Batter Bowl Bakery
By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
After finding success with Ethiopic restaurant in the Atlas District, husband-and-wife team Samuel Ergete, 42, and Meseret Bekele, 34, wanted to branch out. The obvious play would have been to open a second Ethiopian restaurant elsewhere in the area. But the couple saw a need for a European-inspired bakery in the neighborhood where they work and live. So around the beginning of the year they opened Batter Bowl Bakery, right next door to their restaurant.
There was one not-so-small catch: They weren’t familiar with the art of baking. So for more than a year, Bekele took lessons from her older brother, Eyassu Bekele, who had worked as a pastry chef in Europe. He visited from Ethiopia to tutor her and compose the recipes, which she now adeptly executes daily, beginning several hours before sunrise.
Beyond boules, baguettes and baked goods, the charming bakery offers a small selection of breakfast and lunch items. Of particular note are half a dozen open-face sandwiches, each named after a nearby street and accompanied by a lightly dressed salad. All are built upon inch-thick slices of springy sourdough with a chewy crust. The Fourth Street ($7.95) begins with a schmear of tangy cream cheese, then tops it off with pink ribbons of lox, large salted capers and lengths of chives. You are probably used to seeing those ingredients assembled on a bagel, but they work together just as well on Batter Bowl Bakery’s own blue-ribbon bread. (I headed home with a six-inch-round loaf of sourdough, $2.99, as well.)
Tuna salad flecked with shallot and parsley is the main component of the Sixth Street ($6.75), which is dressed up with small swipe of olive tapenade and a few micro matchsticks of sun-dried tomato. A curried chicken salad — the Seventh Street ($6.75) — features mealy winter tomatoes that should have been left off. Once they’re taken out of the equation, though, the aromatic sandwich is irresistible.
Sandwiches are made to order, so be prepared to wait five to 10 minutes. They are well packed in sturdy plastic takeout boxes.
You can’t leave a bakery without trying a dessert or two. My favorite: the half-dollar-size coffee macaron ($1.10). The small cinnamon Danish ($1.50) is serviceable, but skippable.
-- Nevin Martell
Just next door to their well-regarded Ethiopic, Meseret Bekele and Samuel Ergete quietly opened Batter Bowl Bakery at 403 H St. NE earlier this month. Step inside and it’s immediately clear you’ve arrived at the neighborhood’s newest gem.
The 10-table cafe boasts the same refreshingly simple, modern aesthetic the couple employs at their Ethiopian restaurant, but the vibe at Batter Bowl is utterly French. (True to her word, Bekele told Tom Sietsema last month that the plan was for the bakery to be “completely different” from the dining room.)
Old jazz standards pour from the speakers at a level that still allows patrons to work (and talk). Illy coffee and espresso drinks are on the menu, and a pastry case is packed with fresh-from-the-oven tarts, golden croissants and, of course, baguettes. (The new Le Grenier, at 502 H St. NE, is also serving French-inspired food in the H Street corridor’s rapidly developing western side, but with a focus on dinner.)
Batter Bowl’s kitchen turns out breakfast and lunch fare including Belgian waffles, eggs on toast and open-faced sandwiches. The Third Street sandwich features air-cured beef, arugula and sun-dried tomatoes; the Eighth Street is topped with chickpeas, avocado, capers and other veggies.
For now, the cafe will be open from 7 a.m. to about 6 p.m. daily, Bekele said, with plans to eventually remain open until 8 p.m.
--Lavanya Ramanathan (January 2013)