Cheezus Has Risen
Cheezus Has Risen Credit: Laura Hayes

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To make the “Cheezus Has Risen,” you flip a seeded bagel inside out, stuff it with double-cream brie, smoked gouda, and cheddar cheeses, and then griddle it until it’s golden brown and melty. The sandwich speaks to what Buffalo & Bergen hopes to bring to Capitol Hill—a retro soda fountain meets New York deli that focuses on the familiar, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and ignores calorie counts.

“You don’t have to think, you know what things are, you can ease up,” says owner Gina Chersevani. She opened the first Buffalo & Bergen in Union Market exactly seven years ago. The new iteration opening Friday at 240 Massachusetts Ave. NE will start by serving breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. 

Chef Adam Miller, formerly of O-Ku, heads the kitchen. Opening menu highlights include year-round latkes dunked in bourbon apple sauce; a half-pastrami, half-corned beef Reuben on a bagel with a runny egg from Eco-Friendly Farm; “Matzo Baller” soup with lemongrass chicken stock and duckfat matzo balls; and an open-faced knish served with a sidecar of melted butter, garlic, and parsley.

“My goal is to have somebody sitting here reading the paper with a knish and a coffee just chilling,” Chersevani says. She encourages diners to spice up their knishes with Weber’s Mustard. The Buffalo, New York yellow mustard spiked with horseradish has been around since 1922. No other mustard will do. 

Keeping with the New York bent, Beverage Director Frankie Jones and General Manager Amy Hosseinnian drew up a “Big Apple” cocktail menu. Each cocktail features apple as an ingredient. Cocktails are available whenever Buffalo & Bergen is open. Yes, that means 8 a.m. 

The “Chinatown to Chinatown” refers to a bus route connecting D.C. and New York and combines Maker’s Mark bourbon, gala apple, ginger, lemon, and Chinese five spice. The fortune cookie garnish is dusted in salt, sugar, five spice, and orange zest. “My inspiration behind a lot of the drinks on the menu is being a D.C. native but also feeling like my spirit city is New York,” Hosseinnian says. “I’ve always felt Buffalo & Bergen was a corner of New York in D.C.”

Another cocktail, “Ima Readin’ Rainbow,” features lemon-infused Sipsmith gin, cranberry and sage soda, lemon, and granny smith apple foam. “Gina told me to look up Dorthy Draper,” Jones says. “I saw all these floral patters. She said, ‘I want big. I want amazing’ So, I started googling how to use fruit and vegetables as garnishes.”

The darling space with white and mint hues, scalloped edges, and retro wallpaper was inspired by Draper’s design sensibilities. She’s credited with professionalizing the interior design industry when she founded her company in 1923. She favored bold color and floral prints.

Look for the mounted picture of Chersevani’s great-grandfather Tony Fanelli posing at the intersection of Bergen Street and Buffalo Avenue in  Brooklyn. You can also spot some relics from the ice company Fanelli owned.

The intimate space seats 27 inside and 20 outside in warmer months. Chersevani expects to do a booming grab-and-go business. 

About 10 days after opening, Buffalo & Bergen will introduce dinner service until 10 p.m. every night except Sunday, when the restaurant closes at 3 p.m. Miller and his team are working on dishes like brisket over garlic polenta cakes and Salvadoran chicken stew with chickpeas and honey squash. Chersevani’s favorite thing about New York delis is that their menus pull inspiration from many cultures. 

Buffalo & Bergen, 240 Massachusetts Ave. NE;