Meal Ticket: Fed Heads
D.C. restaurants make a go of it by trading on the government’s good name
While many outside the Beltway bubble loathe D.C. bureaucracy, several local restaurants are capitalizing on this town’s love affair with all things political.
Here’s our take on a half-dozen spots, ranked in descending order, that are making the most of their proximity to power.
When Clyde’s Restaurant Group launched The Hamilton, a tribute to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, it planned to keep the sprawling eatertainment complex going full-tilt 24/7.
The round-the-clock service has since been shelved, but the pared-back hours have apparently done little to dissuade the omnipresent throng of dedicated revelers — we’ve supped alongside extended families, punchy administration aides and visiting dignitaries (business card shuffle is not uncommon) — who pour into every available square inch of the multi-tiered structure.
If you do manage to score a piece of prime real estate (i.e., enough room to accommodate more than a water glass and bread plate), don’t be afraid to surround yourself with shareable snacks worth digging into.
We enjoyed nibbling on the XO roll, marrying crunchy eel with wiggly sea scallop, tempura shrimp doused in fiery Sriracha and escorted by zesty carrot-ginger slaw, and meaty chicken wings zapped with tangy-sweet mumbo sauce.
Memorable closers include spongy challah bread pudding joined by candied nuts and golden raisins in a sea of white chocolate sauce and a grown-up milkshake spiked with root beer liqueur.
The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW; 202-787-1000; thehamiltondc.com
Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
He may have just wrapped a historic re-election bid. But even “44” can’t escape “16’s” enduring shadow.
Pennies line the floor (and crawl up several walls) of the fashionable establishment, spreading Honest Abe’s iconic profile as far as the eye can see. Pop art commemorating the Illinois pol rounds out a design scheme also punctuated by a massive ivory easy chair, bronzed farm tools and dangling lights encased in reclaimed water bottles and mason jars.
As opposed to the towering historical figure, the kitchen prefers to think small, peppering its voluminous dinner carte with compact servings of seasonally inspired cuisine. (A handful of full-sized entrees are featured at lunch.)
Deviled eggs are rendered divine by signature fillings ranging from traditional mousse to lusty truffled mushroom and primal steak tartare.
Spiced duck sausage arrives wrapped in buttery pastry dough (tender against the meat, flaky around the edges) and flanked by robust mustard.
Slow-roasted marrow, coaxed directly from the bone and brightened by sweet shallot jam, melts into savory black pepper biscuits.
Lincoln: 1110 Vermont Ave. NW; 202-386-9200;
Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.
Believe it or not, there was a time before political parties called all the shots. Then the Federalists cropped up and, well, you know where we are today.
Curiously, this boutique restaurant straddles The Madison hotel. James Madison, once pals with Federalist Party founder Alexander Hamilton, later clashed with the Treasury Secretary about fiscal policy and attempted to fend off his government-centric policy prescriptions. Then he joined the other party.
Fast forward to today, when the only fighting we observed in the Federalist’s swanky dining room was over whose turn it was to treat after a business pitch meeting. (Silly venture capitalists.)
Chef de cuisine Harper McClure, who rose to prominence at a pair of award-winning local kitchens (Vidalia, Marcel’s), juggles familiar tastes and modern twists, sending out the likes of heartwarming beer and cheddar soup one day and pumpkin soup embellished with mouth-watering duck confit the next. He travels just as easily from Europe (tender pork schnitzel escorted by wilted kale and mustard-spiked spaetzle) to the Americas (clam chowder fortified with fatty pork belly) as he does from forest (truffle-stuffed rabbit roulade) to sea (butter poached Maine lobster).
Grilled calamari were good (smoky), their companion gnocchi better (bathed in garlic sauce). Herb-laced compound butter and gushy roasted tomatoes moisten flatiron steak.
The Federalist: 1177 15th St. NW; 202-587-2629;
Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.
This hipster watering hole plays its part to a T, inviting those in search of a respite to sink back into red pleather chairs, lose themselves in Pandora-supplied alternative rock and wash away their worries with cheeky coolers — their election 2012-themed beverages, the basil Barack berry and pomegra-Mitt, were just sugar-stacked, mojito knockoffs — devoid of cocktail couture.
The kitchen favors now-ubiquitous bar snacks (avocado-backed yellow fin ahi tuna, sausage- and wine-spiked steamed mussels) but manages a few welcome surprises.
Curried lentils proved to be the universal favorite. The vegetable-laden treat folds sauteed chard, diced carrots and onions and juicy raisins (bursting with sweetness) into a wealth of deliciously tender and pleasantly piquant beans.
“I used to work for Five Guys corporate, have tasted burgers all over the country. That’s legit,” one barkeep assured us when we asked about the gourmet sliders. His prophecy held true as we bit into mini-burgers capped with caramelized onions, truffle mayo, melted cheddar, a gloriously messy fried quail egg (outstanding) and rosemary potato straws.
Policy: 1904 14th St. NW; 202-387-7654;
Open for dinner and late-night dining Tuesday through Saturday, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
Busboys & Poets
The various Busboys properties dotting the local landscape don’t just talk the political talk, they dare everyone to get involved.
Restaurateur and activist Andy Shallal has fashioned a restaurant empire to mirror his progressive ideals: used cooking oil is recycled into biofuel, wind energy credits offset power costs, java junkies sip direct-trade coffee while patrons are plied with sustainable seafood, cage-free eggs and halal chicken.
The dining program is all-inclusive, tilting from standard fare to full-on vegan to gluten-free.
An order of harira summons a restorative brew of chickpeas, lentils, onions, celery and carrots swimming in spiced vegetable stock, as substantial as a batch of firefighter’s chili, but without the corresponding heartburn.
Crab grits are a revelation, rolling together shredded jumbo lump (velvety and sweet) and creamy grains (medium ground and soaked to the core) into a stick-to-your-ribs mass of seafood fabulosity. A sprinkle of Louisiana gold hot sauce gives it a Cajun kick.
Breakfast in Baghdad via a crock of hearty mekhleme, uniting seasoned ground beef, poached eggs and lightly fried potatoes.
Busboys & Poets: Multiple D.C.-metro locations;
Open for breakfast Monday through Friday, lunch, dinner and late-night dining daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
This Capitol Hill mainstay appeals to expense account-holders — “The check for the rich man … and you can bill it back!” we overheard one lobbyist command a well-heeled buddy when it came time to settle up — and unpaid interns alike, serving up edible Americana just about anyone can afford.
Signature offerings include staggering double-cut pork chops sweetened with sauteed apples, braised short ribs flanked by roasted spuds and steamed vegetables, a generously proportioned sirloin steak and jumbo lump crab cake combo, and falling-off-the-bone roasted chicken.
Buffalo mac and cheese mixes things up but good, layering elbow noodles with tangy blue cheese, salty Parmesan, peppery celery and fiery bird.
The Chesapeake mostly delivers, spreading savory crab, chewy mushrooms and, sadly, not enough bacon, across a fluffy pie swabbed with creamy Alfredo sauce.
The apple pie milkshake pulls no punches. Each draw of the straw pulls in rich, delicious ice cream punctuated by caramelized apple, sugar and cinnamon. Baked apple definitely dominates the frozen treat, but the buttery finish suggests the crust ain’t going down without a fight.
Bullfeathers: 410 First St. SE; 202-484-0228;
Open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining daily.