Editors' pick

Johnny's Half Shell

American, Seafood
$$$$ ($25-$34)
'

Editorial Review

2008 Dining Guide

2008 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008

Some fans mourned the move of the popular seafood haunt from Dupont Circle to Capitol Hill two years ago, and I did, too, because consistency was not always part of a meal at the relocated Johnny's. Time has been kind to the sprawling restaurant, however. If you're looking for a first-class crab cake, here's the place to head, and the classic is honored with sprightly coleslaw and herb-brightened tartar sauce. The kitchen's spicy Maine lobster is just that, and plenty rich without the drawn butter beside it. Domestic red and black caviar scooped onto tender blinis makes a rich treat; catfish gets nice support from loose risotto scattered with pearly shrimp and feisty andouille. Co-owner Ann Cashion is a stickler for quality; over summer, her tomatoes -- bright, juicy and tasting of the season -- stole the show (and were great with a salad of olives and feta cheese). The occasional slip (dull and starchy rice and shell beans with that lobster) is more than made up for by a fine collection of dishes that stretches from house-made granola and creamy stone-ground grits at breakfast to some of the most charming desserts around. But food is not the only lure. At lunch on weekdays, there's live piano music on the patio. At dinner on Friday and Saturday, a jazz quartet accompanies your fishing expedition.

Good to Go Review

Johnny’s Takeout on Capitol Hill
By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Contractual obligation is the mother of invention. For the past five years, co-owner Ann Cashion has operated Taqueria Nacional in the slender space next to her Capitol Hill standby, Johnny’s Half Shell, in the C-SPAN building. Now she and partner John Fulchino are moving the taco shop to a freshly minted location in the U Street corridor, aiming to open in March. However, the pair was required to continue offering a grab ’n’ go option at the original location, which is why Johnny’s Takeout debuted in late January.

When I stopped by in the first week, it was clearly an operation in flux. Reminders of the former concept were easy to spot. Jarritos sodas filled the refrigerated cases, and the receipts still claimed to be from Taqueria Nacional. However, the cuisine had switched tacks. New Orleans standards -- including some found on the Johnny’s Half Shell menu -- dominate here, supplemented by mainstream fare such as a cheddar and Monterey Jack grilled cheese sandwich ($4) and a hamburger ($6.25). Meals are made to order, which takes about five to 10 minutes.

While I’m waiting, I nibble on lemon lavender pound cake ($3.50) that’s more floral than citrus. But even a more-balanced flavor wouldn’t have overcome the distracting dryness. A trio of small cinnamon rolls ($2.50) dotted with raisins and moistened with a swirl of sweet custard prove to be a much more satisfying choice.

The savory courses start off pleasantly enough with a simple squash-pumpkin soup ($4). Prying open one of the sturdy plastic takeout containers to explore the entrees, I discover a single chunk of smoky andouille floating in the spicy red beans ($5.50) spread over a bed of jasmine rice. Despite the meager amount of sausage, the stew-ish dish hits the spot on a cold morning.

Next up: fried chicken chunks on fusilli drenched in an asiago cheese sauce ($5.50), a concept Cashion tells me was partially inspired by veal milanese. It doesn’t work for me, reminding me of a Stouffer’s microwave dinner.

I eagerly anticipate a shift of gears when the shrimp po’ boy ($7.25) arrives on a fresh roll from New Orleans’s Leidenheimer Baking Co. However, that flash of authenticity can’t save it. The shellfish are barely spiced, and the advertised tomatoes, lettuce and pickles are minimally applied. Shrimp etouffee ($5.50) is a slightly better bet, yet it lacks deeply developed flavors or memorable flair.

This kind of food should pack a punch and comfort to you to your core. Here’s hoping that on my return visit, the skill of a James Beard Award-winning chef like Cashion will be more evident.