The dining room gives minimalist new meaning: The walls are painted a pale shade of red — call it watermelon — with no other adornment. The 38-seat space is illuminated with reedy copper-pipe light fixtures, assembled by the owner, not purchased from some high-end catalog. The tables are basic finished wood, surrounded by white ladder-back chairs.
If this dining room were located, say, on the 14th Street corridor, customers could be forgiven for thinking it was still a work in progress.
But in Anacostia, where diners are accustomed to standing on tile floors and placing orders through bulletproof glass, the dining room at Nürish Food & Drink must look like a million bucks. It's a space that whispers its stylishness while acknowledging the hard economics of Anacostia: In a neighborhood where restaurateurs can expect only so much return on investment, they can invest only so much in amenities.
Located inside the Anacostia Arts Center, where the cafe will help feed those who stop to shop or attend a show, Nürish is the latest project from Kera Carpenter, owner of Domku Bar & Cafe in Petworth. It's a for-profit spinoff of Nürish: The Center for a Creative Culinary Economy, Carpenter's non-profit business incubator that has, for example, helped launch DC Dosa through its StartUp Kitchen initiative.
"When I finally decided to do it, I wanted to do something that people wouldn't expect in Anacostia — in the same way that I wanted to do something in Petworth that people didn't expect in Petworth," Carpenter says about her Scandinavian restaurant.
"What people were really asking for were good coffee and healthy food and options," she adds. "So that's what I'm trying to do."
Nürish quietly opened last week to work out the kinks away from media scrutiny. It will officially debut to the public on Saturday, when Carpenter and general manager Nam Kim will roll out a small menu of salads (chicken confit, kale and carrot, couscous and feta, farro and white bean), sandwiches (spicy grilled cheese, ham and brie, Indian-spiced pork loin) and shared plates (chicken liver pate, prosciutto and roast beef).
The cafe also has a coffee and espresso program, featuring beans roasted by Vigilante Coffee in Washington and La Colombe in Philadelphia, as well as a small beer and wine list. "We'll probably have four to five of each, red and white and a sparkling," Carpenter says. "Then we'll have beer in cans."
"We don't have everything on here," Carpenter adds about the developing menu. "We'll probably have a couple more salads, maybe another sandwich. Then in the evening, we'll put on the verrines and tartines." For the uninitiated, verrines are appetizers or desserts layered in a small glass.
The limited menu is a reflection of the limited kitchen at Nürish, which is equipped with a panini press, portable electric burners, a convection oven, a soup warmer, a microwave and a meat slicer, among the tools Carpenter purchased in part with the $15,000 raised via a Clovest crowd-sourcing campaign. The cafe's refrigerator, a used model, broke down already. Carpenter is awaiting a replacement next week.
"I should have known better," Carpenter quips about the used fridge.
Most of the food at Nürish will be prepared at Domku and hauled over to the Anacostia cafe. It's a challenge, Carpenter says, but she's been fine-tuning the logistics to make it work. One way to streamline the operation is to have the Domku kitchen prepare the same dish (or two) for both restaurants.
"There are a couple of things that came from Domku," she says, singling out the spicy grilled cheese sandwich and other occasional items on the Domku menu, such as the couscous and kale salads.
For Carpenter, Nürish is more than a cafe serving an under-served restaurant neighborhood. It's a cafe giving back to the neighborhood, too. Fifteen percent of the profits will funnel back into the Nürish non-profit to fund a culinary training camp for young adults who are interested in the hospitality business.
"We're going to go to leaders in the community, whether they're school leaders or church leaders or community groups, and ask them to nominate people who they think would be really interested in a culinary career," Carpenter says. "We'll vet them, and they'll do a tw0-week summer camp."
Nürish Food & Drink, 1231 Good Hope Road SE, inside the Anacostia Arts Center. 202-903-7134. Hours 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.