Neighborhood and community.

Since July of 1997, Evening Star Cafe has been an integral part of both for the residents of Del Ray.  It has been the site of first dates, proposals and countless other milestones in their lives.  So you can understand the level of interest caused by the restaurant’s recent remodel, and the pressure on the Neighborhood Restaurant Group to get it right.

The wait ends tonight at 5:30, when new chef Jim Jeffords and his team throw open the doors to welcome the neighborhood back for the first time.  Although there are plenty of changes to ooh and aah over, the regulars will be pleased to see that it’s still the same old Evening Star at heart.  And the fact that they can now make reservations throughout the evening via OpenTable will likely be a welcome addition, as well.

We stopped by yesterday for a quick look around and a chat with the staff.  Details, including some work-in-progress photos and a few new menu items to whet your appetite, after the jump.

Check out the redesigned black-and-white tile floor.  Take a peek at those aerodynamic-looking red chairs and the white tabletops.  The overall effect is a nod to the “modern” look of the late ’50s and early ’60s, and it’s meant to evoke a time when restaurants were an integral part of their local community.  Along those lines, a new banquette runs the length of the dining room, providing a family friendly element and additional seating that brings the room’s capacity to 60 people.

The “retro diner” effect is reinforced in the main dining room through lighting and not-yet-in-place artwork from Rick Singleton.  Singleton designed the unique Erector-set lighting that you may remember from Evening Star’s former incarnation, and his new pieces are equally inspired.   Take a look at the nosecone fixture over the table in the front window and see what we mean.

The menu at Evening Star has undergone a similarly subtle revision.  With the arrival of chef Jim Jeffords (no relation to the former Senator from Vermont), the restaurant’s traditional Southern roots are more visible than ever.  New dishes include “Poppadews” – fried red and golden peppadew peppers stuffed with pimento cheese – and crispy black drum with sautéed brussels sprouts, chili roasted butternut squash sauce and homemade
pork rinds.  Sausages will be made in house, and there’s a new emphasis on nose-to-tail preparations (look for crispy pig ear croutons to make an appearance).

In the Majestic Bar, at the rear of the restaurant, guests will find an atmosphere “like your cool uncle’s basement.”  Mason jar lighting over the bar, a wall of sports trophies commemorating real victories (some donated by Evening Star regulars), and a trio of repurposed vintage G.E. refrigerators set the tone.  But I don’t care how cool your uncle is/was…there’s no way he had the kind of beverage selection they’ll be offering at Evening Star.

This being a Neighborhood Restaurant Group establishment, Evening Star benefits from the expertise of Beer Director Greg Engert, the man who brought you the impressive beverage programs at Rustico and Birch & Barley.  Expect more than two dozen beers on tap, featuring “the Best of American Craft” and including a cask ale.  Local labels like Port City and Lost Rhino will be prominently featured, as will old-school classics like Pabst Blue Ribbon.  And the fact that they’re dispensed from classic refrigerators (still in working condition) makes the whole experience that much cooler.

NRG synergy doesn’t end with the beer list.  The dessert list features some of Executive Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac’s best work yet, and any wine you can buy next door at Planet Wine can be purchased and enjoyed at Evening Star Cafe.  The renovation even added a pass-through between the two spaces, which will help when Evening Star resumes its private-dining “Farm Table” dinners inside Planet Wine.

Evening Star Cafe officially opens for business tonight, but it will be a while before they’re operating at full speed.  Brunch service won’t resume until after the New Year, and the Number 9 lounge upstairs is still undergoing renovation and will be opening soon.  Considering the loyal fan base they’ve developed in the neighborhood, none of this can come soon enough.  For now, though, Evening Star is starting with a comfortable “Welcome back.”

Evening Star Cafe
2000 Mount Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, VA (Del Ray)
Evening Star Cafe on Urbanspoon