Ted’s Bulletin might be the newest addition to Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row neighborhood, but the gussied-up diner’s interior makes it look like it’s been around for decades.
And that’s just how its owners want it. At Ted’s, 508 Eighth St. SE, the art deco light fixtures, wall panels and archways were salvaged from long-gone buildings, including the Philadelphia Civic Center. Black-and-white movies play on a wall of the dining room, a welcome sight in a town where the TVs are typically tuned to CNN.
The long wooden counter looks like a Norman Rockwell version of Cheers: Behind it, employees are spinning milkshakes and pouring drinks.
The restaurant’s name was inspired by Ted Neal, the late father of Ty and Mark Neal, two of the owners. “Our dad was the cook of the neighborhood,” says Ty Neal, whose partners include his brother as well as Drew Kim and Perry Smith — the team behind Matchbox, the always-packed wood-fired pizza joint just a few doors down. “You’d come into the kitchen and he’d be making lunch for the postman. This is the kind of restaurant he’d have opened.”
The establishment’s congenial vibe suits the owners’ ambitious goal: They want to feed the neighborhood from a takeout muffin for breakfast through a grilled-cheese lunch to the evening’s final artisanal cocktail.
A caseful of pastries greets early morning diners; those with heartier appetites can opt for stacks of pancakes or eggs and hash browns. Lunch includes a familiar selection of sandwiches, like a sloppy joe or tuna salad. And for later in the day, the vintage Americana theme shows up in the menu’s reliance on home-cooking standbys such as spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf and country-fried steak (breakfast eventually will be served all day, too, for those who like a late-night omelet).
The chefs, headed up by Matchbox veterans Shannan Troncoso and Jon McArthur, flex their culinary muscles by adding a tweak here or a carefully sourced ingredient there to recipes that could have come from their grandmothers’ recipe boxes. A good-sized children’s menu will no doubt prove popular with young Hill families.
But there’s plenty for the childless set, too, such as a roster of “adult” milkshakes spiked with booze and exotic cocktails that would seem at home in a swanky downtown bar.
Perhaps no menu item epitomizes the Ted’s approach as well as the house-made pop tart. Pastry chef Erica Chirunomula took the basic form of the familiar mass-produced breakfast pastry and transformed it into a sweet that even a food-snob adult could love. A crisp pie crust encases a dollop of from-scratch strawberry preserves that taste more of the garden than the chemistry lab. Not-too-sugary pink frosting and a sprinkle of multicolored jimmies maintain its iconic look without turning it cloying.
Not content to simply dominate the pop-tart market, the Matchbox/Ted’s team is looking to expand even further: They’re opening an upscale hot-dog-and-sandwich joint in the old Firehouse Cafe space (also on Barracks Row) in the coming months. The new restaurant will be called DC3, the name of a plane and a nod to partner Mark Neal’s hobby of flying. It will have a travel theme, the owners say, and feature regional offerings such as Italian beef sandwiches.
Smith says that when they opened Matchbox two years ago, people thought they were crazy to hang a shingle in a neighborhood not known for a bustling restaurant scene. Now, with Barracks Row flush with new businesses and crowds from the new ballpark, they look prescient.
At Ted’s, a gallery of old black-and-white photographs line the wall near the restrooms. There’s Walter Johnson, a legendary pitcher for the Washington Senators; a photo of ladies in hats boarding a streetcar bearing a sign that reads “Navy Yard”; and a scene of Eighth Street Southeast, which looks prosperous, crowded with stores and pedestrians.
“You look at this photo and it looks like such a vibrant street,” Smith says. “We said, Let’s help make it that way again.'”