When Chef Alex Levin talks about the new Jewish-inspired brunch at Casolare in the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel, it’s clear that this is a passion project.
Levin, who is the executive pastry chef of the Schlow Restaurant Group, says the idea for the brunch came from a brainstorming session with Chef Michael Schlow, Chef Matt Adler, who is Schlow Restaurant Group’s executive chef of Italian concepts, and Chef Patrick Curran, executive chef of Casolare. They were reimagining a menu for the Italian-themed Casolare, and each chef was describing their favorite brunch food.
Smoked fish and bagels are Levin’s go-to for Sunday brunch. The other dishes reflect many favorites of the other chefs. The resulting brunch menu is a merger between New York’s Lower East Side with Rome’s Jewish Quarter. While the pairing isn’t a common one, it works well.
The trio of chefs used their brunch fantasy foods as a starting off point, adding items like crispy latkes, chopped liver, chicken soup, whitefish salad, challah French toast, fettucine primavera, “Roman” pizza and a pastrami reuben.
Further exemplifying the Lower-East-Side-meets-Roman-Jewish-Quarter theme is the delectable “Alex’s Basket of Goodies” featuring hazelnut chocolate crunch rugelach, warm ricotta bomboloni and raspberry linzer cookies.
The recent closures of two DC restaurants offering Jewish fare—DGS Delicatessen and On Rye—left a void, and it was one that Schlow, Levin and Adler were happy to fill.
“There are a lot of Jewish people in the neighborhood, and it speaks to them. Diners are not just there for the food, but to have an experience and connect to memories of the past. They are going to remember their grandparents and the meals they had 30 years ago or 50 years ago, hopefully with a smile. They are going to want to bring their families and show them this experience,” says Levin.
The prospect of making fresh bagels excited the well-regarded pastry chef. He had been working on his bagel recipe for a few years when the idea for Casolare’s brunch bubbled up. A sous chef at Casolare was testing his own bagel recipes, and they worked together to perfect the formula.
Levin doesn’t believe that utilizing water from New York, a popular perception when it comes to bagels, makes a difference. “A lot of people think this, but I would say to all of them, come to Casolare and try my bagels, which are made from tap water in DC. A bagel from New York might taste different, but it’s because it was made by someone else.”
As the Casolare brunch menu made its debut, a debate over the bagels ensued. They were served toasted, with an assumption that most diners prefer them this way. I was personally dismayed by the toasting, as I thought it masked the flavor of the distinctive recipe that Levin had developed. Levin himself was skeptical about toasting, so both he and Adler conducted a poll on Facebook. The question: Should Casolare stop auto-toasting the bagels? Most responders were vehemently opposed to toasting fresh bagels. The result of the poll was three percent in favor of toasting and 97 percent against. The restaurant is no longer auto-toasting bagels. Says Levin, “The only thing we should be toasting now is to the weekend.”
Levin was a recent participant in REALITY Experience, a program sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which brings change makers on a journey to Israel “to reignite their passion and potential for repairing the world.” He was part of REALITY Taste, which focused on food and beverage influencers.
Levin hadn’t considered food as a vehicle to make the world a better place, but the program helped him understand that through his work he can have a positive impact on other’s experiences, whether it’s the people he works with or the customers he serves. He found the trip to be a spiritual game changer that deepened his awareness of the importance of community and connection in the restaurant world. It also strengthened his appreciation for the unique collaboration that resulted in the creation of the Casolare brunch menu.
“We have an opportunity to impact the community through this restaurant, and that’s what we want to do. I really hope that people want to eat here, and I hope that people who experience the brunch love it and want to come back on a regular basis. That’s why we are doing this.”
Casolare is not a kosher establishment.
Top photo credit: Clark Douglas