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Words by Allison Desy, Kaylee Dugan, Photos by Nicolla Etzion

From ThinkFoodGroup comes ThinkFoodLab, an eatery that combines food experimentation and diverse culinary experiences. ThinkFoodLab is a fast-casual style dining option that will bring rotating, pop-up style offerings from new and existing culinary concepts.

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For their first of many series, ThinkFoodLab is taking the concepts from José Andrés’ Pepe food truck and turning it into a brick-and-mortar reality.

There are only so many options Pepe can offer as a food truck with its limited space. ThinkFoodLab has expanded the Pepe menu to include an array of salads, sandwiches, sides, and even soft serve ice cream (which is a life changing summer treat).

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Some of their traditional Spanish offerings include pan de cristal sandwiches, with fillings such as serrano ham and manchego cheese, on light and crispy pan de cristal. This type of bread is imported from Barcelona, as it has not yet been made successfully in the United States. ThinkFoodLab’s new and expanded Pepe menu offers many opportunities to try traditional Spanish high quality flavors and foods in a quick and easy way.

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While ThinkFoodLab has not yet announced their next culinary endeavor after Pepe, the combined eatery and lab means that executive chef Joe Raffa and his team can experiment with endless ideas before choosing what to bring to the public.

Your lunch break just got a lot more interesting.

For the vegetarian

Bikini de Setas

From first glance, this looks like a traditional grilled cheese with a few added ingredients. Though this sandwich is on normal, sliced white bread, the filling is absolutely divine. Overflowing with generous layers of sauteed wild mushrooms, perfectly caramelized onions, and oozing cheese, this bikini is grilled to perfection and served warm for your eating pleasure.

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For the experimental carnivore

Serrano y Manchego

If you’ve been to Jaleo and haven’t had the pan de cristal, you messed up. The paradoxical bread manages to be both light and crisp while maintaining a dense mouth feel, which basically means it’s a thin bread that punches above it’s weight class. Luckily for you, ThinkFoodLab’s current Pepe inspired menu (although think of it as more like a Pepe + or Pepe Premium) is packed with sandwiches featuring the miraculous stuff, but the highlight is the Serrano y Manchego. Thin slivers of serrano ham are pared with rich manchego and bright tomate fresco, it’s a simple and classic combination that knocks it out of the park by managing to be salty, sweet, rich and acidic at the same time, while the pan de cristal gives it the much needed crunch. The pan de cristal sandwiches are the most expensive options on the menu, but keep in mind a quarter of a sandwich (paired with a side) should be enough food to tide you over until dinner. If you’re heading on a picnic (and have no interest making something) or you and your friends have the same taste, bring three of them with you and split a whole sandwich. -K.D.

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For the fried chicken snob

Pollo Frito

For an in and out casual sandwich shop, I noticed the quality of the bread was pretty good. I’m always iffy about breaded chicken in a sandwich, but honestly I didn’t even notice until half way in because the breading mixed in really nicely with the sauce (the sauce is sweet, but not like candy). The sauce is good enough to carry the sandwich. There was a lot of flavor, but the flavor was really well rounded. It was filling, but not greasy or hearty to where I would feel gross if I stopped in to grab one on a lunch break. It’s a simple, quality sandwich. -N.E.

ThinkFoodLab is located at 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW and is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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