Fri 21 Aug 2009
In a neighborhood flattened by foot traffic, a new restaurant with an accessible menu is always going to be a welcome addition. At the Columbia Firehouse, the latest installment from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (who also brought Rustico and Tallulah to grateful NoVA neighborhoods), delivering elevated but recognizable food in a friendly setting is what they do best.
This decree was apparent when Mike and I arrived to meet my parents who were not only seated but already enjoying a steaming bowl of mussels they spotted on the menu and just couldn’t wait to try. Their instincts were spot on: the juicy, briny mussels were served with a generous helping of thick cut bacon, arugula, and oven-dried tomatoes, a dish that pushes you long past any “just one taste” intentions. The broth was rich, complex, and buttery; the kind that makes you ask for extra bread to mop up all the flavor. Be careful of this bread by the way. It looks innocent but with a crust bathed in salt and butter, it’s far too easy to suddenly inhale it. In no time Mike and I were licking stray broth from our fingertips and thinking bashfully about opening the menu for our actual orders.
We were helped along by our criminally adorable waitress Erim, who guided us with cheer. We swayed between the cornmeal crusted oysters and blue-crab hush puppies before deciding on the ‘pups. Arriving piping hot with a crispy golden crust, the hush puppies were rich on the inside and complemented nicely by a dollop of savory pepper mustard.
The slow-roasted Amish chicken “is actually Amish,” Erim assured my father in her uncannily Bart Simpson-like voice, “from a farm in Pennsylvania.” In just the few weeks since the restaurant opened, the chicken quickly rose to most popular dish status. This is not a meal for a shrinking appetite. The portion is generous, served with a leg, thigh, and a breast, alongside a healthy side of cornbread stuffing and andouille sausage: a citified country comfort meal.
I couldn’t resist another order of mussels, this time going for a kettle with tasso ham, red-pepper flakes, garlic, and lager. With ingredients like that, how could it be wrong? Although the broth was a touch thinner (my fault: I asked the kitchen to scale back on butter this time) the flavors still came alive with a rich, deep zest.
More food and dessert after the jump!
My mother cooed over her steak waldorf salad, tasting blue cheese in every bite. Whenever I see a waldorf salad I have to wonder about the poor sucker tasked to cut all those grapes in half. Exactly how bad does someone have to screw up to pull grape duty? The salad was a well-proportioned entree size and generous with the blue-cheese dressing. Don’t be fooled by the photo though – those slices of pink roasted meat are from my dad’s plate.
Mike’s shrimp po’ boy sandwich was a bit of a misstep. Given the choice of oysters or shrimp in a cornmeal crust, the sandwich comes topped with a fennel slaw on a toasted bun. The seafood was battered and fried well but without any dressing it was just… fried. The side of french fries didn’t do much to enhance an overall brown plate. Columbia Firehouse’s menu indicates the sandwich is meant to be served with a remoulade which Mike did not receive. With the restaurant being so new, it’s equally possible that the sandwich has already been updated or the kitchen goofed the plate. Either way, Mike’s request for lime and hot sauce was quickly seen to, and he was able to dress the flavors up himself.
By some miracle of dining, we all had room to split a dessert gravitating to the blueberry financier, served warm with a dollop of whipped mascarpone cream. After our big meal, sharing dessert was our only option, but a word of warning to future diners: Sharpen your elbows before this dish his the table. It was gooey, warm, sweet, and flavorful. You may find yourself fighting for your fair share of spoonfuls.