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Hill Center Is ‘on Fire’

A friendly reminder posted in the vestibule of the days-away-from-opening Bayou Bakery at Hill Center. (Courtesy Bayou Bakery)
A friendly reminder posted in the vestibule of the days-away-from-opening Bayou Bakery at Hill Center. (Courtesy Bayou Bakery)

Hillites, strap on your hungry pants now. Hill Center is poised to serve up a long-awaited eatery and has cooked up a new grilling curriculum.  

Countdown to Crescent City Chow He’s put down roots across the river, but New Orleans native David Guas said he fell in love with Capitol Hill when he first moved to the north.  

Bayou Bakery founder and Travel Channel host David Gaus. (Courtesy Scott Suchman)
Bayou Bakery founder and Travel Channel host Gaus. (Courtesy Scott Suchman)

During an April 27 discussion about his new cookbook, “Grill Nation,” Guas said that after relocating from the Big Easy, he spent a good deal of time at the home of then-Roll Call publisher Mary Glassman and her husband, ex-Roll Call editor James Glassman.  

He found the environs intoxicating, noting that the wealth of historic properties and vibrant community reminded him of lazy days spent lounging on stoops in the French Quarter, drinking in the scenery by observing those “having way too much fun” as they stumbled by.  

He’s jazzed to officially become a part of the fabric of the neighborhood with the debut of his sophomore establishment. Per Guas, the highly anticipated project — which he maintains will, at least initially, closely mirror the dining program established at the flagship location in Arlington, Va. — is finally near the finish line.  

“It’s about five to seven days after that final inspection,” he said of the turnaround time he’ll need before welcoming locals to the casual restaurant.  

Once the renovated carriage house doors slide open, visitors will be privy to seating for around 50 — spread out between a vestibule area Guas has reconfigured into a lounge, a group table large enough for  10 patrons, as well as a glass-enclosed communal space. Another 30-odd guests should be able to sun themselves on a forthcoming patio.  

Early risers can look forward to freshly roasted Counter Culture Coffee — which may then be served in your very own mug. Guas is expected to put out a call on social media for prospective patrons to bring in personal coffee cups, with selected drink-ware to be stored on an antique rack dangling above attendant baristas.  

Those requiring something stronger can whet their whistles with craft beers — including four types of Abita Brewing Company products and four DC Brau offerings — by-the-glass wine selections (around a half dozen) and Mason jar cocktails (think: herb-spiked punches).  

In addition to Southern snacks and hearty meals cultivated at the original Bayou Bakery, Guas told veteran food writer Bonny Wolf to keep an eye out for daily specials, such as dishes featuring blue catfish — an invasive species prone to devouring the indigenous rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay.  

Wolf, meanwhile, wanted the skinny on his fabled sweets.  

“Are beignets dessert? Or breakfast, lunch and dinner fare?” she inquired.  

“Sure! All of the above,” Guas asserted, urging folks hoping to steal away for on-the-sly snacking to plan ahead.  

“Make sure that you bring a wet towel or something. Because they’ll know where you’ve been,” he said, stressing there’s no way to emerge particulate-free once the powdered sugar starts flying. “Come get dusted,” he quipped.  

Once clear of red tape, the restaurant is projected to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week.  

Smoke If You Got ’Em Those with a more DIY mindset are invited to take command of summer dining by enlisting in the nascent Barbecue Boot Camp series.  

Washington Post “Smoke Signals” columnist Jim Shahin kicks off the three-part program on May 16 (each standalone class is $85) with his crash course in flame-licked everything.  

“It’s all live-fire cooking on a Weber kettle because that is what most people have, and cooking on a kettle is a great foundation to using other cookers, such as offset or vertical smoker,” Shahin told CQ Roll Call about his lesson plan.  

Given the limited timetable — Hill Center has blocked off three hours for the hands-on tutorial — Shahin said he plans to smoke the featured brisket and pork ahead of time, but will delve into the mechanics of preparing rubs, sauces and sides on-site.  

“I’m hoping for a lot of engagement,” he said.  

Techniques Shahin said every would-be pitmaster would be wise to consider include:

  • Proper positioning: “Use an indirect fire so that you can control your cooking,” he counseled.
  • Staying focused: “Despite what everybody says about drinking beer all afternoon, I agree with the celebrated Austin pit master Aaron Franklin who says that, while it’s fine to drink beer while cooking, it’s important to not pay more attention to the drinking than the cooking,” he asserted. “Plus, fire can burn your house down.”
  • Branching out: “You can cook pretty much anything on the grill, not just meat — vegetables, fruit, even desserts,” Shahin said.
  • Temperature control: “It’s a mistake I still make, cooking too fast sometimes because I’m impatient or too slow because I misjudged,” he warned.

Guas is slated to pick up the torch on July 11 ; he told CQ Roll Call the game plan is to work with favorites culled from “Grill Nation .”  

(Courtesy Oxmoor House)
(Courtesy Oxmoor House)

“We’re going to do a lot of veg, which is kind of a looked over category,” he said. No word on whether that will translate into experimenting with fired-roasted smoked leeks (Page 259), grill-smoked summer peas (Page 263), charred okra (Page 270) or another recipe divined during his tenure with the Travel Channel.  

Rocklands Barbeque founder John Snedden is scheduled to close out the grilling curriculum on Sept. 13 .  

Hill Center: 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-549-4172;  

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