If you haven’t had Jeremy Waybright’s cooking yet, treat yourself to a reservation at the fledgling Boss Shepherd’s, next to Warner Theatre downtown.
Then order the chef’s fried chicken. The bird takes its time getting to the table, but your patience is rewarded with a golden half-chicken that crackles between your teeth, spurts hot juices, stains your fingers and puts all conversation on hold while you inhale the pleasure of a perfect American meal. The parts, cooked in lard, don’t beg for a dunk in the house-made hot sauce, but thrill seekers will relish the slap to the tongue.
It gets better. The plank supporting the chicken includes green and yellow beans that taste as though they merely passed over a puff of steam on their way from garden to table, and biscuits so tender and light, even a Southerner might crow about them.
Boss Shepherd’s revives a restaurant name from the city’s not-so-distant past and salutes a hero of yesteryear: Alexander Robey Shepherd, a civic leader in the Gilded Age responsible for paving the District’s roads and enhancing its water systems. A diner gleans that background as his server pours water from a tall, art nouveau-style bar pitcher in the shape of an old-fashioned water tower.
No one-trick chef, Waybright, 38, is sure to draw crowds with crab cakes shaped with jumbo-lump crab, brioche crumbs and chervil, and whole grilled trout splayed across creamy white grits. Need a lift? The former executive chef of the Union Street Public House in Alexandria turns chicken potpie into an appetizer of one-bite fritters, which he stacks atop a homey sage sausage gravy. The miniatures elicit big smiles. On the lighter side is an entree of vegetables — cauliflower, baby zucchini and corn, most recently — that Waybright grills or roasts and offers with a smoked Gouda dressing.
Early on, the few desserts taste like works in progress.
“I’ve never hired a chef without a tasting,” says co-owner Paul Cohn, the former Capital Restaurant Concepts executive who made an exception for Waybright. “His philosophy is so strong.”
Shades of green and abundant light in the handsome two-tier dining room help patrons forget they’re eating below street level in a windowless setting. Frankly, I’d be content to eat Waybright’s mostly way-right food in a cave.
1299 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-347-2677. www. boss-shepherds.com . Entrees, $18 to $32.