Editors' pick


$$$$ ($15-$24)
Maple photo
This Italian-influenced wine bar in Columbia Heights blends gastro-pub fare with a Mediterranean sensibility.
Wednesday 5 p.m. to midnight; Thursday-Saturday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
(Columbia Heights)
Columbia Heights (Green and Yellow lines)

Editorial Review

Maple leads evolution on 11th
By Alex Baldinger
Friday, June 29, 2012

Columbia Heights’ hip strip (as the New York Times dubbed it in 2011) is getting even hipper. The three-block stretch of 11th Street between Kenyon and Monroe streets NW is undergoing a second wave of development that is bringing at least four new bars and restaurants to the neighborhood.

The first to open, in April, was Maple, a casual, Italian-influenced wine bar at 3418 11th Street NW. If the hip, muted interior of the 45-seat space looks familiar, it’s no wonder: Eric Gronning, whose architectural firm designed Jack Rose, Cork Wine Bar, Marvin and a portfolio of other sleek spots, owns the venture with his wife, journalist Lori Robertson. “It’s kind of a fun second career to have,” Robertson says.

The scope of Maple’s menu reflects its limited kitchen space: bruschettas, salads and panini that emphasize simple ingredients and preparations.

The bruschetta (a choice of four for $10) are ideal for sharing. Among the topping options: A layer of roasted garlic spread garnished with fresh olive oil and arugula pesto; creamy mascarpone as a base for salmon roe and fennel fronds; verdant fresh asparagus with truffle oil; and sweet fig spread balanced with savory prosciutto and gorgonzola.

What could become Maple’s signature sandwich, the short-rib panino -- tender braised ribs dressed in fontina cheese and pickled onions ($15, served with a bean salad or mixed greens) -- isn’t strictly Italian but it exemplifies Maple’s blending of gastropub fare with a Mediterranean sensibility.

“I don’t think they serve short-rib paninis in Italy,” Robertson says with a laugh.

More substantial entrees -- tagliatelle with a hearty lamb ragu ($17) and a 12-ounce flat iron steak ($22) -- have begun to appear on the menu as the kitchen, helmed by Gronning’s chef-uncle, adapts to the space.

“The menu is developed around our ability to cook certain things here,” Gronning says. “We’re still developing, and it’s part of being in the neighborhood.”

Maple takes its name from the huge slab of wood that is the restaurant’s bar top, where a selection of lesser-known Italian varietals have been chosen with the help of Cork Wine Bar’s Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts.

A chalkboard behind the bar lists popular grapes and points patrons to underappreciated comparables. Normally order sauvignon blanc or pinot noir? Try an Erbaluce or Nebieul.

“Let’s admit it, who has ever heard of Refosco and Teroldego?” Robertson says. “It’s fun to introduce people to new varietals they haven’t heard of.”

Also making their way across the bar: classic cocktails, house-made limoncello and Italian craft beers (including a recent appearance by Piccolo Birrificio’s Chiostro, a beer brewed from absinthe), which are $2 off on Sunday evenings. Maple’s standard happy hour, from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, offers $3 discounts on selected glasses of wine.

“We’ve lived in this area since 2005, and we’ve watched the whole area evolve, and we’re happy to be part of all this excitement that’s occurring on 11th Street,” Gronning says.

Aside from Maple, the new offerings are the Kangaroo Boxing Club, a bricks-and-mortar storefront that opened June 19 and serves barbecue from the PORC food truck; chef Jackie Greenbaum’s El Chucho’s Cocina Superior, which is scheduled to open soon; and a 24-hour diner from the owner of Adams Morgan’s the Diner and Tryst that is under construction. The established (and hip) Room 11 is undergoing an expansion to roughly double its size.

“It was a bunch of boarded-up storefronts a few years ago, and now it’s really happening,” Robertson says. “I’m fine with 14th Street, but 11th Street is nice because it’s all locally run mom-and-pop stuff.”