You needn't be a dorm-dwelling student cramming for finals to appreciate FoBoGro, in the heart of George Washington University territory. Its appeal involves surprisingly sophisticated food and an undeniably charming story.
Foggy Bottom Grocery has had several owners since it first opened in 1946. In 2003, it was an Ethiopian woman named Meseret Bekele, and one of her customers was a GWU sophomore named Kris Hart. "I called her Aunt Mayze," he says. "I used to come in and get my chips or a snack, and we'd talk about the campus and our families."
As they went through college, Hart and his friend (and fellow business major) Devlin Keating frequented FoBoGro, as they called it. So when Bekele decided it was time to sell, she offered the store to Hart, who by then had finished school and opened Relaxed Spas down the street. It was an offer he couldn't refuse. Hart joined with Keating and Daniel Blake (another GWU pal) and, after extensive renovations, opened FoBoGro on March 27.
The store occupies three floors of a 19th-century rowhouse. At the top, there's a selection of wine, cigars and bulk candy ($1.99 per pound). "Everything from Sour Patch Kids to chocolate-covered pretzels," says Keating. The second floor is the "Gro," with an array of nonperishables, beer and wine plus a small selection of produce and packaged chicken breast halves, steaks and chops. The sandwich shop is at ground level. "My stomach says that's the best floor," Hart says.
Mine tends to agree. Tuna salad on white toast might sound bland, but shaved fennel and preserved lemon is in the mix that's topped with fresh spring greens ($5.99). I didn't get a chance to try the PBJB ($3.99), but the peanut butter-raspberry jam-banana-granola sandwich is popular with hungry students. Named after Keating's hometown in upstate New York, the Italian meat-laden Cazenovia sub ($7.49) is also a big seller. I couldn't get over the fabulous chew of the ciabatta bread used for the Oakland ($5.99), whose hot soppressata and tangy, sweet peppers pair well. The source of that ciabatta and all of the shop's bread is Falls Church-based Baguette Republic.
Aside from sandwiches, FoBoGro offers soups (small, $3.49; large, $4.49), salads ($5.99; $2 extra for grilled chicken) and Baguette Republic breakfast pastries (all $2.49), including a baseball-size cinnamon bun served warm, with icing. Those kids behind the counter might be in college, but this food is anything but sophomoric.
-- Catherine Barker (Good to Go, April 28, 2010)