By all accounts, fledgling bar Wicked Bloom Social Club has started off with a bang — a rollout facilitated in no small part by a certain mind-blowing menu item.
“I honestly didn’t think it was going to be the only thing people would want to talk about. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own,” Rob Sonderman, pit master at critically acclaimed sibling establishment DCity Smokehouse, said of the jaw-dropping “Smokehouse Bomb.”
He unleashed the all-in-one feast — featuring a waffle composed of grilled mac and cheese subsequently smothered in beef-and-bean-y chili, zesty pulled pork, smoky barbecue sauce, molten queso and soothing sour cream — late last month on unsuspecting diners, shortly after this neighborhood spot (1540 North Capitol St. NW) officially debuted.
But the unapologetically sloppy conversation starter is hardly the only reason early adopters are already laying claim to this Truxton Circle hangout.
What once was a Subway sandwich shop is now a fully functional watering hole framed by greenery-lined walls, shelves stuffed with antiquated books and floor-to-ceiling chalkboards.
A handful of stools pressed up against the partitioned glass at the very front of the establishment enable guests to gaze upon life as it pertains to the intersection of Florida Avenue and North Capitol Street. A half-dozen small tables line a wall occupying the roomiest part of the building. A communal table is parked opposite the centerpiece bar.
Although entirely new, the place already has a lived-in feel to it.
And that is exactly what bar manager Ben Matz was hoping for.
Matz, who most recently honed his craft at Shaw oyster bar Eat the Rich, told Roll Call he first crossed paths with Sonderman during a brief stint at Hill Country DC. The two reconnected a few years later, when DCity took root.
Matz said he appreciated they were “doing something that was really amazing and not necessarily overhyping it,” and offered to collaborate on any future projects.
Once SouthEast Restaurant Group, the parent company behind DCity and its predecessor, Revive Events and Catering, hatched a plan to break into boozing, Matz went all in.
“My goal here is to set up a bar program that enhances and supports not only the food … but that initial concept we had from the smokehouse. This is simple. This is good,” he said of his desire to sustain the self-confident, yet low-key vibe that originally made him a believer.
A secondary mission involves propping up another home team: fellow members of the DC Brewers’ Guild.
“The truth is that I really want to celebrate the guys that are making it happen locally,” Matz said. His current beer lineup reflects as much, featuring area tastemakers DC Brau Brewing Company, Atlas Brew Works, Old Ox Brewery, The Brewer’s Art and others.
Same deal for the harder stuff.
“I don’t have everything behind the bar. But what I do have, I stand behind,” Matz said of his handpicked selection, noting that most of the producers “are people that I know.”
That level of familiarity provides infinite possibilities for Matz and his band of mirth makers. By his count, they’ve already switched out the featured drinks three times since the grand opening two weeks ago.
And he has no intention of stopping the cocktail carousel.
“The goal is to keep it interesting for ourselves as well as the guests,” Matz asserted.
That creative spirit has so far birthed concoctions ranging from a curious bourbon-amaro mash up (muy sour, y’all) to the straightforward rye-and-Yuengling beer back.
And just because something isn’t listed on the menu does not mean it is unattainable — as the group that wandered in with a hankering for caipirinhas quickly learned. Matz said his team immediately hunted down a bottle of cachaca and got to work on the random request.
The crew expects to go even bigger once the dust settles.
“We haven’t done a ton of house ingredients so far, but that’s going to change,” Matz projected, mapping out plans to highlight signature shrubs, Falernum — “It’s indispensible for a good tiki cocktail,” he said of the lime-ginger-clove-spiked syrup — and house-made grenadine as time marches on.
Matz said he’s also finalizing plans for a happy hour (“probably a 5 to 7 [p.m.] deal,” he calculated) that he hopes to have in place by the end of the month.
As for the fabled bomb, Matz is as mystified by it as everyone else.
“I haven’t yet been called upon to suggest a wine pairing for the Smokehouse Bomb,” he said of the must-try item that seems to land on roughly 8 out of 10 tables. “But I’m confident I could do it.”
Creating a Monster
Sonderman said he and Matz dreamed up the bomb while watching some travel-related food programming.
Once the wheels started turning on crafting a non-sandwich related entrée, Sonderman focused on something that makes his mouth water.
“The crispy edges of mac and cheese are my favorite thing. So why not make something that’s all crispy edges?” he said of the revelation that led to spooning cheesy mac into a waffle press.
Part fantasy, part cold-hard reality — per Sonderman, there’s no range or grill at Wicked Bloom, so the waffle iron is the chief cooking implement — the dish has quickly become a thing of legend.
“It’s a waffle made out of macaroni [and cheese] with barbecue. So it’s delicious,” a server informed a woman who seemed on the fence about indulging in the meaty endeavor. (She wound up getting it.)
The waffle is marvelous.
The edges are indeed crispy all around, relaying a satisfying crunch when introduced to one’s incisors. The middle is composed of tender noodles and baked-in cheese, not unlike a pasta pie. Chili bolstered by chunks of unctuous brisket is a carnivore’s delight. Pulled pork and fiery sauce bolsters the barbecue bona fides of the meal.
Putting that all together does take time. But warnings of 25- to 30-minute waits don’t seem to dissuade the most determined from taking the plunge.
Mind you, Wicked Bloom also traffics in other smokehouse fare.
The turkey, pork and brisket sliders are reportedly doing well. And a zesty chili-cheese half-smoke bolstered by spicy mustard and raw red onion drew thumbs up from a frank-obsessed dining companion.
Still, Sonderman is excited about building on the bomb’s appeal.
“I want to do a sweet corn waffle as well,” he shared, adding that swapping in other slow-cooked proteins remains a long-term goal.
Plans are in no short supply as Sonderman eyes a relocation to DCity’s next home (1700 Second St. NW), a highly anticipated expansion expected to transpire sometime next spring.
“The new spot will obviously stay true to what’s gotten us our name,” he said of his vision for DCity 2.0.
In addition to showcasing his centerpiece meats (brisket, turkey and ribs), Sonderman is mulling other gustatory options, including: fried chicken livers, smoked seafood dips (trout and salmon are already in play at Wicked Bloom), house-made cocktail sauce and assorted deviled egg creations (smoked shrimp and smoked turkey salad toppings are Sonderman’s latest obsessions).
He’s also hoping to delve into Latin American cooking, floating breakfast tacos — a la the Austin dining scene — as another possible innovation.
“I’d like to express my culinary knowledge beyond barbecue,” he informed Roll Call.
Food Court is an ongoing series of semi-regular spot checks of new and evolving eateries with ties to Capitol Hill.
Wicked Bloom Social Club: 1540 North Capitol St. NW; 202-750-6375
Average entree: under $12 ($). Open for lunch Saturday and Sunday, dinner and late-night dining Tuesday through Sunday.