Eater has previously shared the renderings of brand builder Mike Isabella's monster Tysons Corner dining hub, Isabella Eatery. Today Isabella passes on many more details about the multitude of restaurants in store, along with a new timeline for their openings. Oh, and this choice detail: the liquor license for the groundbreaking food hall will enable diners to wander around the mall with booze as never before.
“Our liquor license is focused on the tiles,” he explains while pointing to the distinctive flooring expected to snake through the 41,000-square-foot domain.
According to Isabella, that means patrons at any one of the establishments taking shape on the top floor of the tony Northern Virginia mall will be able to carry boozy coffees, seasonal sangrias, or even a frosty can of soon-to-be-released Saison by MIC (more on that in a moment) within the interconnected facility.
Isabella says he began brainstorming ways to transform a former food court into the mall-spanning Isabella Eatery about two years ago. Per his latest calculations, the ongoing renovation should be finished just in time for the holidays.
The current plan is to open “phase one” this fall: A roll out that includes a variant on flagship Italian restaurant Graffiato, debut breakfast spot Nonfiction Coffee, and throwback ice cream parlor Retro Creamery. The plan is to open the remaining properties (in however many phases as necessary) by Thanksgiving. “That’s our goal,” he tells Eater, adding, “I’m not saying it’s going to happen.”
Naturally Isabella also had to simplify some of his existing restaurants to make them work in this new environment. “There’s so much going on that we have to streamline some of it to kind of bring it all together,” he says.
Here’s what to expect every step of the way:
Nonfiction Coffee: The street entrance feeds right into this coffee shop and meeting place, sporting pastry cases stacked with baked goods. Isabella mentions scones, biscuits, croissants, and danishes produced by the pastry chef. There’ll be seating for around 60 people, free Wi-Fi, and a living wall of decorative plants. Isabella plans to offer egg sandwiches and warm panini throughout the day, along with fresh juices, mimosas, and bloody Marys. Anticipated hours of operation are from 7 a.m. to around 8 p.m.
Graffiato: At this 100-seat, multi-purpose Italian restaurant, look for bar stools planted in front of the open kitchen and a heavily trafficked main dining room illuminated by a tower of glowing rings. “Even though this is a full-service restaurant people are still going to be walking through it,” Isabella predicts. Graffiato will include a dedicated carry-out counter featuring by-the-slice pizza. Pasta and salads will also be available to go.
As if that weren’t enough, Isabella is considering folding in “some of the G sandwiches here.” He mentions the chicken parmesan, meatball sub, and Italian hero, as possible additions.
Retro Creamery: Isabella is visibly psyched about getting into the sweets game, gushing about plans to make soft serve ice cream, waffle cones, and soft drinks like root beer on site at the de facto dessert haven. He mentions serving ice cream sandwiches on brioche bread. “Warmed up to order, kinda European-style,” he says. Floats and boozy milkshakes also appear to be in the mix. There will be just three or four stools here.
His biggest fear: that customers will breeze in and out of the compact spot. “I don’t want it to be just, like, come in, get a cone, and leave. I want to it be, come in with the family, come in after you eat at Graffiato or across the mall or after shopping, and get some sundaes and stuff like that,” he says, adding, “It’ll be a really fun little ice cream parlor.”
Octagon Bar: There will be roughly 40 seats at this mid-mall landing spot scheduled to be overseen by Mike Isabella Concepts beverage director Taha Ismail.
Isabella says the menu will offer “things that people are familiar with”: Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and Moscow Mules, to name a few. He intends to complement drinks with the likes of oysters, burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, and “maybe a steak.” Anticipated hours of operation are from 11:30 a.m. until whenever the mall empties out (between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.).
Kapnos Marketa: This offshoot of Isabella’s Greek restaurants “is the only fully grab-and-go, no-service space,” Isabella says. Displays will be filled with signature dips, spreads, phyllo pies, flatbreads, baklavas, bean salads, and other prepackaged items. Shaved meats will be stuffed into pitas as gyros, or layered atop grains or salads. It’s projected to open at 7 a.m. to accommodate early birds and mall staff.
The store will sell the existing Kapnos wines imported from Greece, as well as a debut beer the company has produced in conjunction with 3 Stars Brewing Company. Saison by MIC is an ale flavored with coriander and grains of paradise. Upon its release this August, the experimental brew will be available in cans throughout the existing Isabella restaurants, and will be on tap at Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna, Kapnos Kouzina, Graffiato, and Arroz. Saison by MIC will be available in cans and on draft throughout Isabella Eatery.
The commissary kitchen for the entire operation is tucked behind this retail outlet. Isabella brought in Bourbon Steak alum Joe Palma to lead the culinary team.
Semi-private dining room: There’s also a rental space for parties and corporate functions with seating for about 60.
Arroz: This iteration of his critically acclaimed new restaurant will focus on Spanish food without the Moroccan influences of its sibling in D.C. “I wanted to have mainstream stuff with our touches on it,” Isabella says.
Those touches are tentatively set to include a sangria bar, with jamon, cheese, and bomba rices anchoring the menu. Flan might still make the cut, though Isabella is leaning towards steering everyone to ice cream. “If you want dessert, I kind of want you to go to Retro Creamery,” he says. Arroz will likely open around 11 a.m. and should accommodate around 40 people.
Grand Dining Hall: The mix-and-match menu here will feature the “greatest hits” from Arroz, Pepita, Yona, and Requin, plus cocktails from the Octagon Bar menu.
This spot will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is slated to take reservations.
Requin: “Oysters and champagne,” is how Isabella bills this twist on the Mediterranean restaurant fellow Top Chef alum Jennifer Carroll currently oversees in Mosaic District.
The Isabella Eatery version will function primarily as a raw bar (think: seafood towers) coupled with caviar service. Po’boys and crab cake sandwiches may round out the prepared foods side of the menu. Retail selections include shrimp cocktail, lobsters, and smoked fish.
Yona: “We won’t have ramen here. This will be a sushi bar,” Isabella says of the significant departure from the way things are in Arlington, Virginia. Miso soup is one possibility. Super trendy poke bowls seem to be a definite here, as is sake.
Pepita: Isabella says nachos, tacos, and burritos are on the table here — making his lone Mexican restaurant perhaps the least altered operation to date. A bar component is also involved.
Once everything is fully operational, Isabella calculates that Isabella Eatery will be staffed by around 300 employees.
Between now and then, Isabella plans to expand the reach of Kapnos Taverna by establishing a second one in the Hotel at the University of Maryland scheduled to arrive this August. Come October a second Requin (stay tuned for details on that) joins the area-redefining Wharf complex.
After Isabella Eatery gets underway, Isabella’s got at least one more opening to attend to: A second Kapnos Marketa. “It’s a little gyro shop. 500 square feet,” he says. It’ll open at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in early 2018.
Photography by Warren Rojas / Eater