The Main Street Pub

American, Pub
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

Main Street Pub Is All About Family

By Julia Beizer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 2009

At a glance: The Clifton General Store stands smack dab in the center of this historic town. It's a green clapboard structure with attractive white trim and worn old benches out front. If one were to call to mind the picture of a classic American general store, this would probably be it.

For the past 20 years, Tom and Judy McNamara have run this operation, which was mostly a convenience store but also catered to neighbors and day laborers with a popular deli. Last summer, the store entered a new chapter: the McNamaras took the advice of their children and opened the Main Street Pub, a shoebox bar-restaurant in the back that can seat about 40 people, inside and out.

The entire McNamara clan is involved in this venture. Sean, the oldest at 29, used his experience as a food broker in the service industry to help design the menu. Twins Kevin and Jamie, 25, help manage the place and Katie, 22, cooks most nights. (The Web site reads endearingly like it was written by a proud parent. "Katie has become a fabulous cook, managing the kitchen.")

But it's not just the family affair that lends the Main Street Pub its comfortable feel. A lot of the neighborly charm comes from the patrons, who can be overheard discussing town council meetings, the new restaurant up the street and the well-being of some aging residents.

On the menu: The restaurant's best offerings come between two slices of bread. Tom's Turkey Melt (named for the family patriarch) combines oozing American cheese, warm turkey and crispy curls of bacon. The BLT is simple but satisfying, bolstered by good, leafy lettuce and a thick slice of tomato. The Reuben is among the best I've tasted. The combo of corned beef, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut is served warm on slices of buttered rye toast that's been heated on a cast-iron grill top that Kevin estimates is more than 80 years old. Sandwiches come with a choice of redskin potato salad, cole slaw, french fries or veggies.

Thanks to some, ahem, grass-roots marketing, the pub's fans jumped to the Web last month to vote Main Street's hamburger among the area's best in a WTOP poll. I wouldn't put the selection above much of the local competition, but the half-pounder is tasty enough -- and piled on a luxurious brioche roll. The major bonus here is the topping selection -- such options as cheese, bacon, jalapeos and even marinara sauce or a fried egg.

The garden salad is a generous serving of mixed greens tossed with diced tomatoes and the option of chicken. Appetizers are of the classic Irish pub-grub variety, but one stands out. The crab pearls are deep-fried bites of sweet jumbo-lump crab meat. At $12.99, the dish is more expensive than most of the appetizers, but it's worth the indulgence.

At your service: There's a small-town familiarity here. Servers swing by to lean on your table and chat about the food, the weather, baseball games, anything really. They're also quick to offer a drink refill or an extra plate for sharing. In another cute touch, the silverware comes wrapped in a gauzy black ribbon.

What to avoid: The appetizers are mostly underwhelming. Except for the luscious crab pearls, the rest of the starters are a pretty standard assortment of deep-fried, golden-brown dishes you would find anywhere. Stick with the sandwiches.

Wet your whistle: Beer and wine seem to be the beverages of choice. The restaurant offers Crozet, Va.-based Starr Hill brew on tap in addition to the usual domestics and a selection of bottles. Soda, coffee and other drinks are also available.

Bottom line: "It's very homey down where we are," Kevin says about Clifton, a town where he lived from age 2 1/2 until recently. That neighborliness shines through with the family hospitality.