Can it be that just a few short years ago there wasn’t a single gastropub in all of Washington?  These days, the concept of high-quality food in a laid-back setting is cropping up all over town.  NOT that we’re complaining.

Gastropubs may be the best culinary trend to come out of the UK since cheddar cheese.  Even so, the first one of note here in Washington was Granville Moore’s, the “gastropub with a healthy Belgian fetish” on the H Street Corridor.  Not far behind was Commonwealth Gastropub, Chef Jamie Leeds’ homage to the original British article in Columbia Heights.  The newest addition to the genre, Againn, brings some welcome flavor downtown.

To the uninitiated, Againn may seem like more of the same.  Couple the popularity of the concept with a name that appears to be a misspelling of “again” and you’ve got a recipe for an easy joke.  But step inside for a bite and it’s easy to see that Againn is an original among its peers.

Just past the hostess stand, on your way to the bar, you’ll arrive at the raw bar.  Try to get by without drooling over some freshly shucked oysters.  Or settle in for the long haul with an aptly named Pint of Prawns (peeled shrimp served in a pint glass with lemon and Marie Rose sauce).  But don’t get too distracted…the ‘pub’ part of ‘gastropub’ still awaits.

We checked out Againn with some friends who appreciate a good pint – an arrangement I highly recommend.  Some highlights among our appetizers, entrees and desserts – and a chance for you to check out Againn for yourself – after the jump.

So what’s in a name?  Againn is a Gaelic word that means “at us” or “with us,” and the phrase forms a sort of mantra for the staff.  Despite the busy evening and the crowded space, everyone on staff had a friendly smile and a couple of helpful recommendations.  “With us,” indeed.

One of those recommendations, the potato dumpling appetizer, was a terrific way to start off our meal.  Russet potatoes are cooked through and served as dumplings similar in size and consistency to Italian gnocchi.  Topped with smoked country ham, chives and parmesan cheese, these pillowy little bites were at once right and light as air.

For our entrees, we stuck with some of the more traditional dishes on the menu – a fish and chips plate for Elizabeth and a Shepherd’s Pie for Mike.  The fish and chips came with a helping of mushy peas – a side dish that elicits envy among British ex-pats – that barely registered with our American palates.  The coating on the fish filet, crisp and flavorful as it was, didn’t really excite us the way we had hoped.

But the shepherd’s pie was spot-on delicious.  Delivered in a small cast-iron skillet, it promised gratification just as soon as I could crack through the potato crust into an interior filled with meltingly tender chunks of lamb, mashed scallions and a savory, hearty sauce.  Each bite warmed me up from the inside out, and when I finished (scraped clean) my skillet I couldn’t help but smile at the feeling.

To wash it all down, we enjoyed a selection of beers and a few cocktails.  The beer list is about what you’d expect in this kind of setting, weighted toward American craft beers and reliable British/Irish favorites.  But the list of bottled varieties goes deep into less charted territory, allowing for new tastes within familiar labels (like Scottish favorite Brewdog).  Of the cocktails we tried, the Bare Knuckle Boxer was the most memorable, with the hit of madras curry that gives it a dusky spice note in the nose that continues on through the sip and then lingers at the back of your mouth.  All in all, a great place to do some focused drinking.

We tested a selection of desserts at the end of the meal, working through regular menu items like the Eton Mess and the sticky toffee pudding as well as specials.  One of our desserts was described as a “reverse molten lava” cake.  Okay, so technically it was pretty much some dense chocolate cake drenched in chocolate, but I’d defy you to finish this exceedingly rich dish on your own.

Up to the challenge?  Prove it.  Join the DC Food Bloggers’ Happy Hour for their next get-together at Againn next Wednesday (February 3rd).  As it has in the past, the happy hour will run from 6 to 8 PM.  If you haven’t already attended one of these happy hours, you don’t know what you’re missing.  They’re a great way to meet some of the dozens of food bloggers who make up the DC dining scene, and they’re always a lot of fun, too.

Responses for this month’s happy hour should go to Thrifty DC Cook, one of the Food Blog Happy Hour hosts along with:

So check out Againn surrounded by food blogger friends, and then come on back and let us know what you think.  We’ll be waiting to raise a pint with you in celebration.

Againn Gastropub
1099 New York Ave., NW
Washington, DC
Againn Gastropub on Urbanspoon

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