In an unassuming corner of Nationals Park, just inside away from the heat and noise, sits a small revolution in Jewish-American cooking. It’s turning heads and gathering loads of accolades, both from across the diamond to across town. It is called On Rye. And it is on fleek. And it is crafting frozen babka sandwiches.
“Babka?!?” you say. Perhaps once seen as a dry afterthought in the baker’s display case, babka is presently enjoying its trendy moment in the spotlight—two decades have passed since Jerry and Elaine purchased the wrong kind to bring to a dinner party, but Bon Appetit just positively compared it to Taylor Swift in a recent magazine profile. Sweeter than challah, but not cloying like a doughnut, and layered with decadent swirls of chocolate, it’s now met a best friend: gelato.
The babka sandwich is the confectionary creation of Ilyse Fishman Lerner, a Florida native who knows summer well. A former lawyer, she decided to go for a sweeter (or perhaps more savory?) lifestyle and move into the restaurant business. She and her husband, Jonathan, a third-generation Washingtonian, own On Rye, a modern restaurant focused on elevated Jewish-deli fare with an opening date slated for late fall.
Before opening their shop, they wanted to shop their idea around. “Pop-ups are a great way to get the word out and receive feedback, and become part of the community before we open,” Fishman Lerner said. Sort of like sandwich spring training.
On Rye, therefore, has held events and one-offs at the DCJCC, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and private dinner parties, and has several other projects in the offing. But the big one, the home-run pop-up, is running all season long at Nats Park, after a friend’s genius suggestion.
On Rye, as one might expect, had an initial focus on its Reuben. Each piece of the famed sandwich is impeccably sourced. The meat is nothing less than sous-vide Wagyu corned beef. “It is, by nature, less fatty, so we use a less-salty brine,” says Fishman Lerner, “and it’s therefore healthier than traditional corned beef.”
And the bread? Well, it’s marble rye (to match the marbled babka, perhaps?), from LeoNora Bakery in Arlington—part of On Rye’s dedication to using local producers and suppliers. And don’t fret if red meat isn’t your thing: the “actually awesome” chicken salad is made from sous-vide chicken and vegan mayo; there’s also a vegetarian Reuben that stars roasted Portobello mushroom and charred broccoli. A winning lineup, for sure.
But back to the closer: the babka sandwich. Though Fishman Lerner has been baking since childhood, the first order of business for the restaurant was actually the Wagyu—but soon it became clear that babka would be MVP. She tested, and continues to refine, her baked-good craft, yet realized something was missing for summertime. Enter a scoop of local gelato, and it hit her like an inside pitch. Why not combine the two for a gem greater than the sum of its parts? Two slices of cool, moist babka, lovingly embracing a scoop of vanilla bean gelato from local favorite Dolci Gelato.
The innovative take on the childhood favorite has been flying out of freezer shelves, but don’t worry—there’s more where that came from. New flavors are in the offing, of course. And in the meantime, when you’re at the ballpark this season (between innings, of course), be sure to pick one up. Move over, peanuts and Cracker Jacks: On Rye is now the foodie home team.
On Rye stand, outside Suite 210, Nationals Park. Open during baseball games. Not kosher.
Top photo: On Rye’s babka ice cream sandwiches. Photos courtesy of On Rye.