Matt Baker describes his next project like it’s an escape pod. As the chef and owner at Gravitas, a Chesapeake-centric, tasting menu-only restaurant in Ivy City that serves some of the most exorbitant dinners in the District, Baker went from absorbing a crush of customers drawn by the restaurant’s first Michelin star to reconfiguring his entire business to meet shifting demands during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The changes Gravitas made early on in the crisis have informed the chef’s approach at a new market and cafe he’s building across the street.
When Baker’s Daughter (1402 Okie Street NE) opens in four to six weeks, the gourmet groceries, straightforward a la carte dishes, and four-course prix fixes intentionally designed for carryout will all help Baker feel more prepared to face potential shutdowns that could come as a result of an uptick in COVID-19 cases or some other future public health emergency.
“It’s really almost like a built-in parachute that we have for our team at Gravitas and our company that we’re trying to grow,” Baker says. “If things get sideways again and we have another closure, this really protects our team.”
The individual dishes Bakers Daughter will sell for dine-in, takeout, or third-party delivery follow the blueprint of the pivot Gravitas made shortly after D.C. shut down dining rooms in mid-March. Gravitas cooks made comfort food that traveled well and drew upon their individual heritage: Mexican pozole, Salvadoran pupusas, or Italian-American lasagna, for example. Baker says this “open-ended” approach will also include jambon-beurre sandwiches, avocado toast, and salmon marinated in Korean barbecue sauce. Now that Gravitas is back to hosting $150 tasting full of vichyssoise and and foie gras-stuffed squab, he didn’t think it made sense to make those options available under a fine dining banner.
“It really runs the gamut,” the chef says of the options at Baker’s Daughter. “At the end of the day the idea is really delicious, wholesome, simple cooking.”
Four-course carryout meals ($55 per person) will change every day and will be available for preorders. A sample meal could include an entree of braised lamb shanks with coconut-curried lentils with other courses featuring Maryland crab cakes, arugula and burrata salad, and bread with local butter. Some other dishes Baker has been experimenting with for Baker’s Daughter are tuna tartare with puffed rice and cilantro foam or seared scallops with chorizo, kale, and white bean stew.
An example Baker’s Daughter meal, available for $55 per person, might feature house-made bread and locally-sourced butter, a baby arugula and burrata salad, Maryland crab cakes with grilled squash, zucchini salad and sauce remoulade, and an entrée of braised lamb shanks with coconut-curried lentils, grilled asparagus and raita
Pantry items will include produce, cheeses, and meats from the same purveyors that supply Gravitas. Vigilante Coffee in Prince George’s County will roast beans for a cafe component that will offer a lineup of espresso drinks and cold brew alongside breads, pastries, and blends of juices cold-pressed in the kitchen. Baker doesn’t anticipate offering alcoholic drinks at the cafe, but the market will sell bottles of wine and bottled cocktails. Lindsay Jordan Baker, Matt’s wife and partner, will oversee a retail operation full of home goods, plates, candles, and cookbooks.
In addition to conjuring images of bread, the name of the new business is a literal reference to the Bakers’ 7-month-old daughter.
“It’s a big surprise but she has a never-ending appetite,” Baker says. “She’s already eating solid foods and we are not shy about having her try out new dishes and new ingredients. She seems to love it all.”