Small Plates: Nutella Latte, Scone Are Standouts at Pound the Hill

Posted March 16, 2011 at 5:12pm

Capitol Hill’s coffee and food options just got a little broader with the opening this week of  Pound the Hill.

The coffee shop and bistro (621 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) boasts a refurbished space in an 1890s building, quality coffee and a rotating roster of globe-trotting menu items that allow customers to eat a different cuisine daily for lunch or dinner.

Denizens of the NoMa neighborhood may be familiar with Pound, which opened there three years ago. This week, co-owners Karl Johnson and Khalil Ghannam closed the NoMa location to focus on the Hill business.

Much of Pound’s breakfast and coffee fare is standard, from muffins to macchiatos. Standouts, though, are the Nutella latte and the Nutella scone. But be forewarned: The latte isn’t actually made of everyone’s favorite sweet spread (though it is used in the scone recipe).

Johnson, who got into the coffee business when he lived in Seattle, said he had always wanted to make a Nutella latte, but the spread didn’t have the right consistency to mix well with espresso. When the NoMa Pound location opened, the staff experimented with the idea. They ended up creating an in-house syrup that captures Nutella’s chocolate-hazelnut flavors and blended better into a drink. The result is a delicious latte that balances the rich, nutty-sweet notes of Nutella with espresso.

The shop also features an array of croissants, muffins and danishes, some baked by the staff and others by local bakeries.

Pound also offers breakfast panini sandwiches for $4.75 each. For lunch and dinner, the menu rotates daily. Today, for example, customers can order a chipotle barbecue chicken quesadilla. Friday, the menu will feature a Palestinian falafel.
Pound posts a monthly menu on its website. And for the truly time-crunched, lunch delivery service to the House office buildings will start in the coming weeks, Johnson said.

Bahn Mi Madness

They’re really just fancy subs — bread, meat, mayo and veggies — but Ba Bay’s banh mi sandwiches are an exotic hit on Capitol Hill.

The Eastern Market modern Vietnamese restaurant (633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) permanently added three banh mi, which had previously been offered only as specials, to the lunch menu in early March in response to their popularity.

Chefs stuff pickled carrots, onions, daikon, jalapeños and cilantro inside a toasted baguette. They add a smear of pate, Kewpie mayonnaise (an Asian brand that gets its tang from rice wine vinegar) and meat filling. Ba Bay offers three types of banh mi: classic, pork belly and meatball. The classic banh mi features a light chicken-liver mousse. The pork belly version contains a denser shredded meat. The meatball banh mi brings a spicy heat that might have customers reaching for a glass of water.

The 9-inch subs are $9.

Ba Bay chef Nicholas Sharpe said the banh mi sandwiches were one of the restaurant’s top sellers as a lunch special. It made sense to add them permanently, he said.

Not that there won’t be variations: On Tuesday, Ba Bay offered a spare rib banh mi as a special, and Sharpe anticipates adding more options in the coming months including shrimp, scallops or tofu.

Restaurant spokeswoman Denise Nguyen said the sandwiches have “transcended out of Vietnamese mom-and-pop shops” and are becoming popular all over the city. Dino, an Italian restaurant in Cleveland Park, for example, serves duck liver banh mi, and PS 7’s in Chinatown serves bite-size banh mi.