Whenever I hear that someone serves great brisket, be it braised or barbecued, I cannot rest until I've tried it. And so, a few weeks ago, as if impelled by a hypnotist's command, I passed through the doors of MGM Roast Beef, across the street from the Brentwood Post Office, at the corner of Brentwood Road and V Street NE.
The space is large enough to house a V-shaped counter with 22 seats along one side and a carryout line along the other. Those queueing up for takeout have a direct view of four succulent hunks of meat being carved to order on juice-laden cutting boards: a whole, bone-in ham; a turkey breast (legs are available as well); a roasted top round of beef (cooked medium); and that brisket, with its glistening, fatty deckle flap being neatly trimmed away.
MGM opened just shy of two years ago. Ryan Zaritsky, 22, runs the place, which he co-owns with his brother and the two children of their father's business partner, Mark Loesberg. Dad Gordy Zaritsky and Loesberg own the Capital Auto Auction next door; Loesberg also owns the building that houses both businesses. He was going to rent the restaurant space to a Peruvian chicken eatery, but Ryan Zaritsky convinced Loesberg that MGM would be a good fit.
The idea was to feature hand-carved roast beef sandwiches like those at Hodge's, the New York Avenue institution that closed a few years ago.
"It was basically trial and error," Zaritsky says. Hiring a good cook and relying on cook-and-hold Alto-Shaam ovens to roast the meats were wise moves. Ham and brisket get the overnight treatment; turkey and top round go in at 5 a.m.
Zaritsky hit upon the brisket idea because he wanted to offer well-done beef without sacrificing product integrity. The brisket is prepared according to his grandmother's recipe, featuring a secret spice blend. (I'm guessing onion and garlic salts and black pepper.) It is cut thick and piled high: juicy, tender without being stringy, and imbued with just the right amount of fat. On an onion roll with mayonnaise and onions ($7.95), it is heavenly.
On any given day, you will find lawyers, post office workers, police, government types and everyday folk filling out sandwich forms. The roast beef sandwich ($7.45, as are turkey and ham sandwiches) had excellent flavor, but passing the meat through a slicer instead of using a carving knife would improve the meat's tenderness. Cranberry chutney and fresh horseradish are free topping options. Turkey (white and/or dark meat) and ham sandwiches looked worthy of sampling on return visits. (I've been fantasizing about a turkey-and-brisket combo.)
Most everything is made in-house, such as soups (12 ounces, $3.50; $3.95 for crab soup) made from the ham hocks (which they sell for $3 to soup mavens), hand-cut french fries ($3.25), and a somewhat drab bread pudding ($3), which comes with real whipped cream.
A breakfast specialty, the heart-clogger Belly-Buster sandwich ($9.45), with six ounces of brisket and two eggs over hard, isn't on the menu. But feel free to ask for it. Regulars know all about it.
Larger dinner offerings, served weekdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., include open-faced brisket sandwiches au jus, turkey with fries and coleslaw ($10.95) and, on Fridays, a six-ounce jumbo lump crab cake with fries and a drink for $13.95.
The abbreviation MGM used to represent the owners' names. Now, Zaritsky says, it stands for Mighty Good Meats.
It certainly does.
-David Hagedorn (Good to Go, Dec. 29, 2010)