“This is more than just a coffee shop,” Aroma Espresso Bar co-owner Eddie Benaim says, and it is immediately evident upon entering the new, 68-seat space at Westfield Montgomery Mall that he is right.
The sleek, modern interior with gleaming stainless steel finishes, large espresso machines, stone tabletops and bright red, leather chairs gives a European flavor to the modern coffee shop, which opened in February.
Greetings of “Shalom” are plentiful from Middle East transplants and locals alike at Aroma, which is one of Israel’s largest franchises. There are 100 locations in Israel, according to the company website, and a growing number outside Israel in the US, Canada and Eastern Europe.
A 36-year veteran of the restaurant business, Benaim previously owned popular Bethesda eatery Tel Aviv Café. Along with business partners Yuval Bezherano and Ramiro Paez, they plan to open ten Aroma Espresso Bar locations in the tri-state area within the next five years.
To compete with other nighttime destinations, Aroma will serve wine and beer. They also are expanding an outdoor patio for customers to enjoy through spring, summer and fall.
Inside, Aroma displays its ample and varied menu on LCD screens that hang above the registers. One of the things that sets Aroma apart from most American coffee houses is its menu, which moves beyond just of beverages and noshes to include a variety of Mediterranean-influenced breakfast, lunch and dinner items
No pre-packaged, soggy tuna sandwiches in a refrigerated display case. Every baked item in the store is made first thing in the morning and throughout the day, seven days a week. “Nothing is from yesterday,” Benaim says.
Freshness is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, as are lean proteins and plenty of minimally processed foods from plant sources. With this in mind, Aroma offers fresh-squeezed juices, quinoa salads, goat cheese and eggplant sandwiches and shakshuka, the popular Israeli tomato-and-egg breakfast dish.
“We offer exotic, healthy ingredients in a casual environment,” Benaim said.
For an Israeli expat, Aroma offers a taste of home, while someone new to such flavors can try foods like haloumi cheese, bourekas (flaky pastry stuffed with feta and vegetables) and halva, a sweet dessert made of rich sesame paste.
Of course, the food is best washed down with an exceptional cup of coffee.
Benaim explained, “The art of coffee is really the roasting.” Aroma’s coffee is shipped from across the world to its operation in Israel. There, the company’s experts blend and roast the beans to make a distinct cup that will be consistent whether brewed in Tel Aviv, Toronto or Bethesda.
Benaim urged me to try a cappuccino, and truly, one of the joys of writing about food and drink is that you have to must taste it to describe it. So as I lifted the mug topped with a thick layer of foam to my lips, I felt…satisfied. The taste was smooth, not a drop of bitterness.
I was so busy thinking about adjectives that I forgot to add sugar. It wasn’t until I made it halfway through that I realized it didn’t need to be sweetened!
Stop by to try the fresh-squeezed lemonade that’s a perfect blend of sweet and tart, a garbanzo salad with tahina sauce and lemon-olive-oil vinaigrette or the Aroma PowerDinner.
The PowerDinner is a grilled chicken breast with organic quinoa, garbanzo beans and a salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and red onions. Served with creamy tahini and fresh-baked bread, this dish, like the coffeeshop, provides a satisfying and healthy taste of Israel.
Aroma Espresso Bar, 301-312-6216, Westfield Montgomery Mall, 7101 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda, MD, lower level, Monday–Friday 8 am–8 pm, Saturday 9 am–8 pm, Sunday 9:30 am–6:30 pm. Not kosher.
Top photo by Stacey Viera