What's Brewing on H Street NE?
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Weekend Section
Friday, September 28, 2007
With transatlantic airfares hovering around "you've got to be kidding," the quickest and cheapest way to visit Brussels this fall is to head to H Street NE.
Chalkboard beer menus on both levels of the dimly lit Granville Moore's contain names to make Belgian beer fans' mouths water: K armeliet. Pannepot. Kwak. Caracole.
The decor is an edgy mix of exposed brick, scarred plaster and antiqued wood, with worn floorboards and bar fixtures salvaged from such disparate locations as a Manassas farmhouse and a closed tavern in Upstate New York.
In this laid-back atmosphere, it doesn't matter if you don't know the difference between a Trappist ale or a fruity lambic. I've seen a number of people drinking Stella Artois (the most recognizable of the rotating draft beers) or asking for "wheat beer, like a hefeweizen."
Artisanal Belgian beers come with a bit of sticker shock, and managing partner and frequent bartender Chris Surrusco knows it's not easy to persuade customers to spend $8 to $10 on a single bottle of beer.
"It's education," he says. "I ask them what they like, what they normally drink. You make them aware there are pricier beers that are meant to be enjoyed. Then again, I've also got Stella for $4 a glass."
But if you want to learn more about beer, this is the place. Surrusco, who's around most nights, trained as a brewer at Capitol City Brewing Co. before working in several restaurants in Alexandria and helping to set up the beer list at Rustico. Bartender Chris Frazier is a former brewer for Old Dominion Brewing Co. Let them steer you toward something you'll like. There are 40 to 50 beers available in bottles, so there's bound to be something.
Beyond beer, oenophiles will appreciate a small selection of French wines by the glass, and the bartenders whip up a pretty good Manhattan, too.
On a street that boasts more Chinese takeouts and fast-food joints than sit-down restaurants, Granville Moore's menu has made it one of the most popular spots on the strip. Moules frites, the pairing of mussels and crispy fries, is practically the national dish of Belgium, and Granville Moore's offers five preparations, including the spicy Navigateur and the basic Bleu Fromage.
The tavern's character is taking shape. A graduate student from Gallaudet University bartends in the second-floor bar on Monday nights, thus better serving the deaf patrons from the nearby school. Wednesdays are Dead Night, where Surrusco and his friends fire up old Grateful Dead bootlegs and relax over a few beers. The following night is a Chimay happy hour, with a couple of bucks knocked off the price of the three famous Belgian ales.
Open since early August, Granville Moore's has been plagued by complaints about service. Waiters and waitresses have a habit of disappearing or not even noticing that you're at a table.
All in all, though, the intentions here are good, down to the gastropub's name. It's a tribute to the building's former occupant: Granville Moore, an African American doctor who provided low-cost health care for the neighborhood.
Granville Moore's, the city's latest gastropub, is a nod to a good-deed-doer, an easy trip to Belgium and another promising sign of change in an otherwise scrappy neighborhood.
The name refers to the late African American doctor who once lived on the top floor of the rowhouse and used the ground level as an office, where he treated patients for little or no payment. Entering its weeks-old replacement -- a dimly lighted watering hole wrought from reclaimed wood and featuring exposed brick and old-fashioned bar coolers behind an aged-looking counter -- is to step into the sort of tavern you can encounter by the score in Brussels. A small back patio beckons in weather that won't fry eggs.
The drill: a list of more than 50 imported Belgian beers, handwritten on two chalkboards, and a short printed menu of salads, sandwiches, mussels and fries served half a dozen ways. We dropped by just as chef David Nugent was leaving (that was fast!) and Teddy Folkman was arriving -- kudos go to a juicy hamburger and a big bowl of steamed harissa-fired mussels -- but the basic script is not expected to change dramatically, says managing partner Chris Surrusco. The pub's fries, for instance, will continue to be cut by hand, blanched in hot peanut oil, cooled and then crisped in 375-degree oil just before serving. (The double-frying makes for superb fries.)
While we wait for Granville Moore's to settle in -- a list of signature cocktails is forthcoming -- we're happy to sip on Saison Dupont. The brew is a light, crisp, unfiltered ale that leaves a peppery finish on the tongue and makes a good companion to a pot of mussels.
Folkman comes to the job from the kitchen at Balducci's in Washington; Surrusco was tapped for both his restaurant and beer expertise, having previously worked at Stardust, Restaurant Eve and Rustico, all in Northern Virginia, and Capitol City Brewing Co., where he learned to make beer 11 years ago.
One of the few sit-down places to eat in the so-called Atlas District, about a mile northeast of Union Station, Granville Moore's is poised to gain a blockmate later this year: Sticky Rice, a pan-Asian restaurant with a sushi bar, at 1224 H St. NE. Like Granville Moore's, the dining venue is co-owned by nightlife veteran and neighborhood champion Joe Englert.