Right now, the future site of Matt Adler’s Italian-American restaurant in Capitol Hill is little more than vertical metal beams. But the D.C.-based chef and consultant has known what it will look like, sound like, and smell like since the minute he agreed to partner on Caruso’s Grocery with Neighborhood Restaurant Group, the local powerhouse behind hits like Iron Gate, Hazel, Bluejacket, and Churchkey.
Penne alla vodka, brimming with tomatoes, cream, basil, and garlic, was one of several items Adler included on a complete menu he dashed off shortly after he and NRG principal Michael Babin sealed the deal for Caruso’s.
“It’s such a distinct smell,” Adler says. “I want the restaurant to smell like that.”
Other no-brainers include chicken Parmesan, shrimp scampi, five-cheese ravioli, and garlic bread. There will be two types of tomato sauce: a Neapolitan-style meat ragu that spends around six hours braising, and four-ingredient marinara that only spends about 45 minutes on the stove. Cooks will make pastas on-site, but the majority of them will cost less than $20. Entrees will mostly be priced around $27. Wines will hover under $50 per bottle.
The restaurant is expected to open early next year as a standalone attachment to the Roost NRG’s incoming food hall. It will follow the mold of a classic red sauce joint similar to Scoozi, the place that Adler’s dad owned in upstate New York. That’s where Adler got his first cooking job at 16. It will also be influenced by Babin’s family history, too. The name is a nod to an Italian market his grandmother ran in Louisiana.
One dish Adler is excited about trying out is a mozzarella in carozza, essentially a grilled cheese sandwich that’s stuffed with anchovies, breaded, fried, and served with a side of red sauce. There will be a pork chop pizzaiola, served in braised tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and onions, as well as New York style cheesecake and tiramisu.
“It’s not challenging in any way. It’s not pretentious in any way. It’s a place like, ‘It’s Wednesday. I had not the greatest day today. I want a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine,’” Adler says. “This isn’t a dining experience by any means, it’s just place that feels like home.”
Adler, who opened Osteria Morini as executive chef and was previously culinary director of the Schlow Group that oversees Alta Strada and Casolare, won’t oversee the kitchen at Caruso’s but is still designing the menu.
Although Adler wants Caruso’s to be a red sauce joint, he says there won’t be any red-checkered tablecloths or wicker bottle holders for chianti, because he doesn’t want it to veer into “cheesy” territory.
NRG owns Red Apron Butcher, so Caruso’s has Nate Anda working on a sweet and hot soppressata plate. Adler is a consultant for all the food in the Roost, so he’ll have input on food operations like a taco stall from Anda. The complex will be home to Shelter, a 50-draft-line beer hall being billed as Churchkey East, and a cocktail bar called Show of Hands. Other food stalls have yet to be announced.