Right price at a hoppin’ place
By Justin Rude
Friday, October 19, 2012
Kangaroo Boxing Club, a young barbecue restaurant and bar from the guys behind the PORC food truck, has some things in common with many of its recently opened peers. It has a dark-tavern feel and a beer list heavy on local brews. It’s serving of-the-moment cuisine with its mix of barbecue and American comfort-food classics, and it’s in a cool, up-and-coming neighborhood. But unlike at many other hot new spots, which hit heavy with $15 cocktails and entree-priced small plates, the dining experience at this 11th Street NW restaurant doesn’t involve sticker shock.
According to co-owner Josh Saltzman, who launched the PORC (Purveyors of Rolling Cuisine) food truck with Trent Allen in early 2011, gentle pricing was part of the plan.
“We wanted it to be a place you could come and hang out two or three times a week without breaking the bank,” says the restaurateur. “Our goal was to have entrees in the eight-to-12-dollar range. It keeps it a neighborhood place.”
The lower prices don’t lead to smaller plates. The Three Little Pigs platter ($13) comes with a pile of moist and smoky pulled pork, slices of Virginia ham, house-cured bacon and a choice of two sides. I like the slightly tangy mac and cheese and the maple-butter-slathered cornmeal johnny cakes. By bringing something a little rich, creamy or sweet, these sides help balance some of the inherent saltiness of the main event.
Pulled pork is by far the restaurant’s biggest hit, and Saltzman and his team also make an admirable pastrami. The hand-cut brisket is smoked slow, cut thick and served with a Guinness mustard. Like much of the menu, it’s the product of patience and trial and error. Saltzman took on the project when he couldn’t find a good pastrami sandwich after moving to D.C. from Ann Arbor, Mich.
“About $500 worth of brisket later,” he says with a laugh, “Trent and I were just starting to figure it out.”
One of the restaurant’s most compelling dishes is meat-free. The “veg ‘n’ egg” is a bowl of quinoa, roasted beets, carrots, mushrooms and spinach topped with a fried duck egg. The quinoa adds heft to the bowl, while a drizzle of vegan barbecue sauce gives a complementary zip to the richness of the egg and ties it to the rest of the menu. One of a handful of meatless options, the dish was added to serve the neighborhood’s vegetarian population and, perhaps more crucially, the owners’ girlfriends, both of whom steer clear of meat.
The timing of your visit determines whether Kangaroo Boxing Club feels more like a bar or a restaurant. In the late afternoon and early evening, there are families happily gathered around plates of barbecue. But go later at night -- or during Michigan football games -- and the atmosphere is decidedly pub-like.
“This is a good place for Michigan fans,” Saltzman says, because “three-quarters of the owners are graduates.”
A twist of fate brought the PORC truck and the restaurant in the District. Saltzman and Allen had planned to open the truck in Ann Arbor, but a change in that city’s mobile vendor licensing laws sent them in search of new territory.
Landing in D.C. is “the best decision we ever made,” Saltzman says. “Thank God Ann Arbor denied us.”