Hill Center Fires Up Deal With Bayou Bakery

Posted May 27, 2014 at 5:15pm

Capitol Hill denizens who prefer chicory-spiked coffee to Starbucks, fried-to-order beignets to gourmet cupcakes and seafood-filled po’ boys to, well, anything else, will want to get to know their new neighbor, David Guas, real well.

The N’awlins native behind the utterly charming Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., is expected to bring his brand of Louisiana cooking to the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital this fall, inking an agreement to set up shop in the historic property’s long dormant carriage house.

Guas said he only became acquainted with the property by chance; he and his publicist wife, Simone Rathlé, were visiting fellow hospitality vet Gina Chersevani at Hank’s Oyster Bar just a few blocks away when the cocktail maven convinced the couple to pop over to Union Market to check out her then-unfinished Buffalo and Bergen build-out. On the way back to Hank’s, Chersevani casually pointed out the Hill Center, identifying it as the site of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild annual Repeal Day Ball.

Guas got punchy just looking at it.

“It feels like a little mini Jackson Square,” he said of the homey vibe the surrounding row houses and darkly lacquered wrought iron fences at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE stirred in him. “It just resonates hard with history. … The space just screams Bayou Bakery to me.”

Roughly 48 hours after first laying eyes on the joint, Guas said he was on-site meeting with the principals about how he could join the family. “It was a real sort of speed-dating deal,” Guas said of the two-year courting process that ensued. (Guas said he soon noticed Hill Center staff and board members filing into the booths at his Courthouse location.)

Those none-too-covert tasting missions must have gone smoothly, because Team Hill Center seems genuinely psyched to welcome a like-minded soul to the fold.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that the chef wants to bring his concept to the Hill Center campus. I really think it will complete the historic renovation,” Hill Center Executive Director Diana Ingraham suggested.

And that perfect fit, apparently, is none too easy to come by.

Guas said he looked into hopping across the river several years ago, but he was unsure his family-friendly concept would jibe with the Barracks Row scene. “It’s a very bar-driven, late-night crowd,” he said, noting that things wind down at his current location shortly after nightfall. (The restaurant closes no later than 9 p.m.)

Now that everything is official, Guas is moving forward with the renovation plans. The biggest modification is likely to be the creation of a modern kitchen — complete with po’ boy accommodating fryers (a luxury he does not currently enjoy in Arlington) — on the second floor of the carriage house.

Otherwise, Guas said he hopes to retain the original feel of the place. He predicted that the feed room would be turned into a lounge area and is contemplating peppering the walls with vintage photos of the presiding medical staff and Naval personnel admitted to the former hospital. The menu should closely reflect all the favorites he’s cultivated in NoVa.

That means folks should expect freshly brewed, hand crafted coffee in the mornings, frosty Abita brews and specialty drinks in the evenings, and feather light, confectioner’s sugar-dusted fried pasty puffs whenever they want.

Other worthwhile indulgences include: steamy gumbos laden with fork tender chicken and smoky sausage, all submerged in an earthy roux; crusty baguettes stuffed with gravy-covered, shaved roast beef; grilled pimento cheese sandwiches bearing sharp cheddars and piquant peppers wrapped in buttery Texas toast; beer-braised Andouille sausage links smothered in tangy Creole mustard and dulcet Vidalia onion jam, and monster desserts pressing frosting-like cream between uber-crunchy chocolate cookies.

And, once summer rolls around, Guas begins dishing out a rainbow of syrup-soaked snowballs — all topped with condensed milk, natch — designed to cool everyone off, Louisiana-style.

Guas said he hopes to have the Hill Center outpost fully operational by October.

Until then, Hill folk can get a taste of things to come over in Arlington.

And they can spend the summer getting better acquainted with the new soon-to-be celeb-next-door right in the comfort of their own living room; the telegenic toque debuts as host of a new Travel Channel show “American Grilled” on July 2 at 9 p.m.

“It’s a show that I would watch,” Guas said of the cooking competition. “It’s not about chefs. It’s about the average Joe, the backyard griller.”

Bayou Bakery: 1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington, Va.; 703-243-2410; bayoubakeryva.com

Average entree: less than $12 ($). Open for breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Monday through Saturday.