Over the course of 40-some years, the Hawk & Dove constructed an identity out of little more than smoke, grease, booze and a kind of glassy-eyed geezerdom. The dive bar was one of the grand old men of Capitol Hill, whose eccentricities were frequently glorified despite terrible B.O. and a bad habit of crowding your personal space.
Yes, the old Hawk & Dove was a dissolute coot with a reputation that fascinated the kids, who loved to drink cheap beer in his presence.
The new Hawk & Dove is . . . well, I’m still not sure.
Capitol Hill/Barracks Row restaurateur Xavier Cervera (Chesapeake Room, Molly Malone’s, Senart’s Oyster and Chop House, among others) took control of the bar in October 2011 and promptly closed it for renovations, which dragged on forever.
When the Hawk & Dove finally emerged from its cocoon in January, the scruffy dive bar had vanished, replaced by a decidedly handsome space, polished and perfectly groomed. Dennis Hopper had morphed into Tom Brady.
But a weird thing happened to the Hawk & Dove before Cervera even relaunched the place and it became one more satellite revolving around ESPN’s blinding sun: The owner sold his holdings to Barracks Row Entertainment, a group that included his brother, Richard, former chairman of the Taco Cabana chain. Even stranger, months after reopening the Hawk & Dove as an upscale sports bar, Richard Cervera apparently decided to hire a fine-dining chef who would perform the gastronomic equivalent of a Hail Mary pass: Convert the burger-and-wings crowd into foie gras eaters.
The plan was quickly 86ed. More rational minds prevailed, including that of Xavier Cervera, who’s back serving as a sort of crisis manager and adviser.
Still, the Hawk & Dove’s roller-coaster ride from dive to sports bar/gastropub to culinary temple back to sports bar/gastropub has left many reeling from its mighty mood swings. Which is why we should all thank Jeffrey Edwards. He’s doing yeoman’s work to right this listing ship.
Edwards was the man in charge of the renovated Hawk & Dove’s kitchen until the owners began offering “cuisine” to sports-crazed zombies (“Brains! Brains sauteed in brown butter and shallots!”). Edward is back after a stint at sister establishment Park Tavern, and he’s trying to stake out a middle ground between two-fisted neighborhood pub and chef-driven restaurant, where patrons can enter the brawny, wood-heavy Hawk & Dove (illuminated by chandeliers and flat-screen televisions pulsating with manly endeavors) and order from a seasonal menu that favors fresh ingredients.
The idea of wolfing down gnocchi with roasted butternut squash and pomegranate gastrique (an acceptable bone to throw veg-heads, whose expectations hover around gutter level with pubs) while watching grown men pummel the crud out of each other might seem, well, idiotic. But the days of watching Monday Night Football with a microwaved slab of frozen chicken and a Miller Genuine Draft are well behind us.
The Hawk & Dove’s high-low approach to sports grub is the new normal (see Redline in Penn Quarter, another jock spot that throws around the gastropub term), and in the cold light of a high-def TV, you can catch a fleeting glimpse of how these odd partners might get along in a perfect world. Edwards’s better efforts, interestingly enough, come in unexpected forms. Like his roasted garlic hummus with pine nuts, which reeks of garlic (I say that with respect). I couldn’t stop scooping it up with the soft triangles of pita. His Greek hearts-of-romaine salad, drizzled with lemon-oregano dressing, is a fresh jolt, too, its ringlets of piquant banana peppers balanced with salty feta.
Once you get past the salads and starters, the kitchen begins to reveal its flaws. In fact, one of my favorite combos likely required nothing from a line cook sweating the next ticket: It was Edwards’s chili — one alarm in terms of heat, but blazing with flavor — paired with a draft of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. It comforted me as I watched the last part of the Nationals season spiral down the drain.
If the local team needs more practice, so does the Hawk & Dove’s pizzaiolo. The pies are typically pulled from the wood-burning oven with little or no char. My “margherita” pizza was undercooked to the point of doughiness and topped with a diablo-like sauce and two cheeses. The cracker-like base of my white pie with mushrooms and ham was crispier, but its rich and salty toppings overwhelmed the palate with their steroidal display of muscle.
Among the meatier offerings, I’d order the fat, juicy burger 10 times out of 10. It boasts more char than the pizza, with the added bonus of Benton’s bacon, whose deep backwoods smoke perfumes the entire bite. I would tend to avoid anything featuring sirloin unless you like a mouthful of chewy connective tissue. I say that even though, for the most part, I found much to enjoy with Edwards’s take on a French dip sandwich, stuffed thick with big slices of grilled sirloin accented with nutty Manchego cheese and sweet caramelized onions. I just hate spitting out wads of masticated meat into a napkin.
The one thing you can’t avoid at the Hawk & Dove is its jockstrap vibe — unless you sit on the patio to enjoy the restrained bustle of Capitol Hill. But that raises a question: Would you make a trip to the Hawk & Dove based on the food alone, without a game to pair it with? Yeah, I don’t think I would either. It just doesn’t have the same magnetism as the old spot.
329 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-547-0030.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Nearest Metro stations: Eastern Market or Capitol South, with a 0.4-mile walk to the restaurant.
Prices: Entrees, $13-$17.