Tue 12 Jul 2011
When it comes to dining in Alexandria, it’s hard to avoid Cathal Armstrong and his team – not that you’d want to. Each of the Eat Good Food Group’s establishments offers a different dining experience, from the high-end tasting room at Restaurant Eve to the quick casual bite at Eamonn’s Dublin Chipper.
Until recently, the only thing missing from their repertoire was a laid-back space big enough to gather with friends for a fun night out. That’s where Virtue Feed & Grain comes in. You can easily fit 350 of your closest friends into the space, though you’re probably better off sticking with six or eight at a time. Walk in the front door of the former warehouse (and brewery), and you’ll have your choice of spaces where you can settle in with a good beer and a menu that takes comfort food to some new and tasty places.
We visited Virtue for an early dinner last Sunday and then returned for a late-night drink this weekend. As you might expect, we found two very different but equally welcome scenes. The constant? Todd Thrasher’s inventive “hoptails” that take beer-based drinks far beyond the boilermaker and the shandy.
A tour of Old Town’s newest establishment after the jump.
Virtue encompasses a massive space that takes full advantage of the building’s former life as a feed storehouse. Seating is available on two levels, with plenty of room for large, comfortable lounge chairs down the middle of the second floor. Porch swing-like benches hang from the ceiling by heavy chains, giving the tables by the windows a warm, relaxed vibe. And throughout the building, there are elements of reclaimed period wood and decorations fashioned from burlap sacks that reinforce the theme. It’s cohesive without being kitschy.
When we stopped by for dinner, we barely took notice of the interior. Instead, we were drawn to a semi-secluded area of outdoor seating in Wales Alley, which runs parallel to King Street. The alley will be a fully integrated part of the restaurant year-round, hosting multiple annual events like pig roasts and seafood bakes. For now, it features a dozen or so tables hemmed in by large potted plants.
We started our meal with a pair of appetizers from the “Morsels & Tidbits” section of the menu. Deviled eggs immediately caught our eyes, and they were a faithful recreation of the picnic classic. The whipped yolk had a nice bite of mustard that kept the filling from feeling too heavy as we made short work of them, and a little dab of the yolk underneath kept each half in place on the plate. Our second choice was a bit more adventurous: pate maison. The chicken liver dish was creamy and rich, with a smooth consistency that had us wishing for more sliced bread to spread it on. The accompanying greens, with their vinegary dressing, offered a welcome acid note.
Because we were dining early, we chose our main courses from the “Soups & Sambos” offerings, instead of the “Vittles & Fare” entree section. I had a Cuban sandwich that immediately earned a spot among the best versions of the Floridian classic I’ve tasted here in DC. Thinly sliced roast pork and ham were pressed on a baguette with melted Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. The choice of bread was untraditional, but it resulted in a dense and satisfying sandwich. The pork, tasted on its own when an errant piece escaped the bread, was moist and tender with a surprising spice.
Of all the dishes we tried, the one that most stood out as a “refined” version of the original was the Chili Cheese Dawg. The dawg itself was smoky and salty with a nice snap from the casing. The chili had a subtle spice that lingered without overpowering. And the cheese sauce that topped it all was almost like a bechamel in its creamy consistency. I know the bun looks thick in the photo, but the bread-to-filling ratio was pretty much spot on after it absorbed some of the chili and cheese that was running all over the place. Even so, this was almost a fork-and-knife dog because of the abundant toppings.
The rest of the menu is already calling us back, with comfort food like farmhouse chicken and roast leg of lamb. We made note of the “Weird Stuff,” a section of the menu dedicated to offal and traditional dishes like crubeens (boiled pigs’ feet). And we smiled when we saw the dessert menu – “Sugar Fix.” Someone clearly had fun writing the descriptions of the pastries and sweets…who wouldn’t be tempted by “baked pastry blah blah blah?”
If you’re familiar with the Eat Good Food Group’s other venues, you know that Todd Thrasher mixes up some inventive cocktails using tinctures, sodas and other ingredients made from scratch. Virtue is no exception, and some of the best of the other establishments’ lists – like My Wife’s Manhattan and Eve’s Temptation – make an appearance here as well. But Thrasher has taken the pub mentality to heart and come up with a series of “hoptails” using beers and ciders as the primary ingredients. That photo from the beginning of the post is something called “What I Drink” – a take on a beer-and-lemon shandy that adds dark rum to the mix.
The laid-back spirit of Virtue is reflected in its prices, which run a bit more modestly than those at Majestic and Eve. This is a place where you can bring a crowd, eat and drink, and not break the bank.
We’ll see you there for their pajama brunch, which will take place the first Sunday of every month. Your servers will be in pajamas and you can be, too. And don’t worry if you get the date wrong – the “come as you are” tone and the friendly service mean you’ll be welcome, even in your PJs.