Pre-Theater

Stoney's Bar and Grill

The Venue: If Stoney’s were an entry in a thesaurus, words like lived-in, comfy, cozy and maybe even homely would pop up next to its name. Although a staple in our post-theater rotation, how would Stoney’s hold up to the “pre-theater mandate”: quick service, light fare, value and variety. DS and I decided to grab a quick bite before the 8 o’clock show at the Studio Theatre.


The Cast of Characters: Most will tell you that the star of Stoney’s is the Super Grilled Cheese – comfort food taken to a new level with the addition of tomatoes, bacon and onions. However, the (regular) Grilled Cheese is more to my liking – lots of cheese, melted, between slices of thick bread. Both are served with fries.


DS ordered the crab platter and got more than he bargained for: two crab cakes and two sides – mashed potatoes and salad. (The menu was a bit confusing: Crab cakes are listed as an Appetizer ($9.25), Sandwich ($10.25) served with fries and coleslaw, and Platter ($17.50). Although both the sandwich and platter come with sides, DS didn’t realize he had ordered the platter until the bill came.) Although the crab cakes looked a suspicious shade of gray – maybe it was the lighting – they were really quite good: just the right amount of filler, a light hand in the seasoning department. I’ve not developed my palate to be able to distinguish between mashed potatoes that come from a box and those that come from the ground, but with enough butter and salt it doesn’t really matter.


A creature of habit, I ordered the cheeseburger with fries. The cheeseburger was… well, just a cheeseburger. And, although I’ve eaten my share of burgers at Stoney’s, they’re nothing to write home about. I have learned, over time, that a rare Stoney’s burger often leaves the kitchen medium rare; medium rare is closer to well done. You do get your choice of toppings, ranging from Black & Bleu to Texas with BBQ sauce and coleslaw to the One-Eyed, a burger topped with a fried egg and Swiss cheese. All burgers are served with fries and range in price from $7.75 to $8.95.


DS and I both made the mistake of ordering as if this was just another evening out. We forgot we had tickets to the theater. The goal – eat light, drink less, stay awake – was totally forgotten. Although the portions are adequate our selections proved to be too much for a pre-theater meal. Stoney’s does offer salads and pizzas – and there are daily specials that include pastas and solid comfort food – and we could have easily chosen lighter fare.


Performance: We were, however, able to enjoy a leisurely meal. The food came from the kitchen at a reasonable pace. Yet, water or wine refills are another story: don’t expect much attention from the wait staff. They are quite content to leave you on your own. Past experience told us it’s easier to glance at the chalkboard, rather than ask the wait staff, for the daily specials.


Set Design: Stoney’s is divided into two distinct areas: a bar and a dining area. Beer tap handles – at the top of the back bar, extending around both sides – provide sporadic bursts of color among the dark wood and an interesting distraction while waiting for food.


Stoney’s does attract, as well as reflect, the diversity of the neighborhood. On any given night you might find: sixty-somethings celebrating a birthday in the dining area; twenty-somethings discussing the World Cup qualifiers as they watch on one of the two big screen TVs; neighborhood folks chatting up newcomers and regulars alike; or, actors gathering to unwind, critique or congratulate.


The Mark: Our expectations weren’t high. After all, we had eaten at Stoney’s many times after the show; however, this was one of the few times we had visited before the show. Stoney’s is a tavern, in the true sense of the word: a place to gather, socialize, drink and eat. The crowd is eclectic and the food is reasonably priced, dependable and, unlike other neighborhood restaurants, available for both the late-night and pre-theater diner.


Stoney’s Bar and Grill

1433 P Street, N.W.

Washington, DC

Map

(One block west of Studio Theatre)

202-234-1818

(Stoney's is so unpretentious that it doesn't even have a web site.)


14K Restaurant: A Theatergoer's Opinion

The Venue: There are two challenges faced when eating before attending a theater performance: getting portions that are filling to ward off hunger pangs -- yet not overly so to cause drowsiness during the performance; and, speediness of service. For these reasons I tend to grab something to eat at the bar before going to the theater. Prior to a recent performance of The History Boys, I stopped at 14K Restaurant, five blocks north of the Studio Theatre.

The Cast of Characters: On my first outing, I tried the Chesapeake crab cake ($13) served, according to the menu, over creamed spinach and Pommery mustard. Instead, as an uncredited understudy, the supporting side dish was a warm, Southwestern-styled corn salad and a crisp roll filled with guacamole and garnished with an orchid. The crab cake was good -- not too much filler, lumps of crab – but the corn salad – with flecks of pancetta, tossed in a roasted, tomato vinaigrette – was even better and complimented the crab nicely.

On another visit, I ordered the steamed mussels ($14) in a white wine, herb broth. Yet, I couldn't figure out what herbs were used; there wasn't a speck of green in the broth. The mussels were bought out in a large, 3-quart Dutch oven, overwhelming the pound or so of mussels. Perched on top of the mussels was a lone piece of toasted cheese bread; not enough to sop up the broth. However, in my book, you can rarely go wrong with mussels.

Both meals were served with bread. On one occasion, the basket contained two types of rolls: sourdough and rye; on another, pretzel bread sticks as well as the sourdough rolls. The bread, especially the sourdough, was quite good. But answer me this: how does bread come out of the kitchen steaming? Were they served hot from the oven?

Performance: Unlike table dining, there are certain risks inherent in sitting and dining at a bar. If the bar is crowded, you'll have a tough time getting the bartender's attention. At other times, when the bar is slow, the staff is either busy setting-up or nonexistent. At 14K, there is an additional challenge: the bar is a circle, bisected by the drink station. On one occasion, while the bartender was servicing one side, the other side was being neglected. I had a hard time attracting his, or anyone's, attention to get water, ask about the corn salad, inquire about my meal and get the check. The other time, the staff hovered; whisking away the bowl anytime it contained five or more discarded mussel shells.

The pace of the kitchen left a lot to be desired. On my two visits, it took an average of 20 minutes, once ordered, for food to arrive. Maybe my own timing was off; I had allotted 45 minutes for a somewhat leisurely, yet quick, meal before show time. I know now to build in additional time in order not to feel rushed.

Set Design:
14K takes great pride in appearance and presentation. The room is light and airy with lots of open space. The circular bar provides a semi-restricted view of the hotel lobby or the restaurant. Albeit located on a busy, rush hour intersection, the outdoor dining patio is ideal for people watching. The kitchen does take great care in plating and showcasing the meal. A single orchid graces the guacamole roll, or a slice of bread atop the mussels, confirm this.

The Mark: 14K has a lot going for it, as a pre-theater dining experience: it’s proximity to the Studio theater; the variety offered on the bar menu; the selection of by-the-glass wines; the value for the money. Yet, it also has a few major distractions… the pace of the kitchen and staff attention left a lot to be desired…and should be avoided before an evening or matinée show. For a leisurely meal, with patio dining, 14K deserves a second chance.

14K Restaurant and Lounge
Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel
14th and K Streets, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Map
(202) 218-7575
www.14krestaurant.com