The pandemic has been tough on small restaurants—particularly Green Almond Pantry, whose tiny Shaw space suffered a devastating fire five days before Christmas. Chef/owner Cagla Onal-Urel, usually a beaming presence at her beloved Mediterranean lunch counter and market, looks pained as she recounts that time. She and general manager Kat Kempner cancelled their flood of holiday orders, issued refunds, and threw out fire-damaged food and melted Christmas candies they’d painstakingly prepared by hand.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending—or a new beginning, as Green Almond reopens in Georgetown today. Onal-Urel, a Turkish native who cooked at fine dining Italian restaurant Obelisk for years before leading the kitchen at Etto on 14th Street, is already greeting former Shaw regulars who are eager check out the new space—a 15 counter-seat restaurant and market with a communal courtyard at micro-food hall Grace Street Collective.
Onal-Urel calls the space “a different small” compared to Shaw, where she managed to draw attention from heavy-hitters like Bon Appetit and Esquire, which named it a “best new restaurant” in 2019, a time when she didn’t even possess a stove (her hack: an induction hot plate and oven). At home in Turkey, she was the first female executive chef of two luxury Istanbul hotels, but her cooking methods have always been old-school and geared toward intimate audiences. She makes breads without a mixer and thick squares of seasonal focaccia with toppings like green tomato and basil. She shells pods of fresh fava beans by hand for a creamy dip or salad. And her kitchen runs entirely on olive oil. In Georgetown, Onal-Urel not only has a full kitchen but a grill that will turn out dishes like seared calamari, whole grilled branzino, and kebabs. Green Almond will also have a liquor license for the first time, so guests can sip from a curated list of natural wines, vermouths, and ciders.
To start, Onal-Urel will offer a similar lineup to the one she served in the pre-pandemic Shaw days. A fridge case is stocked with dips and spreads (hummus, smoky eggplant, romesco), seasonal salads, and marinated vegetables like heirloom artichokes or cauliflower with saffron and sweet onion. The blackboard menu boasts lunch specials—many of them Green Almond staples—like a jammy seven-minute egg sandwich with radish and anchovy; braised Elysian Fields lamb over hummus; or a spring tart with ramps, asparagus, and goat cheese. Diners can eat at a wooden counter—seating is limited for now—head to the Collective’s rear courtyard, or take items to one of many picnic spots around Georgetown.
Home cooks will find pantry items like farro, olive oil, tinned fish, and dried pasta. “Everything we like—because if we don’t sell it, I’ll eat it,” says Onal-Urel. In June, when her 10 year-old daughter, Su, is out of school and the family’s schedule becomes more flexible, Onal-Urel says she wants to start a casual dinner service. For now, ready-to-heat dinners are available. They’re still determined somewhat by Su, as Onal-Urel says the idea behind them is the eternal parent question: “What’s for Su’s dinner?” The answer: nourishing plates like stuffed zucchini or cabbage, or grilled fish with roasted peppers and olives.
In many ways, Georgetown is a homecoming for Onal-Urel, who launched Green Almond at local DC farmers markets, including Rose Park up the street. At the time she was cooking out of 2 Amys, utilizing the kitchen when the pizzeria was closed. Onal-Urel says that after the Shaw fire, she was overwhelmed” with an outpouring of support—including offers to use friends’s kitchen spaces, which she politely declined because of the pandemic. Now, she says, old friends and customers are already coming by and sending her messages of support.
“I can’t believe they didn’t forget us.”
Green Almond Pantry, 3210 Grace Street NW (inside the Grace Street Collective). Open Thursday to Saturday, 11:30 AM to 7 PM.