What's Brewing on H Street NE?
Friday, September 28, 2007
With transatlantic airfares hovering around "you've got to be kidding," the quickest and cheapest way to visit Brussels this fall is to head to H Street NE.
Chalkboard beer menus on both levels of the dimly lit Granville Moore's contain names to make Belgian beer fans' mouths water: K armeliet. Pannepot. Kwak. Caracole.
The decor is an edgy mix of exposed brick, scarred plaster and antiqued wood, with worn floorboards and bar fixtures salvaged from such disparate locations as a Manassas farmhouse and a closed tavern in Upstate New York.
In this laid-back atmosphere, it doesn't matter if you don't know the difference between a Trappist ale or a fruity lambic. I've seen a number of people drinking Stella Artois (the most recognizable of the rotating draft beers) or asking for "wheat beer, like a hefeweizen."
Artisanal Belgian beers come with a bit of sticker shock, and managing partner and frequent bartender Chris Surrusco knows it's not easy to persuade customers to spend $8 to $10 on a single bottle of beer.
"It's education," he says. "I ask them what they like, what they normally drink. You make them aware there are pricier beers that are meant to be enjoyed. Then again, I've also got Stella for $4 a glass."
But if you want to learn more about beer, this is the place. Surrusco, who's around most nights, trained as a brewer at Capitol City Brewing Co. before working in several restaurants in Alexandria and helping to set up the beer list at Rustico. Bartender Chris Frazier is a former brewer for Old Dominion Brewing Co. Let them steer you toward something you'll like. There are 40 to 50 beers available in bottles, so there's bound to be something.
Beyond beer, oenophiles will appreciate a small selection of French wines by the glass, and the bartenders whip up a pretty good Manhattan, too.
On a street that boasts more Chinese takeouts and fast-food joints than sit-down restaurants, Granville Moore's menu has made it one of the most popular spots on the strip. Moules frites, the pairing of mussels and crispy fries, is practically the national dish of Belgium, and Granville Moore's offers five preparations, including the spicy Navigateur and the basic Bleu Fromage.
The tavern's character is taking shape. A graduate student from Gallaudet University bartends in the second-floor bar on Monday nights, thus better serving the deaf patrons from the nearby school. Wednesdays are Dead Night, where Surrusco and his friends fire up old Grateful Dead bootlegs and relax over a few beers. The following night is a Chimay happy hour, with a couple of bucks knocked off the price of the three famous Belgian ales.
Open since early August, Granville Moore's has been plagued by complaints about service. Waiters and waitresses have a habit of disappearing or not even noticing that you're at a table.
All in all, though, the intentions here are good, down to the gastropub's name. It's a tribute to the building's former occupant: Granville Moore, an African American doctor who provided low-cost health care for the neighborhood.