May 30, 2024 - Food and Drink

Sneak peek: All-day Italian gem to open in Navy Yard

Focaccia open-faced sandwiches topped with mortadella or prosciutto and arugula and cheese

Homemade focaccia sandwiches at all-day Ama. Photo courtesy of Giada Paolini

Ama, a casually chic Italian restaurant from D.C. hospitality vets, opens near Navy Yard on June 4.

Why it matters: The neighborhood haunt stands out from a wave of new Italians with all-day service, bountiful aperitivo, and cooking from lesser-seen regions in the north and south.

Dig in: Chef Johanna Hellrigl won fans for globetrotting fare at Doi Moi and Mercy Me. Now, she and husband/bar talent Micah Wilder (Chaplin's, Zeppelin) are homing in on her Italian heritage and upbringing with an intimate family restaurant.

  • Ama's promises a warm welcome with a big bar, window bancone (counter) for leaning with espresso or spritzes, and space for walk-ins — plus a host stand that can dole out bellinis to waiting customers.
Three people lean against a counter on the patio of a restaurant with an orange awning
Chef Johanna (center) and Wilder (right) at the bancone. Photo courtesy of Giada Paolini

Context: Hellrigl's late father hailed from South Tyrol, a mountainous province up north, while her mother is from Liguria on the Italian Riviera. She grew up visiting family in both areas while her father ran a prominent Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

  • Diners will find dishes from both regions on the menu. It leans on Liguria's lighter flavors in summer and hearty dishes from the Dolomites in winter.

🥐 On your plate: Mornings and afternoons bring Caffè Vergnano espressos, homemade pastries, and showstopper open-face sandwiches on Genovese focaccia.

  • The thinner style, which Hellrigl learned from her childhood favorite bakery in Santa Margherita, comes layered with combinations like mortadella, crescenza cheese, and pesto, or buffalo mozzarella and semi-secci tomatoes.
The dining room at Ama with yellow curtains and mirrors above wooden tables
Ama goes for a homey vibe. Photo courtesy of Giada Paolini

At night, Ama feels more like a trattoria with plenty of antipasti, vegetable dishes, homemade pastas, and seasonal secondi like rabbit stew with Ligurian olives or salt-baked fish.

🍝 Between the lines: Hellrigl is excited about some lesser-seen pastas, like Ligurian ravioli filled with wild foraged greens, walnuts, and cheese. Or Tyroleian-style dumplings with speck and tangy kraut.

🍷 In your glass: Wilder says the bar program has big "apothecary vibes." No processed sugar, lots of holistic ingredients like chestnut honey or nettles. Also, a vintage Italian seltzer wand to add fizz. "The entire program is built on the purity of water, bubbles, and temperature," he tells Axios.

  • Look for unique sips like a vintage Negroni with 1980s Campari, or frozen gin martinis with wild herb-infused vermouth.
A counter with pastries (left) and snacks with a red drink
Ama runs mornings (left) through aperitivo hour. Photo courtesy of Giada Paolini

If you go: Ama. 885 New Jersey Ave., SE. Caffè opens at 9am, Tuesday through Saturday.

  • Aperitivo and snacks run from 4pm to 6pm, and dinner starts at 5pm with limited reservations via Resy and walk-ins.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify new hour changes and that Andrew Limberg is no longer involved in the project.


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