Fri 15 May 2009
<<EDIT 1:20 PM: Nice to see the big TV star hasn’t let fame go to his head. Teddy Folkman emailed to inform us: ”I must admit, the menu is definitely Ann Cashion with input from me, whether taken or not. And you have to mention Chef Pablo [Cardoso - formerly of Cashion's Eat Place and Jackie's in Silver Spring] who is running the thing.” Thanks for the heads up, chef!>>
As we mentioned in yesterday’s First Look at Blue Ridge, restaurants seem to be opening all over Washington these days. But few of them have been as eagerly anticipated – and certainly not for as long – as the H Street Country Club. Rumors and speculations about Joe Englert’s newest H Street concern have run rampant for more than two years, fueled by regular updates from Tim Carman, the Going Out Gurus, FrozenTropics and pretty much everyone else.
But now that Teddy “The Next Food Network Star” Folkman’s (second) Food Network premiere is less than a month away, the stars finally seem to have aligned. The H Street Country Club will open to the public on Wednesday, May 27th (two days after Memorial Day)!
We had the opportunity to take an early look at the space with Teddy a few weeks back (okay…it was almost two months ago), and we’ve been waiting for the official announcement to share what we learned. Believe me – it’s been hard. Long story short: this is a restaurant/bar unlike anything you’ve seen in DC, and it has the potential to cement H Street’s reputation as the go-to place for unique nightlife opportunities. In other words, it’s classic Joe Englert.
But Englert’s visions (tortured though some of them seem to be) aren’t the only ones playing out inside the massive Country Club space. Folkman’s Mexican-inflected menu draws heavily on the input of one of his chief culinary influences – his former boss, Ann Cashion.
Food, Folkman, fun and photos after the jump.
When we walked into the H Street Country Club (can we just agree to call it HStCC?) with Teddy, the first thing that caught our eyes were the faux lockers lining the walls near the entrance. The whimsical decorative element immediately set the tone, and the argyle prints along the bar and further inside the space reinforced the tongue-in-cheek country club feel.
In this front area, bar service and cocktail tables will cater to those who’ve come to enjoy a laid-back drink. Keep walking, and you’ll come across a space that can only be described as the game room – two pool tables (charged by the hour), two skeeball lanes and two regulation shuffle board tables will offer entertainment that puts Golden Tee and Big Buck Hunter to shame. But the decor ensures you’re never far from a reminder of the concept – the wall art made from golf clubs and astroturf, the clever reinvention of a classic “Gulf” gas station sign, the flags and bags.
Down here, the kitchen will ofer a menu known as “El Norte.” Consider it upscale bar food with a Mexican twist. How will the guacamole measure up to other versions around town? Time will tell, but it’s a safe bet that the lobster tostada will draw its fair share of admirers. Teddy was more than a little pleased with the setup, leading us into the kitchen and beaming at the sheer size of the space – so much larger than the cramped quarters in which he turns out the moules frites at Granville Moore’s! But then he showed us something even more fun – seating just inside the kitchen, where curious (brave?) souls can actually watch the culinary action unfold.
Passing through the kitchen – seriously, the space just keeps going – the Players’ Room beckons. Decked out like a country clubhouse with “Hall of Fame” lists and other details, a private space will allow for groups to congregate without having to fight for the limited seating in the main restaurant.
They could call it a day right there and walk away with a hit, but that just wouldn’t be Englert and Company’s style. Besides – there’s a whole second floor to this massive building.
Head upstairs when you walk in the front door, and you’ll pass beneath that creepy forest of birdhouses that Tim Carman revealed back in March. You’ll also see a few sculpted squirrels that certain chefs who are about to appear on TV swear are “cute, in a psycho kind of way.” Their bristle-brush tails, like many of the other random elements throughout the space, are repurposed golf accessories.
At the top of the stairs, you arrive in the dining room proper. The bar at the front of the space, where you can order creative cocktails (check out the Par Bar and you’ll never look at an Arnold Palmer the same way again) is framed by walls of golf balls safely ensconced behind plexiglass. Also available are margaritas and sangria by the glass or the pitcher, as well as your average beer and wine selection.
This is the part of the concept that is at once wonderful and seemingly incongruous. Rather than settle for pub fare throughout, Folkman worked with Ann Cashion to develop a menu with ambition for the upstairs restaurant. Chilaquiles with duck, lamb enchiladas, and snapper Veracruz tempt with their mere descriptions. The prices are a bit steep for the neighborhood, with most entrees just shy of $20, but the promise of real quality Mexican – especially in such a unique environment – should take some of the sting out of things.
I hope you’ve saved room – now that you’ve eaten, golf beckons! Walk up to the club shack, with its aluminum siding and its fake flies, and pay for your round of golf. Then stop…just take a look at the insanity that awaits you on the nine holes that are laid out ahead. Then prepare to face:
- Duke Ellington and the rest of the legends who made DC and U Street renowned musical destinations;
- The National Cathedral, with its stained glass and gargoyles;
- K Street, complete with blockhead lobbyists to impede your progress;
- The Lincoln Memorial, with a slick Reflecting Pool approach;
- A graveyard of Dead Presidents;
- The horrors of navigating the Mixing Bowl;
- A dead-sexy parking attendant;
- A familiar face in place of the Awakening statue;
- The Washington Monument in all its monolithic glory.
Take the time to enjoy the murals that adorn the walls around you, too. You’ll see the classic New Yorker ‘world view’ cartoon reinvented for DC and a mixed-media representation of the Iwo Jima memorial using plastic Army men. There’s also a tidal wave of rats that seems just a bit too much like tempting fate for a restaurant in DC…
When the HStCC finally opens its doors on the 27th, you can expect a crowd from the word “go;” two years of waiting will do that for a place. And with Teddy Folkman’s star turn set to air on Sundays beginning June 7th, it’s likely to be a while before those initial crowds subside. Our advice? Go early or stay late…and take advantage of that bold menu while you’re waiting for your turn to three-putt your way to glory.