A twist on a family business
By Justin Rude
Friday, August 10, 2012
Diners familiar with Sorriso in Cleveland Park won’t be surprised that the neighborhood restaurant’s cozy Woodley Park spinoff is a family effort. At Sorriso, patriarch Pietro Polles is owner and head chef, while his son Stefano oversees the classic Italian pizzas. Pietro’s daughter, Isabella Polles, runs two-month-old Cafe Sorriso, while Stefano trades in his pizza peel to take up the mantle of gelatiere.
Arrive for lunch and you might find the whole clan gathered, Pietro holding court behind the bar while his children make sure the kitchen churns out all-day breakfast, simple sandwiches, personal pizzas and a vegetarian-friendly menu of “lite bites” and entree-size plates of homemade pasta.
Those aforementioned bites are a mix of appetizers and small entrees, such as fried calamari, roasted beets and bruschetta. In one selection, a plate of french fries is served with a trio of dipping sauces -- truffle-infused honey, pesto and a classic Bolognese. Fat-guy tip: Order something that comes with a side of chips, for they make a much better scoop for the rich, meaty Bolognese, my favorite of the trio. Cannellini bean hummus makes a creamy, mild spread for fresh vegetables and finger-size breadsticks.
The restaurant’s rectangular pizzas almost qualify for the lite-bite menu. Our small, three-slice Pizza Diavola was a little on the doughy side but benefited from a bright, well-seasoned sauce and a restrained topping of spicy salami. Cafe Sorriso keeps it simple with its sandwiches, too. The options are all classics (BLT; mozzarella, tomato and basil; grilled cheese) and are served by default on white or wheat sandwich bread, though you can upgrade to house-made focaccia for a dollar. The sandwiches are nice and light; even the porchetta sandwich’s moist, herb-rubbed roast pork makes for a surprisingly forgiving lunch.
During these summer months, Cafe Sorriso’s biggest draw is its gelato display. Stefano Polles begins each day replenishing the restaurant’s supply with fresh-made product. Upon returning from Bologna earlier this year, where he had been learning the craft of making gelato, Stefano spent two months testing recipes to find the exact mix of ingredients he wanted in his Carpigiani machine. The time investment paid off: The result is a rich, smooth gelato in mostly classic flavors -- think hazelnut, pistachio and chocolate.
Looking forward, Isabella plans to open a boutique consignment and vintage clothing store above the cafe. Cafe Sorriso features a number of design elements by local artists and craftspeople, including a bar mural created by street artist Kelly Towles. The boutique, which will be named Via Gypset, will hew to a similarly local model. For now though, the spot is just a pleasant neighborhood stop for a light lunch, an alfresco patio meal, a summer spritz at the bar or a scoop of sweet, frozen respite. Not a bad addition to the neighborhood at all.