In the back of his mind, chef Mike Friedman knew he’d inevitably open a Roman restaurant. Both the Jewish influence on Italian cooking and the ideal of simplicity as a virtue found in the ancient capital city have been core pieces of the homey style that’s kept customers and critics coming back to the Red Hen, his beloved pasta place and wood-burning grill in Bloomingdale, and two locations of All-Purpose, his tribute to New Jersey’s neighborhood pizzerias.
At Aventino, one of two restaurants Friedman and his partners plan to open in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2022, he’ll continue to reference those guiding principles in some of their oldest forms.
“I feel like I’ve been on a collision course with this restaurant my whole career,” Friedman says.
Bethesda blogger Robert Dyer reported last week that Friedman’s group is working with JBG Smith to bring two new restaurants to the publicly traded development company’s headquarters in Bethesda (4747 Bethesda Avenue). Friedman confirmed that news to Eater, providing the first public details about the two-piece project he’s putting together with partners Colin McDonough, Gareth Croke, and Mike O’Malley. That includes a casual, takeout-oriented offshoot of All-Purpose, called AP Pizza Shop, that will share a roof with Aventino.
Aventino will serve Roman-style dishes for lunch and dinner that embody Italy’s tradition of cucina povera, or peasant food. That includes staples of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto like the famous carciofi alla Giudia (fried artichokes) and other antipasti. The kitchen will prepare and dry its own pasta for versions of the city’s four classics: carbonara, cacio e pepe, alla Gricia, and Amatriciana. Friedman says other entrees and sides might include a Roman-style porchetta, veal chops, and “a real focus on vegetables” like spring asparagus. The chef also plans to explore the idea of quinto quarto, “the fifth quarter,” which refers to offal and butchers’ cuts like beef tongue, oxtails, and pig’s heads.
“Honestly I’d really love down the line to do nose-to-tail dinners and collaborate with other chefs,” Friedman says.
The full-service restaurant will have room for about 120 people, including a 20-seat bar overlooking the entire space where customers can sip Negronis, spritzes, Roman craft beers, and Italian wines. Friedman says the design will incorporate an open kitchen, windows that allow for plenty of natural light, and lots of emerald and gold colors in muted tones. “We’re really going for this feel of the land and the empire at the same time,” he says.
Named after Aventine Hill, at one time the center of the city’s Jewish community, Aventino isn’t expected to serve pizza. The exception might be pizza bianca, a thin, plain flatbread that’s used to build mortadella sandwiches found all over Rome.
Next-door to Aventino, a 20-seat pizza shop with a dedicated to-go window will open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the morning, customers can expect espresso drinks and pastries like blueberry and polenta muffins, chocolate hazelnut babka, prosciutto and gruyere croissants, and maritozzo, a shout-out to Rome in the form of yeasty sweet rolls split open and loaded with copious amounts of whipped cream. “They’re like the ultimate breakfast pastry,” Friedman says, noting he’s eaten around two per day on previous trips to Rome.
Friedman says All-Purpose’s core menu of favorites will be represented across a dozen antipasti, Caesar and Italian vinaigrette salads, and eight pizzas, including standbys and some new options. Sandwiches can be expected to pack in homemade mortadella, other Italian cold cuts, meatballs, and chicken or eggplant Parm. Beer, wine, and cocktails will all be on draft.
“There will be a lot of camp and a lot of kitsch,” Friedman promises, saying the group will aim to replicate the neighborhood pizza shops they encountered across North and South Jersey, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
Expanding into Bethesda particularly represents a reunion of sorts for Friedman and O’Malley. Friedman says the partners first met there at the brasserie chain Mon Ami Gabi, where Friedman scored his first professional cooking gig in the early aughts.
“In many ways it’s a homecoming,” Friedman says.