After nearly three years of planning and construction, Neighborhood Restaurant Group had hoped to debut the Roost, its Hill East food hall, with a grand opening weekend full of festivities. Last winter, the company, which is behind places like Iron Gate and Red Apron Butcher, had even set about getting permits for a big street party.
The pandemic opening won’t be quite as splashy. Rather, the food hall will roll out its offerings slowly over the coming months. Up first: Shop Made in DC, selling local goods, and Cameo, a specialty coffee shop. The “culinary clubhouse” will continue to launch its ten other concepts every couple weeks with the goal of having the entire venue up and running by Thanksgiving—depending on what happens with Covid, of course.
Owner Michael Babin is looking for silver linings amid the uncertainty. For example, it’s turned out to be a blessing that the venue wasn’t ready to open in spring. “When the pandemic started, a lot of things became frustrating. But this construction delay was not one of them,” Babin says. “It almost was like, OK, we don’t have to worry about that at least for a little bit longer. We really are opening it as soon as we could based on construction.”
Unlike other food halls that have a large communal seating area in the middle with eateries around the periphery, the Roost’s L-shaped layout inside the Blackbird Apartments building is a little more meandering. “To see the whole property, you have to really walk from one end to the other. All the spaces are connected, but it plays out like a series of rooms,” Babin says. The design makes a gradual rollout look less empty and social distancing more natural. Babin says the plan is to open concepts on far ends of the food hall, then gradually work their way to the middle.
Even before the pandemic, NRG had built the Roost with takeout and delivery in mind. They got a head start with Neighborhood Provisions, a service launched at the start of the pandemic for delivery groceries, beers, wines, and prepared food from their existing restaurants. The company will use its own employees as drivers, but may also use some third-party services to expand its geographic range.
The food hall had also been planning to use mobile ordering, too, which seemed a lot more novel at its conception. “We were really thinking, ‘How are we going to explain this to people to get people to understand it? To really feel comfortable using it?’ The pandemic has solved that problem for us,” Babin says. He thinks that one of the problems with many food halls is that they lure you in with the variety, but actually trying a little bit of everything can be a pain. So, the online ordering system will allow customers to order from multiple stalls at once.
To start, though, the options will be limited to Cameo. Nazia Khan, formerly of The Wydown, is direct-sourcing eco-conscious, socially responsible coffees and teas from around the world, including from lesser known producers Papua New Guinea and Rwanda. Brooklyn-based Parlor Coffee is the shop’s primary roaster, and Buzz Bakery and Pluma will supply pastries and breads. The coffee spot is located inside a Shop Made in DC “storelet,” which will showcase around 40 DC makers to start. (Expect everything from art to clothing to—soon—bottled cocktails). Some day, when Covid restrictions are loosened, the shop hopes to host events and speakers with local artists and producers.
The rest of The Roost’s lineup comes from a combination of Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s own talent and partnered chefs. Here’s a quick look at what’s coming:
Shelter – The bar and beer garden spearheaded by beverage director Greg Engert (ChurchKey, the Sovereign, Bluejacket brewery) will focus on low-ABV brews across its 50 rotating taps.
State Fair – The nostalgic custard shop will feature classic chocolate and vanilla flavors and choose-your-own-adventure sundaes.
Leni – Richmond chef Brittany Anderson’s all-day cafe will highlight her German and Alpine cooking with an emphasis on fermented foods and whole grains.
Red Apron Butcher – The charcuterie, burger, and sandwich destination will open its fourth location with a greatest hits menu.
Slice Joint – Rachel Marie, an alum of acclaimed Roberta’s in Brooklyn, will serve New York-style and grandma-style pizzas whole and by the slice.
Hi/Fi Taco – Red Apron butcher/chef Nathan Anda will bring his meat expertise to tacos, nachos, and quesadillas.
Caruso’s Grocery – The red sauce Italian-American joint from chef Matt Adler (formerly Osteria Morini, Alta Strada) will serve classics like rigatoni alla vodka and chicken parmigiana. Because it the Roost’s only full-service standalone restaurant, it will likely be the last to open.
TBD – One more concept has yet to be announced.
The Roost. 1401 Pennsylvania Ave., SE.