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The Cribline Interview – Sitting down with the owners of Pound on the Hill | Restaurants

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The Cribline Interview – Sitting down with the owners of Pound on the Hill
The Cribline Interview – Sitting down with the owners of Pound on the Hill

If you like specialty coffees and a place that combines fresh home-made food from around the world, then you’ll definitely like Pound on the Hill. It’s a café with a twist!

What started off as a small coffee shop in NoMa is now in the heart of the Hill at 621 Pennsylvania Ave S.E.

My first experience at Pound was about 6 months ago with my best friend who introduced me to their fresh ginger iced tea. I’ve been going there ever since and it has become a regular stop before I hit the road on Sundays for The Cribline House Pick of the Week tour of our city.

I sat down to interview two of Pound’s three owners Karl Johnson and Frank Rinaldi. We sat at the espresso bar in what was formerly an office space that is now a warm and cozy spot for coffee, tea, good eats, boutique wines, craft beers and more.  You’ll see what I mean.

Here’s what they said:

What was your inspiration in opening Pound?

(Karl) We wanted to do something unique and bring together foods that we’ve experienced in our travels around the world, but couldn’t easily find here in the U.S.  We wanted to create a unique and fresh approach that drew on these many culinary experiences.

(Frank) We’re small, we’re local and we’re boutique. We offer a few selections, but do each very well.  We’re not just a coffee house, we are a great neighborhood spot for good food, good wine and good conversation.  We have recently brought in a new chef, Jonathan Taub, who was classically trained in Philly… and was formerly a sous-chef at Art and Soul restaurant (owned and operated by Art Smith, Oprah’s former chef).

What is are some of your specialties?

(Karl) Our coffee! It is supplied by Micro-roaster Kickapoo Coffee out of Wisconsin.  Kickapoo is a small family run business supplying beans from coffee growing regions all over the globe.

What besides coffee do you feature?

(Frank) We have our fresh ginger-rose tea as you know.  It’s very popular.  We actually mix fresh shaved ginger with rose tea that is provided by a local business in Manassas, VA. That’s what we do… we take something that is already unique and put our own twist on it.

(Karl) It’s like another specialty of ours… our Nutella scones… which are made fresh every day. It was based off our creation of our famous Nutella Latte.  We started the Nutella Latte at the previous NoMa store and it has taken off and become quite the rage among our followers.  While I haven’t verified this, we may well be one of the largest purchasers of Nutella in the DC Metropolitan area.

(Karl) Along the lines of making things in house, I recently joked with our chef about how our croquettes that we serve at dinner look so good that they seem store bought.  They’re cordon blue croquettes filled with chicken, prosciutto, and gruyere cheese… recently, when I saw chef frying the croquettes, I asked if he picked them up at the grocery store.  He said no… that he just spent the last hour rolling them into balls.  Even if we fry something, it’s prepared by hand.

I recently noticed wine bottles located on the shelves when you first walk in. Can you tell us more about that?

(Karl) That is part of our new concept.  We are building on the success of our café which is our focus for the majority of the day, and then in the evening we turn Pound into a Bistro & Wine Bar featuring internationally inspired comfort foods and small production boutique wines and craft beers.  The café is open from 7am to 4pm, and the Bistro is open from 5pm to 10pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends.

(Frank) And with our new chef, we’re able to provide more unique offerings…allowing him to put his spin on those international comfort foods we all recognize as well as on our culinary experiences that we have encountered in our travels outside the US.  Our goal is to also have a dynamic menu that can change every few months showcasing more fresh and seasonal specialties.

What do you look for in a good restaurant?

(Karl) To me it’s all about food. Like in real estate you hear people often say, “location, location, location,” for me it’s food, food, food!  I like places that combine unique international foods and flavors.  I particularly like small ethnic restaurants.  Like today for lunch I went to El Pollo Rico a Peruvian restaurant in Arlington.  It serves one of the best chicken dishes in town, and it shows that it doesn’t need to cost a lot to be good.

(Frank)  My picks also have to focus on good food. Food should speak to the soul and above all be a memorable experience.  And that has to be combined with a good price point, good service, and a comfortable atmosphere and environment.

(Karl) The combination of these things is what we have built at Pound… in essence, we have built what we love… We’re small, local, emphasize good service, and offer fresh, unique, internationally inspired foods.