Hula Girl pop-up coming to former Pulpo space in Cleveland Park

February 11

The Tapper Restaurant Group has shifted into overdrive lately, re-energizing one of its properties with a new chef and rebranding another with a double-barreled concept.

Mikala Brennan will take the wheels off her Hawaiian concept for a multi-week stay in Cleveland Park. (Courtesy of Moxie Photography)
Mikala Brennan will take the wheels off her Hawaiian concept for a multi-week stay in Cleveland Park. (Courtesy of Moxie Photography)

Let's start with the latter news: Pulpo, the Cleveland Park tapas emporium, has officially shuttered, which perhaps isn't surprising given chef Billy Klein announced his departure to lead the kitchen at Joe's Stone Crab. But as owner Dino Tapper and Dave Hansen, operations director for the restaurant group, formulate their future plans for the location, they have worked out a deal with food truck veteran Mikala Brennan to launch a Hula Girl pop-up in the former Pulpo space.

The Hula Girl Bar & Grill will debut Friday night, a sort of valentine for lovers of Hawaiian cuisine, which one mag recently argued is the "next foodie frontier." The pop-up is expected to run until mid-March, with a possible week-long extension, says Hansen.

The Hula Girl Bar & Grill will expand upon the iconic dishes available at Brennan's truck (which has been off-road since December), such as her Spam musubi and Hawaiian banh mi. The Hula Girl pop-up will launch with 18 items, Hansen says, and then expand to more than 30 by next week. Among the offerings on the expanded menu: root beer sticky ribs, loco moco and even a few non-Hawaiian dishes in the "Mama Hula" section, a nod to Brennan's mother, a trained chef. The drinks program will include Hawaiian specialty cocktails, regional beers and sugarcane sodas from Waialua Soda Works.

The real conversation piece of the pop-up, however, will not appear until the weekend, when Hula Girl Bar & Grill will host a luau-style pig roast. Brennan will bring in previously marinated and roasted pigs for slicing and serving to guests, who will have a choice of tabletop sauces to pair with their crispy pieces of pork. The brunch will run $35 each, including beverages.

Hansen promises that when the pop-up launches, diners won't recognize the two-story space. All traces of Pulpo will be gone, replaced with vintage and contemporary Hawaiian photos, Pan Am trinkets, surf boards and, of course, hula girls. But what will become of the location once the pop-up has ended?

For starters, Brennan apparently has designs to launch a full-service restaurant somewhere else in the city, but those plans are still under wraps. Second, the former Pulpo space will be re-branded into what Hansen describes, somewhat tongue in check, as "Roy Choi meets David Chang and produces a Danish love child in the District."

Hansen doesn't want to reveal too much yet about the new concept, but he says the restaurant will be divided into a casual fusion-style operation and a Noma-style "uber-gourmet" space for those who want to eat as if Rene Redzepi were cooking in D.C. The latter concept, Hansen promises, will be "more experimental," with high food costs offset by the casual eatery.

In the meantime, Tapper Restaurant Group has also hired a new chef for Floriana on 17th Street NW. Daniel Hlusak, who earlier in his career worked for Roberto Donna at Galileo and Il Radicchio, has returned to the District to "raise the bar" at Floriana, Hansen says. Previously in Arizona, Hlusak is now on site at Floriana refining the menu, which Hansen says will remain traditional Northern Italian, but a "modernist twist."

Hansen hopes to roll out the new menus, along with a refurbished space, sometime in the "next few weeks."

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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