At Mad Fox, a menu to match
By Justin Rude
Friday, August 24, 2012
When master brewer Bill Madden opened Mad Fox Brewing Co. two years ago, the massive brew pub in the city of Falls Church immediately became a major player in the local craft beer scene. Madden had made a name for himself as the mastermind behind the brewing operation at Cap City Brewing Co., Alexandria’s short-lived Founders and Leesburg’s Vintage 50.
But Mad Fox was his first true solo venture, and it had the makings of a beer-lover’s masterpiece. The beer immediately held up its end of the bargain. The food, not as much.
A recent change in the kitchen is making strides to change that.
Chef Andrew Dixon, who worked most recently as the sous chef at Michel Richard’s shuttered Tysons Corner restaurant, Michel, has taken over as top toque. The Oregon native, whose resume includes a stint as head chef at the Semiahmoo luxury resort in Blaine, Wash., brings with him a seasonal sensibility forged in West Coast kitchens that were farm-to-table crazed long before the trend became a coast-to-coast cliche.
The old Mad Fox menu wasn’t exactly terrible. The pizza had its fans, the bar snacks -- particularly fried pickles and a Dutch treat of deep-fried curried ground beef bites called bitterballen -- made exceptional accompaniments to a cold beer. But in general, if the ales and lagers got you in the door, the menu simply managed to not offend.
Dixon’s new menu is rolling out any day now, but over the past couple of months he has been giving diners a taste of what’s to come with his specials. And there’s a lot to look forward to.
The old menu, for example, had nothing on it like Dixon’s char-grilled Chesapeake oysters. The plump bivalves I sampled recently were a perfect mix of briny and smoky. Cooked with a bit of Parmesan and garlic butter, the oysters were served with a piece of grilled bread to sop up stray juices.
Many of the menu’s heavier items will disappear, their place taken by lighter, seafood-driven dishes, such as a take on Japanese Tataki (a preparation of seared tuna) served as a carpaccio with orange-ginger mayo and shiitake mushrooms, and a ceviche-topped seared salmon fillet served with a sweet potato puree.
Like any good chef from the Pacific Northwest, Dixon knows his way around seafood (the oysters alone take me back to the kind of rustic shore cooking I remember growing up on Puget Sound). But the chef also has roots in more traditional European cooking. A recent special included a perfectly grilled and flavorful coulotte steak (top sirloin cap) served with a blue cheese gratin, and a roast rabbit leg served with a salad of frisee, grilled endive, quail egg and house-cured bacon.
If you have a favorite on the old menu, you don’t necessarily have to despair. The Garlic Pig pizza, pretzel bites and the aforementioned fried pickles will remain. Another holdover: a burger topped with blue cheese, caramelized onions and a habit-forming savory bacon jam on a brioche bun.
The staff behind the bar is excellent, friendly, knowledgable about the beer and food, and on hand when needed. Some of the younger servers in the dining room, however, are prone to disappear for stretches, and run back to the kitchen after fairly routine questions. On one unfortunate occasion, I wasn’t told the specials until after my table had ordered.
Beer is still Mad Fox’s biggest draw. You will be hard-pressed to find a disappointing selection on the menu. I’ve grown particularly fond of the Orange Whip IPA, Wee Heavy Scotch ale and Defender American pale ale. And the unfiltered Kolsch and the English Summer Ale are award winners.
And now, especially when sitting in front of a plate of grilled oysters, there is food worthy of matching those brews.
Falls Church's new Mad Fox brew pub in popular demand
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, August 20, 2010
The buzz: When you walk through the doors of the new Mad Fox Brewing Company, you come face-to-face with the host stand, and behind it, six huge stainless steel tanks that collectively hold more than 82,000 pints of beer.
That's a statement of intent at Falls Church's Mad Fox, the first independent brew pub to open in the D.C. area since Leesburg's Vintage 50 poured its first pint in late 2006. While it seems that a new beer-focused bar opens every other month, we've been waiting a long time for a bar that makes its own.
Mad Fox isn't just any brew pub, either. It's owned and operated by Bill Madden, one of the area's most decorated and respected brewers. He has built a loyal following after almost a decade at Capitol City Brewing Company, then time at the helm of the short-lived Founders' in Alexandria and several years at Vintage 50.
Opening his own bar has long been a dream of Madden's, and he has had the blueprint sketched out for years: 10 to 12 beers on draft at all times, plus a few slots for seasonal offerings, "experimental" beers and traditional ciders. Throw in three or four English-style cask-conditioned ales drawn into glasses using hand pumps.
But since its opening July 12, my visits have turned up five or six beers on draft, paired with one, maybe two, cask ales (if that). What's happened? "I'm fighting to keep up," Madden says during a phone interview. "I hadn't expected the volume. I thought I'd have time [to build up a supply], but people have been drinking it as fast as I can make it."
To put it in perspective: Madden brewed 15 barrels of the refreshing, lightly hopped English Summer Ale a few weeks ago. (That's 465 gallons.) He put the beer on tap on July 28 and burned through all of it in about 12 days. "At Vintage 50, we went through about 500 barrels of beer in a year. Here, I've gone through 330 in four weeks."
That's why it's hard to recommend specific beers: I've sent friends to Mad Fox with promises of the American Pale Ale or that English Summer Ale on cask, but the kegs had already been kicked. I hope it's not too late for the 80 Shilling Scotch Ale, rich and malty with hints of sweet fruit. His dry, crisp Kolsch is a constant, as it has been since the Cap City days.
Just wait, Madden promises. He laughs when he says he has started "brewing smarter," and he should have a full complement of beers ready within "a month-and-a-half, two months."
The hop-heavy Double IPA, which has reached cult status with local beer lovers, may reach taps sometime next week. Follow Mad Fox on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/madfoxbrewing) for updates, as Madden is famous for having "stealth beers" that are available only to anyone who knows to ask for them.
The scene: As you might infer from the rate that Mad Fox has been blowing through beers, it has become a popular destination. Couples and single beer fans stalk stools at the 60-foot bar or the long communal table that runs parallel to it. (Everyone is welcome to grab a seat there, including kids.)
It's not all beer geeks, either. I've heard people who were confused about the lack of Bud Light on the menu (like most brew pubs, Mad Fox sells only the beer it brews), and the knowledgeable bartenders are quick to recommend beverages as well as main courses.
The perfect introduction for visitors remains the sampler: four-ounce glasses of any four draft beers for $6.
The focus on the food and drinks is a relief, because Mad Fox isn't much to look at. Beige walls. Stained wooden accents, including cabinets behind the bar that look as if they came out of a newly opened Ashburn subdivision. A big clock. A few flat-screen TVs around the bar area. It's not all bad, though: The exterior walls are mostly plate glass, flooding the booths in light. And at the end of the L-shaped space is a nook with more tables and a fireplace, which should be in demand in a few months.
On your plate: The kitchen turns out more than just the supporting-role bar food we've come to expect at brew pubs. Thick slices of pork belly are sweet and rich, having slow-roasted for half a day and been marinated in molasses. The beer-battered onion rings are the size of doughnuts, and though a little greasy, they're an instant hit. The burger is thick and juicy, but the star is a smoky brisket sandwich topped with a barbecue sauce made with Mad Fox's porter beer. (Many ingredients are from Virginia farms.)
Mad Fox has two pizza ovens in the kitchen: One for thin-crust New York-style pizzas and a wood-burning oven for smaller (and tastier) Neapolitan varieties.
In your glass: Beer. Sure, there are English and Virginia ciders on draft and in bottles, as well as wine. Virginia's Copper Fox Whiskey stars in a just-okay list of spirits. But don't kid yourself: You'll want beer. (If you're driving, there's house-made root beer.)
Price points: Staple beers, which include the Kolsch, American Pale Ale and Hefe Weiss, are $5 a pint -- $3 at happy hour, which runs from 3 to 7 p.m. every day, including weekends. The special beers, including Wee Heavy, aren't discounted and can cost as much as $6.
Pizzas are $12 to $17 for a 16-inch, and a few bucks more for 20 inches. Most appetizers and sandwiches run $7 to $10.
Need to know: As with any young restaurant or bar, there are all sorts of plans filed under "coming soon."
The round area at the front of the room is set to double as a stage for bands, though Madden says he's not sure when entertainment will begin. "I want to make sure the restaurant is running smoothly and settled in before we start that," he says.
Also in the works are two outdoor seating areas. One will line the sidewalk along Broad Street (the better to attract passersby), and tables for several dozen patrons will be located in the courtyard near Mad Fox's entrance.
Nice to know: There is a parking garage in the office/condo complex nearby. Car-less city dwellers shouldn't be put off by the Falls Church address. There are numerous buses from West Falls Church that stop across the street from Mad Fox after a six- or seven-minute ride.