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Can a neighborhood coffee shop become all things to all people? Pound the Hill is certainly giving it a go.
The one-time NoMa klatch relocated to Capitol Hill (621 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) last year and has been cautiously branching out ever since. Exotic java and invigorating juice drinks have since been joined by a growing roster of globe-spanning boutique wines. Lone specials have given way to gourmet offerings ranging from nostalgic sandwiches to daring culinary mashups.
“My partners and I have a big love for food from around the world,” co-owner Karl Johnson said of management’s commitment to constantly broadening patrons’ gustatory horizons.
That overarching mission came into much sharper focus last winter when chef Jonathan Taub joined the team.
Taub, who previously manned the burners at Station 4 (Southwest Waterfront) and neighboring Art and Soul, was tasked with launching the bistro concept that debuted this past February. In addition to developing a dinner program that is adventurous yet succinct — the summer carte features a dozen or so shareable plates and a handful of seasonally inspired mains — Taub diversified the lunch offerings and hired a new pasty chef to bolster the breakfast staples (crumbly Nutella scones, anyone?).
“I don’t think people realize what we have here yet,” Taub said.
He might be right.
During daylight hours, Pound the Hill perpetuates the “Central Perk” vibe.
Somnambulant professionals guzzle steaming cups of pedigreed brew before bounding out the door, their lifeblood officially renewed. Technovamps linger a little (OK, a lot) longer, unabashedly siphoning electricity — almost everyone camped out there during the day is tethered to multiple electronic devices — and free Wi-Fi.
Johnson loves all of his devoted customers but acknowledged that he is, in effect, serving two fairly different constituencies. He said the coffee/bakery operation does well during the day and attracts a good amount of regulars. The bistro appears to be pulling in an entirely different demographic, Johnson said, estimating that about 60 percent of the nascent dinner crowd are curious newcomers.
They are usually well-rewarded.
Cooking From Scratch
Taub, born and raised in Philadelphia, has been climbing the food service ranks since he was in high school. He mentioned studying at the elbows of cheflebrities Alain Ducasse and Masaharu Morimoto during his early years and has milked every subsequent restaurant job for all its creative worth.
The classically trained toque relished the opportunity to retool Pound the Hill’s cooking operation, even though it meant trading roomier digs for an all-electric, turn-around-and-you’ve-seen-it work space.