Roofers Union grabs ’em by the ears


At the recently opened Roofers Union in Adams Morgan, the pig ear salad has been a surprise best seller. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

For too long now, the discerning diner has had only a few motives — Cashion’s Eat Place and Mintwood Place, among the handful — for heading to Adams Morgan for dinner. The opening of Roofers Union this month not only adds fresh interest to the neighborhood, it does so at a price point that encourages regular attendance.

The participation of Marjorie Meek-Bradley, the talented chef at the arty Ripple in Cleveland Park, is a major reason to cheer this news. Another cause for applause is the space, formerly home to the bar called the Reef: three stories devoted to drinking and eating, including a second floor with sweeping views of the bohemian scene on the ground and a rooftop expected to seat company beginning next month.

It’s that lofty outdoor venue that inspired the youthful restaurant’s name and menu, says the chef, 29, who describes Roofers Union as “an American-style beer garden. German, but not really.”

Cue the house-made sausages, including chicken laced with nutmeg and ginger and cradled in a pretzel roll baked on-site. And bring on the snacks, clever and delicious and $9, on average. My posse makes quick work of the tender lamb ribs served with cumin-spiced yogurt, chicken wings glossy with honey and Sriracha, snap peas brightened with blood orange, and a surprise best-seller: pig ear salad.

“The servers enjoy it,” says Meek-Bradley. “They get people to try” the toss of cured, fried-to-order ears and frisee and watercress. When pierced with a fork, an egg on top becomes the dressing.

Given all the familiar food she’s offering, the chef, who is dividing her time between two neighborhoods, figures she’s free to serve a few bold statements at Roofers Union. Sweetbreads (“one of my favorite things”) are presented as though they were po’ boys, for instance. Treated to a buttermilk bath before frying and a lime mayonnaise afterward, the organ meat is heady eating.

A category called “Simple” announces large plates. Steak frites, dull despite a knob of herbed butter, compares unfavorably with the pairing offered by, say, Béarnaise on Capitol Hill. Grilled salmon decorated with shaved fennel and juicy chicken cooked under a brick are more in keeping with the top toque’s style.

The young and friendly servers at Roofers Union, which is dressedhere and there with old tools and work uniforms, rock. Want to sample a beer or three? Not a problem. And when we run out of chips for the oniony dip, replacements are rushed over. But surely I’m not the only guy tired of having a bunch of small plates show up at the same time for the convenience of the kitchen.

Maybe Meek-Bradley can do for the larger community what she has done for Adams Morgan and change that game.

2446 18th St. NW. 202-232-7663. roofersuniondc.com. Sandwiches and entrees, $10 to $21.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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