The name ‘Lilit’ is Armenian for “goddess,” and in Hebrew ‘Lilit’ means “night owl.” Perhaps Lilit Café combines the two meanings—"Goddess," because they serve some heavenly food there, and "night owl," because Lilit is an ideal place for night owls to pick up a late night snack or bottle of wine.
Lilit Café, on Old Georgetown between Auburn and Del Ray Avenue, is a bit like a New York deli. It consists of one shop selling wine, beer, homemade gelato, deli sandwiches, gluten-free grocery items, and a small sit-down café-- all in the same space.
My husband says, “This place tries to be many things to many people.”
He’s right. Maybe because there’s so much going on here, the service suffers, despite an admirable effort to keep everyone happy by owner Davinder Singh. The pace is slow, and because Singh is so busy, there’s no one to answer questions.
The weeknight evening we stopped by for dinner, we saw couples dining in, a large multi-generational group, one lone diner, and others who picked up a to-go order and a bottle of wine. Some customers just ordered gelato, while others had a full meal.
Packaged Wine and Beer
One couple ordered dinner from Davinder, the lone waiter that night. Then, the customer walked over to the refrigerated case of “eat-in” bottles of wine. He grabbed one, uncorked it and proceeded to pour himself and dining partner a glass, on the spot. Wow!
At Lilit, you can order from a selection of wines by the glass priced very competitively. In fact, Lilit Café sells a wide variety of popular bottles for a competitive price. They may be a dollar more than Rodman’s, but that’s it. Lilit Café also sponsors wine-tasting events and hosts live musicians.
One thing that makes Lilit unique is their expansive gluten free menu. To learn more, I questioned Bethesda resident Christina Boubas, who has gluten sensitivity. She said she’d only dined there once, and actually Lilit is not the only local restaurant that offers gluten free dishes. She says several restaurants in the area have begun identifying gluten free items on their menu. For example, the Original Pancake House prepares a gluten free pancake. Tara Thai has gluten free dishes. Yet, unlike Lilit Café, they don’t feature these dishes.
“Over the last several years awareness of gluten-free (GF) diets has increased, and as a result, many restaurants have taken steps to incorporate GF options into their menus, or offer separate GF menus," Boubas wrote in an email to Patch. I know several large, chain restaurants have GF menus for customers to choose from which gives someone with gluten sensitivity or Celiac's disease reassurance that steps are taken to ensure the food is 'safe' for them to eat.”
“I think overall Bethesda is probably a better place to be for someone with a GF diet,” continues Boubas, “since there are so many diverse dining options here and a greater awareness around food allergies within this community.”
Lilit Café’s gluten free menu includes pizza, baked goods, sandwiches and even beer. Besides supplying a separate menu of GF dishes, Lilit also sells gluten free packaged goods. I tried a muffin, and it was flakey and light. I had no idea it had no gluten. However, the owner did tell me that gluten free items on his menu cost more than the regularly prepared versions. He said that the GF pizza and sandwiches are smaller and more expensive because they cost more to make.
"I think what's nice about Lilit is that they had more GF options, including pizza, than other restaurants," Boubas wrote. "And they have a large GF retail section that makes it convenient for picking up certified GF products to take home with you while you're there."
Dining in the Cafe
Some Bethesda folks have encouraged me to try Lilit, just to sample the crabcakes. On the window, in giant letters, it states: “Bethesda’s Best Crabcake.” So, of course, I ordered one, nicely priced at $12 for a salad, rice and crabcake.
While I can’t authoritatively state “this is Bethesda’s best crabcake”--I haven’t tried every crabcake in the area---I will say this crabcake was as good as I could imagine a crabcake could ever be. It was buttery sweet, consisting of only white backfin lump crabmeat, no fillers, tenderly sautéed on the outside with a delicate crispness, and yet creamy, silky inside. This mound of tenderness was accompanied by a fresh, mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing (I declined the rice for extra salad).
So, the crabcake was a homerun, but what about everything else? My older daughter (the family chef) ordered the gyro sandwich which had enormous hunks of grilled gyro meat (lamb) on pita bread. The lamb was flavorful and hearty, the tzatziki wasn’t overpowered by garlic, shredded lettuce and cabbage added crunch, and the bread was soft—perfectly satisfying.
My husband had a Greek salad and a vegetable Panini. The sandwich held generous portions of main ingredients—meaty slices of eggplant, sautéed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, grilled onions, and melted provolone— with a smear of pesto on a toasted pita. It was filled with bold aromatics and brawny texture. Okay, three good dishes in a row.
Then we come to my younger daughter. Known for being picky, she is nevertheless an officiando of French onion soup. So I trusted her to weigh in. She found Lilit’s onion soup bland, and it didn’t have enough cheese and bread on top. She did like the fries—airy on the inside, heavily coated on the outside, but not especially potato-like. They retained their crispiness even after sitting for awhile; we all stole some off her plate.
Lilit had a lot going on, and even if you felt like your wait for food was interminable (and it was), at least you could remain entertained by walking around the store, checking out the gelato, perusing the wines and beer, shopping the gluten free products. The place was cheerful and bright with colorful furnishings, table cloths and signage. I liked how Lilit could accommodate groups with a variety of needs—spooning up gelato, eating a hearty meal, drinking some bubbly. I also liked the freedom to walk around.
The desserts looked delectable, but we only tried the gelato--raves about the pistachio, almond and wild berry flavors. I definitely see a value in what Lilit brings to the community, and I know Bethesda residents who live close by must enjoy walking there to pick up all these different things.
Lilit Café also serves breakfast and lunch, so it’s not just for the night owls out there, or those seeking heavenly gelato.
7921 Old Georgetown Road
Bethesda, MD 20814 Phone: 301.654.5454