Coming Soon

Biergarten Haus: A Whole Lotta Deutschland on H Street

The word from Aaron McGovern is that Biergarten Haus will open this Friday, June 11.

Thirty-five hundred square feet of outdoor seating.  Thirty mahogany brown tables with bench seating to accommodate around 200 people ... outside. A kitchen cranking out the best of Germany's wurst, as well as locally baked pretzels and rolls. An upstairs bar and dining room with multiple flat-screen TVs airing live coverage of the 2010 World Cup. Three bars, 12 taps, 20 to 30 bottles all showcasing the brewing prowess of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires.

02480008 As cocktails and craft beer continue to dominate the D.C. drinking scene (not a bad thing), H Street's newest restaurant and bar is going to keep it simple by keeping it very German (not bad either).

There will be polka.

The Biergarten Haus is set to open May 14, and it will be big.

In fact, it's the size of the location that gave co-owner Aaron McGovern (pictured above) the idea to open a biergarten in the Atlas District. Aaron and his business partner Arturas Vorobjovas, who co-own the Russia House, have talked about opening a biergarten for years, but didn't have a location until they came across an old five and dime shop on H Street.

When Aaron saw the two-story building with its large patio space, he knew he had the ideal location for a biergarten, Germany's quintessential outdoor watering hole.

"As a young boy I grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, with three German families as neighbors," Aaron said via e-mail. "Having traditional family style meals every weekend opened my eyes and palate to this wonderful cuisine. The weisswurst, weinerschnitzle, sauerkraut, to name a few, were always my favorites."

02470015 While German cuisine will be on the menu, Aaron and Arturas don't plan to go too over the top with the theme. They are planning to have live polka music and are considering hiring an accordion player to come in from time to time, but don't expect to see the staff wearing dirndls and lederhosen.

Chris Chambers, regional director for the Russia House and Biergarten Haus, said the idea is to keep things simple so folks can enjoy themselves. So customers can come for the German food and beer (apparently they're working on a massive "King's Platter" of sausages and sides that is clearly aimed at the 'Skins offensive line), or to grab a beer and watch a soccer match on TV (they hope to be come a destination for D.C. soccer fans).

02470007 Chris also noted that the Biergarten Haus, near the corner of 13th and H streets, is a 10 minute cab ride from the Verizon Center, giving Capitals and Wizards fans a fairly close destination before and after games. For now, cabs and cars will be the means of transportation for most Biergarten Haus customers. The nearest Metro station, New York Avenue, is a long walk down H Street, and the trolley car line is at least a year away from completion. And until the trolley line is finished, H Street will remain a hot mess of construction crews and jersey barriers.

Aaron is taking the long view.

02470009 "We are only a year away from having DC's first European-style trolley, the road construction is rough but the construction crew are making progress daily," he said in his e-mail. "In the past seven months numerous new restaurants have opened, numerous abandoned buildings have been brought back to life. I find that the atlas/capital hill neighbors are very loyal to their business as well as very active the the continuing growth of the neighborhood."

Chris said the rent on the space is reasonable, which should help them get through their first year if the construction limits their customer traffic. In fact, the affordable rent led Aaron and Arturas to lease a space two doors down from the Biergarten Haus location where they plan to eventually open a European market that will offer a few things from the restaurant's menu, as well as sandwiches and other items.

02470023 As for those taps and bottles, Aaron has pulled in the Belgian beer knight himself, Bill Catron. The beer list is still be finalized, but expect a variety of beers from German stalwarts Spaten, Paulaner, Gaffel Kolsch and Eggenberg. However, Bill said he also plans to bring in some "gems," like Paulaner Pilsner, and is looking at ordering a few firkins.

"When you do go to drink beer, you want something a little bit extra," he said.

While the beers that Bill brings in will surely be good, the little bit extra most folks will be interested is the lot of outdoor space that will make the Biergarten a biergarten.

Well that and the beer. And the wurst. And the schnitzel. And maybe, just maybe, the polka.

Biergarten Haus
1355 H St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

Top Chef's Spike Mendelsohn: Bringing 'Good Stuff' to Capitol Hill

TopcheflogoIn just over 12 hours, Bravo's fourth season of Top Chef will come to a close and a new winner will be revealed.  And although many DC Foodies will watch eagerly to see if Lisa gets her long-awaited comeuppance, the real excitement for Washington lies less in what is yet to come than in what has already come of this season - the emergence of Spike Mendelsohn as a celebrity chef on the national stage.  Even before the show had begun taping last year, Spike and his family were working to turn a Pennsylvania Avenue address on Capitol Hill into Good Stuff Eatery, a restaurant that will offer comfort food favorites like burgers, fries and milkshakes using fresh, local ingredients.  Last night, Elizabeth and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Spike and his General Manager/housemate/longtime partner-in-crime Mike Colletti over mussels and frites at Granville Moore's.  I have to apologize to Colletti in advance, as I've tended to focus on Spike's comments in this writeup at the expense of our broader conversation.  For more of our conversation, check out Elizabeth's post on Capital Spice.

So did Spike give us any spoilers for tonight's finale?  We wish!  Let's just say that he would have no trouble securing a job as a press secretary on the Hill...he refused to give away any of the juicy details, but he was happy to tell us all about his experiences and to give us a sneak peek at what we can expect when Good Stuff Eatery opens later this month.

Spike told us about his audition process, which was more arduous than most of us might expect.  He was actually a finalist for Season 3, when he was invited to Los Angeles as one of thirty potential cheftestants before missing the final cut.  But he submitted a second application video (shot by Colletti) when Season 4 rolled around and this time he struck gold.

Top_chef_promo It becomes very clear when talking to Spike that he represents a new kind of Top Chef contestant - one who recognizes the inherent marketability of competing and who continues to work with Bravo to develop his 'brand.'  He went into the show eager to demonstrate his own style and to make sure he stood out from the crowd, regardless of the final outcome.  But he gives the show a lot of credit for the rigors they put the contestants through, calling it "similar to a French apprenticeship, where they give you a peeler on your first day and you have to work your way up."

The hats, the outsized personality...though he was always true to himself, he was thinking about how his actions would play on the air.  As a result, he has no complaints about how he was represented by the producers - in fact, he's pretty pleased with them.  He is proud of the fact that he has had more contact with Bravo since his episodes were filmed than any other contestant in the history of the show.  And although he couldn't say anything definite, he seemed pretty certain that Top Chef Season 5 would be filmed in New York City or New with that knowledge what you will.

Does Spike have a favorite for tonight's finale?  His positive comments about Stephanie's 'simple, soulful' approach and Richard's 'carefully considered' and 'focused' menus suggest that he would have been happy with either one as the winner, though he admitted to feeling like he worked with the best of the final four when acting as Richard's sous chef in last week's episode.

Spike_and_mike Now that he has settled down here in Washington, Spike is eager to become an active part of the local restaurant scene.  Though he wouldn't go into details, he suggested that several local chefs have submitted strong applications for Top Chef 5 and when he says that at least one of them has a very good chance of making it on the show, he seems to feel a sense of local pride.  He brushes off the machismo of one particularly aggressive local applicant with aplomb.  Spike admits to some favorites on the local restaurant scene, as well.  Even before Jose Andres guest judged and complimented him for his shrewd performance in Restaurant Wars, Spike was an early fan of Zaytinya.  These days, he adds Michel Richard's Central to his growing list of favorites, praising Richard for his smart approach to growing his brand and "really getting into every aspect of it as a chef.  You can see it in his hands and you can tell it in the food."

Following his sister (who handles marketing for Good Stuff) and his parents to town, Spike is focused on launching a number of Good Stuff Eateries throughout Washington - and eventually even further afield.  Even before the paint has dried at their Capitol Hill location, they are close to locking in another venue on Adams Morgan's busy 18th Street corridor.  He has created a restaurant group, Sunnyside Group LLC, with an eye toward several other concepts that reflect his prior experience - an Asian establishment whose primary influence will be Vietnamese cuisine and a Mediterranean restaurant showcasing his Greek heritage are projects he is eager to tackle.

Good_stuff_shirtsBut first Good Stuff needs to take off on Capitol Hill, which shouldn't be any problem at all if the food lives up to the impressive billing Mike and Spike give it.  They can't help but smile as they talk about the process for making their fries, and their enthusiasm for aged Kingston potatoes that result in fries with a mashed-potato like interior is contagious.  Even with two full bowls of Granville Moore's delicious frites in front of us, I found myself eagerly visualizing what they were describing. 

Their burgers and salads sound equally appetizing, catering to a wide range of tastes with flavorful options that include the standard steakhouse burger and wedge salads, but quickly veer into uncharted territory with a spicy banh mi style burger and a mushroom burger that finds two kinds of cheese melted between two portobello mushroom caps.  Though they will provide ketchup and mustard for those who deem them inherent to any good burger, the guys were quick to point out that their burgers will feature a special sauce that should render lesser condiments unnecessary.  Vinegar and homemade mayonnaises for the fries will also be offered.  And hand-spun milkshakes made from fresh custard made on site daily will help to wash it all down.

Good Stuff Eatery will have seating for roughly 80 customers at a time, with outdoor space and a communal table that seats at least 12 upstairs.  Food will be made to order, so it will be interesting to see how they cope with the double-whammy of Spike's celebrity and the typical crush of Hill staffers on their lunch breaks during the day.

We won't have to wait long to find out - Good Stuff is anticipating an opening before the end of June, and you can bet that people will be lined up out the door from Day One to catch a glimpse of Spike and enjoy their burgers, fries and shakes (and salads).

Good Stuff Eatery
303 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
(202) 543-8222

Ray's the Classics

Ray's the Classics should be opening soon. How do I know?

I don't. At least not for sure. But I did go to one of the sneak peak dinners that Mr. Landrum had. The place MUST be close to opening. I mean, they were serving a complete dinner! Although I won't write anything about what was served that night, I will say this...

We're in for a great restaurant in Silver Spring! If a soft opening was that good, it going to be a great restaurant when it finally opens.

Plans for tonight

I'm headed to Tallula in Arlington tonight. It just opened last week. In anticipation for the dinner, I had this IM conversation with Amy about 5 minutes ago. I thought it was pretty funny. Just shows you how into food we are...

jasewyndu: hey
jasewyndu: you leaving soon?
amystorch: yes
jasewyndu: ok
jasewyndu: I'm looking forward to tonight
jasewyndu: that restaurant article in the Post got me excited
amystorch: i hope it's good
jasewyndu: yeah
jasewyndu: well if it is not, I can pan it ;)
jasewyndu: well actually not. I'd be a shmuck if I did
jasewyndu: cause it just opened
amystorch: yeah, you gotta give restaurants time
amystorch: what's the dress code?
jasewyndu: oh
jasewyndu: not sure
jasewyndu: looks kind of swanky
jasewyndu: hmm
jasewyndu: see a menu item that is kinda familiar?
jasewyndu: can't wait to try the fried green tomatoes!
jasewyndu: I like the finger friendly 2 biters
jasewyndu: cheese and cured meat pairings!
jasewyndu: oh wow, the brunch menu has biscuits and gravy
amystorch: oh man
amystorch: this is going to be so hard
amystorch: i want like, everything
jasewyndu: I KNOW
amystorch: gah!
jasewyndu: I'm so posting this IM conversation!
amystorch: Scotch Eggs
amystorch: housemade chorizo sausage, home fries
jasewyndu: YUM
jasewyndu: This place better be good. if if sucks I'll be so disappointed
amystorch: I want like, seven courses

Palena - What a meal

What a meal Amy and I had at Palena tonight! It is probably one of the best meals we have ever eaten. Ok, so I know we are a bit behind. It is really ridiculous that we waited this long to try Palena. Everyone has been telling me how awesome this place is and my cheap ass has been avoiding it. Anyway, more about our visit tomorrow when I am not buzzed from the bottle of Zinfindel we drank.

Reservation for tonight

We have a reservation at The Little Fountain Cafe tonight at 8:30. It is a quaint, romantic place in the heart of Adams Morgan that never fails to satisfy. I would say it has a maximum of 10 tables in the whole place. Make sure you make a reservation if you plan to go since it is such a small place. Dress is casual. Some people dress up and some go in jeans (like I am tonight, but I am wearing a sport coat). I'll post a full review tomorrow.