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Everything to Know About the New Delivery/Takeout-Only Food Hall in D.C.

Eater logo Eater 8/26/2020 Tierney Plumb
a plate of food © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

A multi-restaurant “ghost kitchen” opens in Glover Park later this week, offering D.C. a glimpse into what could be the future of restaurants in a post-pandemic world.

The takeout- and delivery-oriented business, dubbed Ghost Line DC, comes from restaurateur Aaron Gordon (Bakers & Baristas, Red Velvet, Little Beast). He’s invited a handful of established chefs to cook from individual work stations set up inside the space that formerly housed rowdy bar Town Hall (2340 Wisconsin Avenue NW). Each chef will prepare packaged meals that Ghost Line’s staff will deliver within a 2-mile radius, just reaching 14th Street NW.

The opening lineup on Friday, August 28, includes several styles of pizza; Indian rice and lentil bowls and Japanese ramen from vendors who’ve proven themselves at Union Market; fried chicken sandwiches from chef and Hell’s Kitchen competitor Rock Harper; cupcakes; ice cream; and a cafe that serves up lattes, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches.

“The days of having 100 people packed into a little bar are pretty much over,” Gordon says. “All that led to the idea of, hey, let’s get a bunch of chefs I’ve met over the years and put them together under one roof.”

Consulting and research firm Technomic projects that ghost restaurants, or businesses that operate without a traditional dine-in space, in the U.S. will see sales rise by 25 percent each year through 2025, with 300 facilities expected to bring in $300 million in annual sales. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to hurt the viability of dine-in business, more chefs are gravitating towards the ghost kitchen model. Gordon says he had to turn 10 chefs away who wanted to join.

“I honestly think the heyday of restaurants is done at this point”

“I honestly think the heyday of restaurants is done at this point,” Gordon says. “We’ve had a giant boom and it’s coming to a swift end. It’s unbelievable to see who is already closing.”

There’s space for three stations, but Gordon wanted to keep the starting group tight. An 80-seat patio out back, spruced up with tiles and a modern water wall feature, will add a place for customers to sit down and eat next month.

“It’s going to be gorgeous,” Gordon says. “You can have a nice mimosa out there.”

Gordon evaluated the vacant Town space last fall as a potential new location for Bakers & Baristas. Before the pandemic, the massive space in the sleepy Northwest neighborhood seemed like the worst fit.

“I was like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ First of all, it’s giant and I have no idea what to do with all of it. Second, it’s in an area that’s been fairly downtrodden the past 10 years. All the cool kids are moving east. But there’s a huge void of food here really.”

Operating hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Coffee, pastries, and egg sandwiches will be the only morning options, but there will be a weekend brunch. Most vendors are just operating during dinner hours starting at 4 p.m. Online preorders for Friday are open online through Toast.

Gordon’s restaurant group functions as the landlord for the chefs, similar to a food hall. Clumping places together enabled Ghost Line to negotiate credit card transaction fees down from 3.5 to 2.5 percent, Gordon says. He’s hired his own fleet of delivery drivers instead of relying upon third-party apps.

Gordon developed Ghost Line in a brisk six months. Since customers don’t view the inside of the operation, no renovation was necessary.

“We took the whole dining room and turned it into a giant bakery.” he says. “There’s no seats so everything is storage, [kitchen equipment], and walk-in refrigerators.”

A wooden bar that formerly served college kids rum and Cokes is now a service station for three side-by-side operations: a cafe serving Vigilante coffee; a tap system slinging 8 to-go drafts and a trio of batched cocktails; and a sushi bar that will open in about a month.

Orders can be placed on-site right near the door. Digital menus offers diners a 360-degree view of everything from egg sandwiches to pizza on their phones.

Here’s a look at each ghost restaurant tucked inside Ghost Line, in alphabetical order:

Ghost Dog Egg Man

a sandwich sitting on top of a wooden cutting board: A cheesy egg sandwich by Ghost Dog Egg Man. © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. A cheesy egg sandwich by Ghost Dog Egg Man.

Bakers & Baristas, Gordon’s coffee and pastry bar that has closed in Penn Quarter, has rebranded into Ghost Dog Egg Man.

“I like it. It’s weird. Very Beatles-y,” longtime general manager and executive pastry chef Kristen Brabrook says.

The cafe’s greatest hits — muffins, scones, and breads — share space with new egg sandwiches, cheddar chive egg biscuits, and Tex-Mex burritos.

Vigilante Coffee drinks made at the espresso bar come with syrups and seasonal flavors made on-site.

Glover Park Ice Cream & Milkshakes

Brabrook is also overseeing an old-school ice cream shop that sells scoops and milkshakes sourced from the experts at Moorenko’s in Silver Spring.

Translating the entire menu to takeout took some ingenuity. Waffle cones will be delivered with ice cream on the side.

Little Beast

a person preparing food in a kitchen: Ghost Line chef Kristen Brabrook molding pizza dough. © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Ghost Line chef Kristen Brabrook molding pizza dough.

The idea to create Ghost Line can be traced back to Gordon’s neighborhood bistro and pizza parlor in Chevy Chase. When the pandemic reached Washington, takeout sales took off, and he realized the to-go model was here to stay.

Along with wood-fired pizza and Detroit-style squares first introduced by chef Naomi Gallego, Little Beast will offer appetizers like whipped ricotta and meatballs out of the ghost kitchen. Roman-style pizzas that made a brief cameo at an experimental rebrand for Bakers & Baristas will appear at Ghost Line.

“It’s a really thick crust and you can do a lot of fun and interesting toppings,” says Brabrook, who’s also helping with pie production.

Detroit-style pies, including a chili-dog flavor, come whole, but 15-inch “DC Deck” pies are offered by the slice.

Tokri

a bowl of food on a plate: Pongal khichdi (black Urad lentils and short grain sona masoori rice cooked in coconut milk, with pounded, ginger and green chilies, yellow onions, black mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves). © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Pongal khichdi (black Urad lentils and short grain sona masoori rice cooked in coconut milk, with pounded, ginger and green chilies, yellow onions, black mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves).

Priya Ammu’s DC Dosa stall in Union Market has been dark since March. Her neighboring vendor at the food hall, longtime friend Hiro Mitsui of Uzu by Ramen, roped her into the Glover Park project. At a ghost kitchen called Tokri, she’s making khichdi, a comforting rice and lentil dish she ate growing up in Bombay, India.

“There’s a whole world of lentils, rices, and spices I want to bring here,” she says. “The way I make my khichdi is different from the way someone in, say, Kolkata or New Delhi would make it.”

Grinding whole spices like star anise, cinnamon sticks, and black peppercorn complements various veggies and grains. Sides include crispy Yukon potatoes coated in cumin that’s partly inspired by a recipe from Ammu’s aunt, Mumbai-inspired cauliflower, and chickpeas.

“It’s simple food at its best,” says Ammu, who returns to Bombay every year to attend a khichdi festival.

Tapioca pearls will also be available as a substitute for rice, honoring a swap her grandmother made during Monday fasts. That variety of khichdi also includes peanuts, potatoes, and green chiles.

In Hindu, Tokri refers to woven baskets traditionally balanced on vegetable vendors’ heads.

“My idea was to bring all parts of India into one basket,” Ammu says, referring to her approach of combing flavors from different states in the massive South Asian country. Ammu married into a South Indian family, introducing her to a “whole world” of dishes based around coconut milk.

“India is like a macrocosm, in the same way Europe is different countries bunched together.”

Queen Mother’s

a man preparing food in a kitchen: Chef Rock Harper will pay respect to his grandmother’s fried chicken with the Queen Mother’s ghost kitchen © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Chef Rock Harper will pay respect to his grandmother’s fried chicken with the Queen Mother’s ghost kitchen

Longtime D.C. chef Rock Harper has been talking with Gordon about opening a fried chicken sandwich spot for years. At one point, Gordon approached Harper about turning the (now-closed) Drafting Table bar on 14th Street NW into that type of place.

“It didn’t move forward but he’s [always] known how I felt about fried chicken,” says Harper, who won the third season of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen and who hosts the Chef Rock Xperiment podcast.

Now equipped with a three-fryer station, Harper’s opening menu has four sandwiches to start. An eponymous Queen Mother’s sandwich with a sweet-and-spicy sauce joins various regional takes (Nashville hot, Korean, Virginia honey butter). The chicken is local, cage-free, and raised without antibiotics.

“It’s a tribute to my mother, grandmother, and ancestors,” Harper says of the ghost kitchen. “No one can cook fried chicken as good as my grandmother.”

a piece of food on a plate: A Korean fried chicken sandwich with pickles and radish from the Queen Mother’s © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. A Korean fried chicken sandwich with pickles and radish from the Queen Mother’s

The chef says the “Queen’s” sauce contains a “whole lot of secrets,” but it’s mayo-based.

“You can put it on everything,” he says, adding bottling is an option down the road.

Harper also plans to explore more Southern styles of fried chicken, including buttermilk brine, honey, or cornmeal. He’s also consulting with Ammu and Mitsui on Indian and Japanese fried chicken sandwiches.

Ramen by Uzu

a bowl of food: A round savory okonomiyaki pancake is decorated with white swirls of kewpie mayo, barbecue sauce, and bonito flakes © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. A round savory okonomiyaki pancake is decorated with white swirls of kewpie mayo, barbecue sauce, and bonito flakes

Chef Hiro Mitsui imports his Union Market stall, Ramen by Uzu, to Ghost Line with the help of his friend, sushi chef Ryu Hirosoko, who helped earn Sushi Nakazawa a Michelin star last year.

At Ramen by Uzu, Hirosoko is helping oversee Mitsui’s reliable ramen bowls while adding more traditional Japanese dishes, like okonomiyaki, to his repertoire. The savory pancake comes with cabbage, flour, egg, tempura crisps, and scallions. It gets topped with Japanese barbecue sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, bonito flakes, ao-nori (seaweed), and shichimi togarashi (red chile powder). Diners can finish the dish with mushrooms, thin-sliced pork belly, or shrimp add-ons.

In a month or two, Hirosoko will introduce Sushi by Uzu, too.

sushi on a wooden table: Sushi by Uzu will bring on raw fish to pair with ramen © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Sushi by Uzu will bring on raw fish to pair with ramen
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