Shenarri Freeman’s Grub Street Diet

Cadence’s Shenarri Freeman.
Illustration: Maanvi Kapour

Last March, chef Shenarri Freeman was opening her first restaurant, Cadence, with Ravi DeRossi’s catering group, Overthrow Hospitality. From her perch in the East Village, she served vegan versions of the soul food she grew up on in Virginia, like southern fried lasagna and smoked oatmeal with fried oyster mushrooms. The restaurant proved to be a huge success and its cuisine landed Cadence spots at the end of the year lists from New York Times and new York as well as a nomination for James Beard Foundation Emerging Chef Award. Over the weekend, Freeman flew to Washington, DC, where she lived for ten years, to see old friends and eat Ethiopian food.

Friday March 25
I was heading to DC, where I lived for ten years, for my friend’s 30th birthday, so for breakfast I had a deli sandwich at Orchard Grocer on the Lower East Side: the Miles, a vegan “bacon, egg and cheese” sandwich on a croissant. I had this with Natalie’s tangerine juice, echinacea tea and berries.

This sandwich is just amazing. I go out of my way to go sometimes, but it’s worth it every time. I think the main thing that appeals to me is that they have vegan croissants, which is pretty rare. I haven’t come across anyone else with a better vegan croissant. The process of making one is really difficult, so if I see one, I go for it.

I always go to Maketto as soon as I get to DC because it’s down the street from the train station. It’s just one of my favorite staples. I had leek and mushroom bao rolls, spring rolls and vegetable gyoza dumplings. I always eat these three things. They have a few other dishes that I will get, bigger noodles, but I didn’t want a huge starter. I want to try everything on the menu; I am that kind of person. It’s just easier.

As for dumplings, I particularly like gyoza because I’m not a big fan of super fried food. I like gyoza because they are partially fried, partially steamed a bit.

After lunch, I found myself at my best friend’s house. We met 11 years ago, went to undergrad at Howard, and have been glued at the hip ever since. She’s Somali and Ethiopian, and I usually have lots of Somali and Ethiopian food when I’m in DC, whether it’s her home cooking, her mother’s, or her grandmother’s. Or we’ll go get Ethiopian food.

When I arrived at her house that evening, she had cooked Somali rice, with fried onions and raisins, and her grandmother had made a pepper sauce. I had a glass of wine with it. Usually when I go there, either there is food in the refrigerator or his mother is cooking. This time, she had dropped off a few things. It’s so nice.

Saturday March 26
I have lots of friends who have restaurants in DC, so I took the time to visit them and check out their spots. One of them is the executive chef of the Gathering Spot, a private club, so I had to go see him. It opened last summer, and it was my second or third time there.

The menu is great, but when I go there, because they don’t have many vegan options, he always makes me things off the menu or things he tries. I had Brussels sprouts with pimento apple honey, pickled apples, sorrel and cilantro; Caesar salad with salted potatoes with mushrooms, avocado and pickles; and thyme cookies.

It was the night of my friend’s 30th birthday. I got to see a lot of friends I hadn’t seen, some of them for over a year. It was just great to see everyone, to be able to catch up and hang out. It’s ten years of friendships. It was fun to see everyone in one space.

Afterwards, I grabbed a slice of vegan pizza from Duccini in Adams Morgan before passing out. It does the job. I mean, it was dinner, but that was the finishing touch before I went home.

Sunday March 27
I was very hungover. I woke up and had a smoothie with apples, mango, bananas, pineapple, spinach and coconut water. I relaxed for a while with a bowl of fruit, basically cleaning up and slowing down after a long night of partying.

I try to start the day with fruit, because I think that’s how I’ve learned to eat over the years, especially the last seven or eight years. I love soursop. It’s a little harder to find in New York, so I usually make a berry or pineapple mix. The fruit is so much better elsewhere. It’s also cheaper — or free. Fruit is just too expensive in New York. It’s a bit ridiculous. In places like Mexico they have sour oranges, different types of oranges, so they don’t even taste like what we think oranges are here.

For lunch, I had sushi and miso soup delivered.

Back at my best friend’s house, she made rice and Jamaican peas – for some reason! It was pretty random; she said she saw a video on TikTok and wanted my opinion on it. I loved it and ate it all. We just hung out at home, taking it easy.

Monday, March 28 th
Breakfast was green juice and pineapple.

For lunch, I made vegan Alfredo sauce. I cooked at my friend’s house according to what she had: almond milk was the base. Then we had vegan butter and this vegan parmesan cheese. I added onion, garlic, tomatoes. A few peas, a few mushrooms. I just kept building on this flavor because almond milk isn’t ideal, but I needed the base. I added a little flour to make it thicker, almost like a roux, then the noodles and parsley.

For dinner I had Ethiopian food with another friend at Zenebech. I went there with another friend whom I had not yet been able to see; it was a dinner to catch up on. We both love Ethiopian cuisine.

Oh my god it was so good. I’m still dreaming of it.

I miss the Ethiopian food in DC so much. Like New York has bodegas, DC has Ethiopian restaurants. I think because it’s a bigger community, there’s a lot more variety. It tastes different from what I have here, so it’s a craving for me. Every time I go to DC I try to squeeze some in.

I’m loyal to my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, but they were closed so we ended up landing on Zenebech. I had the vegetable platter with ater (a dish of split peas), mesir (spiced lentils), tikel gomen (cabbage, carrots and potatoes) and gomen (green cabbage). Anything with lenses, I’m excited.

I started eating Ethiopian food with my best friend in college; his mother cooked for us. She was making us turkey spaghetti, which was really good but weird to me. I didn’t venture at least into the vegan side until six or seven years ago. I learned they had these vegetable trays. I got a bit addicted; I would eat it every week. These vegetable platters are just super good, super cheap, super filling and the flavor is just out of this world. I never really had African food growing up. I feel like Ethiopian cuisine was my first introduction and I immediately fell in love.

Tuesday 29 March
I ate a smoothie in DC, then went back to New York. When I came back it was still morning so I went to Plantbaked and had a vegan croissant and an oat milk chai latte. I like tea, but I don’t drink coffee. I tried when I had a desk job, and it didn’t last long.

For lunch I had vegan ramen from Warude. It’s in front of my house. I always feel great after eating their food. I usually get their ramen or gyoza – they are really good.

I was invited to a dinner party hosted by Lo Bosworth. There was a cucumber ceviche with mint and heart of palm; I had a vegan version of the spring orecchiette with asparagus, morels and Marsala sauce.

I didn’t cook much last week, mainly because I wasn’t home. But I try to cook when I’m at my friend’s house and I’m out of town and have a second. I don’t eat out as much as you might think, only one or two days a week, so I can cook a bit more at home – unlike when I was at a restaurant five days a week.

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