Teresa Velazquez is the type of kitchen wiz to downplay her efforts. The whole idea behind La Betty, the first full-service restaurant from the family that brought D.C. the Baked & Wired bakery, was to make people feel like they were sitting down a home-cooked meal at her house. So when Velazquez says the deviled eggs are simple and easy, she’s not being misleading. She’s just being a good host. Oh these old things? They were no trouble.
The eggs, though, offer some insight into why the Velazquez clan was able to build one of the city’s most successful sweet shops and expand to a bread-baking operation at A Baked Joint. They’re not just simple and easy. Velazquez’s recipe calls for removing the yolks and dunking the set whites in a brine so every part of the snack gets a hit of salt. There’s a splash of gherkin juice in the yolk mix. One egg in every order gets tinted with beet juice.
Tall, lean and incredibly peppy, Velazquez looks like she could roll out of bed and run a marathon. She and her husband, Tony Velazquez, started Baked & Wired in 2001 because she was tired of eating frozen Sysco muffins she’d buy from a shop near their architecture practice in Georgetown. They started A Baked Joint about five years ago because she wanted a place besides Whole Foods to buy a loaf of fresh bread.
“We’ll open our own” has become the family mantra. When the family inquired about renting the space next-door to A Baked Joint because they were growing out of their production facility, the landlord insisted that the group bring a new business to the front of the house as a draw for condo tenants in the mixed-use development in Mount Vernon Triangle.
“We were like, sure we can do that,” Teresa Velazquez says, “and that’s how we got into the restaurant business.”
Along with their kids, Tessa and Zak Velazquez, the couple opened La Betty a few weeks ago because the family thought there was a need for uncomplicated comfort food in D.C. Teresa Velazquez says the family rarely goes out to eat, and when they do, they don’t want to feel challenged by a meal.
The opening menu at La Betty limits choices for diners and supplies the type of food people might find at their grandmother’s house on a Sunday or a holiday morning. Some of the dishes Velazquez is most excited about drawn from her childhood in Columbus, Ohio, where she started cooking dinner for her German-Irish family at age 12.
The chicken schnitzel is a nod to her heritage, but La Betty makes it lighter by folding a grain mustard dipping sauce into egg whites before dredging it in panko. The fried chicken cutlet is nearly hidden by the bounty of arugula, radicchio, fennel, and tomatoes.
Along with deviled eggs, sharable snacks include three miniature corn dogs, each dipped in a puffy batter based in Bob’s Red Mill corn flour.
A wedge salad includes a thick slab Nueske’s bacon propped up on the iceberg lettuce. Two of the sides are a braised purple cabbage sweetened with red currant jam and a twice-cooked potato that’s already made Velazquez famous among her son’s friends.
Currywurst, the popular german snack of sausage and fries smothered in a curry-laced ketchup sauce, utilizes links sourced from Stachowski’s Market in Georgetown. The sausage smacks of beer because it’s both soaked and steamed in it.
Velazquez says she fired the original chef de cuisine at La Betty because they weren’t on the same page. She’s since brought in chef Christian Irabién, who has past experience at Restaurant Eve and Oyamel, as a consultant. He’ll work with La Betty until he opens his Amparo Fondita in the La Cosecha Latin market coming to NoMa this summer.
Beverage director John Lodato, who oversees the coffee program at Baked & Wired and A Baked Joint, is in charge of a concise drink list that encourages beer drinking in a cool, German style. Only two beers at a time are listed on tap. They come in 8-ounce glasses ($3.50 each) so they always stay cold. Servers patrol the restaurant with German kranz trays that carry full glasses, and refills keep landing at the table until customers cover their cups with a coaster.
For starters, there’s a Kolsch from St. Louis-based Schlafly and a dark schwarzbier from Baltimore.
Given the Velazquez family’s background in sweets, there are two indulgent options for dessert, too. A flourless chocolate cake comes with Kahlua whipped cream and tiny, salty balls of chocolate. A New York-style cheesecake comes with a layer of sweet sour cream topping, blueberry sauce, and an extra graham cracker shard for dipping. Velazquez says the original recipe came from the Lazarus department store in Columbus.
La Betty is working on adding a few more dishes to fill out the menu. There will soon be a roasted cauliflower made with an almond mole and cashew crema, a vegetarian dish inspired by Tony and Zak Velazquez’s hiking trips to West Texas. There’s also going to be slow-roasted beef, likely short ribs or chuck roast, served with long strands of spaetzle finished in a pan with brown butter.
Teresa Velazquez has a hand-cranked spaetzle press handed down from her grandmother, but she’s working on acquiring an electric one for cooks who lack her energy and zeal while pushing noodles into a pot of boiling water.”
“They’re like 22 and sweating,” she says, “and I’m like, ‘Oh come on.’ I’m like 56 years old and I just did a whole pot of it.”