, in a different direction. You won’t find pizza, pasta, or even bread at the 54-seat Bethesda Row restaurant (formerly a Taylor Gourmet) when it opens later this month. Instead, the bowl-based menu is gluten-free and “friendly” to a variety of diets, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, Keto, or Paleo.

Schlow says he wasn’t planning the concept around any dietary restrictions or fads when looking for spaces around DC and Boston, the two main hubs where he operates over a dozen restaurants like The Riggsby and Alta Strada. An Italian chef by training, he and culinary director Ed Scarpone experimented with pasta but weren’t happy with the result for quick service so swung in the opposite direction.

“Everyone thinks of fast Italian food as high-carb and high-calorie. When I go to Italy, I lose weight,” says Schlow.

The format is familiar. Customers can pick between seven bowls like the Amalfi (fresh mozzarella, basil-marinated tomatoes, wild mushrooms, white beans, herbs) or the roasted salmon and quinoa (peas, roasted baby carrots, white bean puree, spicy tomato-basil vinaigrette). They can also customize their own with a base of greens, ancient grains, and legumes; toppings like roasted or marinated vegetables; and proteins such as rosemary-lemon grilled chicken, Sicilian tuna salad, and meatballs fashioned from grass-fed beef. A final topping bar will have creamy purees and cheeses like spicy ricotta, crunchy parmesan chips, sauces like pesto and tomato, Calabrian chili oil, vinaigrettes, and more. Prices range from around $12 to $14.

Pastry chef Alex Levin is working with an outside partner on gluten-free desserts like Nutella brownies. Drinks won’t include alcohol, at least to start; look for coffees and Italian sodas. As is the case with most fast-casual spots, the restaurant is designed to be scaled up if it’s successful. Just look at Cava, whose first quick concept launched down the street.

Prima. 7280 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda  

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.