On Tap scouts out the restaurants, bars and clubs that are new to the scene or shaking things up. Compiled and written by Kay Boatner.
Del Ray Café
The owners of Old Town’s French staple La Bergerie are behind Del Ray’s newest offering. The Café, while still French-focused, dishes out more organic, affordable options for customers than its more highbrow predecessor. The farmhouse-style building is the perfect setting to enjoy dishes such as lobster a la plancha with lemon risotto and Black Angus tenderloin with bone marrow red wine sauce. The restaurant is surprisingly kiddie-friendly, with an unusual children’s menu that includes selections like grilled country ham and cheese, organic turkey meatballs, and a variety of crepes. Del Ray didn’t forget about breakfast, pushing early morning fare like a “quiche of the day” and French bread with bucheron goat cheese. With summer upon us, we recommend dining on the wraparound porch. Whatever you do, do not leave without sampling the chouquettes, 10 oven-baked pastries the size of donut holes, served with amazing raspberry and chocolate dipping sauces.
Del Ray Café: 205 E. Howell Ave. Alexandria, VA; 703-717-9151; www.delraycafe.net
Good Stuff Eatery
Spike Mendelsohn’s popular Capitol Hill spot has opened its second space in Crystal City. Much bigger than its original location—it has its own party room—the venue serves much of the same fare. Think milkshakes and burgers and even more milkshakes and burgers. New to the menu (and being incorporated at Cap Hill, too) are a steakhouse burger topped with roasted crimini mushrooms, onion straws, Swiss cheese and a steakhouse burger, an American wedge topped with bacon, apples, blue cheese, red onion, and apple cider vinegar to replace the ensalada wedge, and a salty caramel kiss milkshake. More draft lines—six total—include Batch 19, Peroni, Blue Moon, and Miller Lite. In addition to the extra booze, Mendelsohn and his Good Stuff guys have placed TVs almost everywhere in an attempt to woo the evening crowd. “My parents live on Crystal Drive and I was always baffled by the lack of options available to me for a late night bite,” says Mendelsohn. Two Good Stuff’s are not enough for the Top Chef contestant—look for a third spot coming soon to Georgetown.
Good Stuff Eatery: 2110 Crystal City Dr. Arlington, VA; 703-415-4663; www.goodstuffeatery.com
Kangaroo Boxing Club
KBC joins a myriad of other restos on what The New York Times has dubbed Columbia Heights’ “hip strip”—a burgeoning food scene that encompasses the two blocks between Monroe Street and Park Road. KBC’s name comes from an inside joke between co-owners Josh Saltzman and Trent Allen and a few of their college buddies that led to the question “How would you win a match with a kangaroo?” Saltzman and Allen, of course, also run the PORC truck, or the Purveyors of Rolling Cuisine pork-based food truck. No worries—the PORC truck will remain in business despite the owners’ newest venture. Kangaroo will serve fare from the food truck, like sausages and pork products, plus a few other unique selections. Peyton Sherwood, a fellow owner and son of NBC4’s Tom Sherwood, will serve as the neighborhood bartender and GM at KBC—he may even craft some of his own house-made infusions down the road.
Kangaroo Boxing Club: 3412 11th St. NW, DC; 202-316-0650; www.kangaroodc.com
11th Street’s newest restaurant—and neighbor to fellow newbie Kangaroo Boxing Club—owes its Italian good looks to co-owner Eric Gronning (his wife, journalist Lori Robertson, is the other owner); Gronning makes furniture and helped design Jack Rose, Commonwealth, Marvin, Cork, and Pizzeria Paradiso among other places. The space gets its name from its beautiful tiger maple bar—do your best to get a glimpse of the amazing detailing next time you’re in for a modern American/old-school Italian bite. The Columbia Heights joint offers bruschetta, salads, sandwiches and panini, pasta and grill specials—as well as an extensive selection of wine and the aforementioned maple bar that highlights craft beers and specialty cocktails. All of the desserts—we recommend the Nutella panino with smashed banana and toasted hazelnuts—are noted with recommended wine pairings. Customers can learn more about Maple’s sips at a weekly wine class—visit their website for more information.
Maple: 3418 11th St. NW, DC; 202-588-7442; www.dc-maple.com
Cupcake fatigue? Occasionally Cake doesn’t just limit itself to the mini-cake trend that’s taken over the DMV. “Occasionally Cake is different from other cake or cupcake shops in the area because we are a specialty cake shop that does all things cake,” says owner Sabrina Campbell. “We have cupcakes daily, but we also do custom cakes and cake truffles.” The Old Town expansion of the popular Mount Vernon sweet spot is serving up the same products as the original location. Customers will also be able to order beverages like coffee, tea, and milk, which are currently unavailable at the Mount Vernon space. Alexandria’s waterfront-adjacent addition also has indoor seating and an outdoor patio for enjoying cupcake flavors like chocolate chip pancake, razzleberry and chocolate butterscotch. The Girl Scout-inspired Samoa treat is a keeper, as are the cute cupcake push pops. Tip: like Occasionally Cake on Facebook to find out what the day’s flavors are before dropping by. Dessert devotees can snap up t-shirts, aprons, and other cake-themed merchandise in the shop; coming soon are cake decorating classes and master-classes featuring celebrity chefs.
Occasionally Cake: 207 King St. Alexandria, VA; 703-780-2253; www.occasionallycake.com
The Pig is ideal for carnivores with no shame in their pork appreciation—vegetarians ought not peruse Roald Dahl’s disturbing poem “The Pig,” which adorns the main entrance, upon entering this 14th Street space. Actually, vegetarians ought not enter at all. With the menu divided into sections labeled as “Pig” and “Less Pig,” it’s unlikely that lettuce lovers will find much to nosh on here. The restaurant expects to use between seven and 10 pigs per week, with nothing going in the garbage except for the bones once they’ve been used for stock. Among the dishes crafted from pig pieces are cured meats, trotter ravioli with duck yolk, porchetta with brains and roast stuffed belly, pig ramen and crispy pork shank. While the food is on point with the pork fad, the décor is less trendy, more timeless. Reclaimed wood, subway tiles, factory lights, a copper window, and bistro napkins lend a low-key vibe to The Pig. Large canvas prints of coin-sized wine stamps from the 1910s, 1930s and 1940s were enlarged and mounted specifically for The Pig by a Brooklyn company. For now, The Pig will push pork seven nights a week for dinner, and eventually plans to launch a Saturday and Sunday brunch.
The Pig: 1320 14th St. NW, DC; 202-290-2821; www.thepigdc.com
The Pretzel Bakery
An authentic taste of Philly can be found in Capitol Hill thanks to the Pretzel Bakery. The Bakery serves up pillowy, doughy, sea-salty snacks for locals—and clearly puts a lot of thought into its baking process. Owners keep the batches small enough to ensure that each pretzel expands the same amount, which leads to better colors and “cracking patterns.” The knots come in large or mini sizes, and come with your choice of five dipping sauces: whole grain mustard, caramel mustard, standard yellow mustard, spicy brown, and Nutella. PB’s obsession with PA perfection extends to its beverages—the owner’s father drives down Philly-style drinks like Boylan’s, Pennsylvania Birch Beer, and Frank’s Black Cherry on a regular basis. Cheers to Dad!
The Pretzel Bakery: 340 15th St. SE, DC; 202-251-0953
Sakuramen Ramen Bar
Many noodle houses are hard to locate and even harder to get in to—they have that underground, cool factor and are always bustling. Sakuramen—a combination of the Japanese words for “cherry blossoms” and “ramen”—has one up on these places, as it is literally underground. Once they locate the Adams Morgan basement hideaway, diners can settle in at the long banquette along the wall, or have a seat at the communal oak table. Regardless of where you sit in the former home of Tattoo Paradise, you can select from seven ramens, from traditional Japanese-style miso-pork to Korean-influenced kimchi-beef to vegetarian seaweed-based broths; housemade seared dumplings and beef bulgogi buns are perfect for dipping in any of the broths. The extra-special ingredient in every bowl? Love. “Blessed are those who put all their love into all they do,” says co-owner Jonathan Cho. “Good thing for Sakuramen customers, we happen to put all our love into every bowl of ramen!” The owners are still waiting on their liquor license, so you’ll have to enjoy the love sans sake—for now.
Sakuramen Ramen Bar: 2441 18th St. NW, DC; 202-656-5285; www.sakuramen.net
The space that once housed Griffin Market is now home to Jamie Stachowski’s new butcher shop. The old-fashioned joint is definitely no-frills—the menu written on a pig-shaped blackboard is about the most dramatic decoration in the place. No matter, when the meat is as good as it is. Stachowski has been peddling his house-made sausages, kielbasas and other charcuterie at local farmer’s markets over the years, including Georgetown’s popular Rose Park market. Today, his shop is a one-spot stop for meat lovers. The menu features made-to-order sandwiches, including a turkey club and a four-meat grinder; the butcher counter offers a variety of steaks, sausages and pate—the logs of pancetta and prosciutto are certainly drool-worthy. A refrigerated case with drinks, eggs and strawberries serve as a meat supplement station at the moment. Plans to add seating by the windows are forthcoming.
Charcuterie: 1425 P St. NW, DC; www.stachowskibrand.com
The team behind Greek-centric Cava and Cava Mezza add Italian-style Sugo to their roster of restos. Housed in the Park Potomac development, Sugo pushes plates best for sharing, such as charcuteries and pastas. Other options include standard bites like pizza and meatball varieties, or you can go less classic and sample dishes like the braised octopus and duck leg confit. Sugo’s space is big, but it never loses its intimacy—high ceilings with a central U-shaped bar and multiple smaller dining areas all connect seamlessly. The open kitchen, complete with a brick oven, adds a cozy feel to the Maryland eatery. We would eat the simply prepared oven-baked bread anywhere, though—a perfect sprinkling of olive oil, salt, and rosemary over SC’s pizza crust. The green eggs and ham dish is nothing to turn your nose up at, either: deviled eggs, crispy pancetta, truffle and basil oils compose this creative small plate. Don’t slip out of Sugo without one last sip—we enjoyed the apricot mint julep, but we hear the elderflower margarita is just as excellent.
Sugo Cicchetti: 12505 Park Potomac Ave. Rockville, MD; 240-386-8080; www.eatsugo.com
The Sunset Room by Wolfgang Puck
National Harbor’s newest private event space is snazzier than most—and can claim one of the world’s most celebrated caterers as its own. Wolfgang Puck’s team includes Chef Russell Smith, leading all kitchen operations, and most recently sous chef under Executive Chef Scott Drewno at The Source. Terri Boyd, previously with The Peterson Companies, is Director of Catering. The Sunset Room accommodates up to 400 guests, and can host as many as 2,000 when The Piers and Plaza are used, as well. Amazing views overlooking the Potomac and the DC skyline are best seen from Sunset’s wrap-around balconies.
The Sunset Room by Wolfgang Puck: 137 National Plaza, Ste. 200 National Harbor, MD; 301-839-1805; www.wolfgangpuck.com/catering
Blue Duck Tavern
More brunch options for West Enders! The Tavern recently debuted its southern-inspired breakfast service. Fresh-squeezed juice, brioche French toast, short rib hash, fried chicken liver and a free newspaper in any language you want are just a few of the early morning trappings.
Blue Duck Tavern: 1201 24th St. NW, DC; 202-419-6755; www.blueducktavern.com
The Butcher Shoppe
Standard’s “beer garden and BBQ” pairing is kicking off a trend; soon, Shaw will have its own ‘que and garden combo. The Shoppe’s owner signed a lease for near the O Street Market, and plans to serve bites such as cornmeal-crusted catfish with lemon pepper aioli, grilled homemade chicken sausage with peppers and onions, and smoked jalapeno pepper braised greens among other items.
Rogue, perhaps in response to the hullabaloo over its high prices and measly portions, is working on producing shorter tasting menus with, you guessed it—larger portions at cheaper prices. Hallelujah.
Rogue 24: 922 N St. NW, DC; 202-408-9724; www.rogue24.com
Upshur Street is soon to be home to DC’s newest bakery, which means residents can plan on purchasing plenty of…bean pies? Salaam is a non-traditional bakery focused on healthier sweets, such as carrot cake and the aforementioned bean pies. We’d say “eh,” but the word “phenomenal” has been used, so we’re reserving judgment until we sample a little something for ourselves.
Salaam Bakery: 828 Upshur St. NW, DC
Floriana owner Dino Tapper is taking over the Cleveland Park Tackle Box space—which has not even been open for a year—and turning it into tapas bar named Pulpo. Jose Andres would approve.
Pulpo: 3407 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; 202-450-6875; www.tackleboxrestaurant.com
Taqueria Nacional is relocating from its Capitol Hill home behind Johnny’s Half Shell to the U Street area. The taqueria is moving into the old Post Office space on T Street, a 2,600 square foot space with plenty of room for seating inside and out. The menu will be mostly the same, but come for the new additions: draft beer and frozen margaritas. Don’t expect the new venue to open until late fall of this year.
Taqueria Nacional: 400 North Capitol St. NW, DC; 202-737-7070; www.taquerianational.com
U Street Music Hall
The popular electronic-music club is no longer the home of the pho dog—or any food, for that matter. The Hall has stopped serving food altogether. Rumor has it that food will be served again sometime soon, but for now, club kids better look elsewhere to satisfy their munchies.
U Street Music Hall: 1115A U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1880;
As of July 1st, the Chicago-style spot will close after 37 years of business.
The V Street eatery is no longer.