First Bite

There's a Deal Every Day at Spider Kelly's

By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A lot of restaurants serve double-cooked fries these days. A lot of chefs are also sprinkling the snack with herbs. Order fries at the new Spider Kelly's (3181 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-312-8888), and out comes a bowl heaped with the expected hand-cut potatoes and bits of rosemary, but also fried garlic cloves. "People who know" how tasty cooked garlic is "dig right in" and pluck out the soft centers, says Nick Freshman.

He's one of two locals and former high school buddies, both named Nick and both 32 years old, behind the July addition to the Clarendon neighborhood. "We've always wanted a bar with exceptional food," says Freshman, who owns the business with Nick Langman.

Their moody, monochromatic bar and 73-seat dining room are named after a character in "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway because Freshman, an English major in college, always liked the name. "I kept it in my back pocket," he says.

Neither Nick is new to the trade. Langman is co-owner of the nearby Clarendon Ballroom; Freshman worked in various capacities at Clarendon Ballroom, a branch of Five Guys, Poste, Olives and the Clarendon Grill. The address for their joint venture once housed Queen Bee, then India Curry House. The latter's two tandoor ovens were removed to make way for two grills, a fryer and an oven.

Spider Kelly's menu is a breeze to read: a half-dozen starters followed by burgers in different guises and a handful of entrees. Yet the surprises run from skewered lemon grass beef to cookies and milk for dessert. Freshman says he's proud of the attention to detail that goes into the food. The beef for the plain burger is ground fresh each day, perched on a roll from Uptown Bakers and garnished with house-made pickles instead of the usual commercially made spear. Drop by on a Monday night and the sandwich is half-price: $4 instead of $8.

Indeed, every night delivers a different deal. Regulars know that Tuesday means all microbrews are $3.50 and that Sundays can be toasted with half-price bottles of wine. Spider Kelly's is open only for dinner right now, but that's seven days a week, from 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

When I unexpectedly catch Freshman on the phone one morning, he jokes, "We're not usually in before noon."

Burgers and entrees, $7-$14.

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