First Bite Review: Matchbox Capitol Hill
"Awesome!" responds our waiter at Matchbox on Capitol Hill (521 Eighth St. SE; 202-548-0369) to every request for food or drink. A spinoff of Matchbox in Chinatown, the newcomer instantly became the hottest place to eat on Barracks Row when it opened its doors earlier this month.
The vegetable pizza is "awesome," and so is the shrimp and grits, according to the server. When she returns to see if everything is okay, and we nod, she flashes a big smile and says . . . take a guess.
A friend and I think we know where the server caught her enthusiasm: Everywhere we look in this former vending machine warehouse turned two-story funhouse, we see managers giving staff members high-fives and pats on the back. "That's the way we do things," says co-owner Perry Smith, who says he subscribes to a "chest-bump" management style.
Oven-singed, thin-crust pizza and mini-burgers with an Everest of fried onion strings are among the draws here, as they are at the original location. But chef Jonny Mac (that's his name gracing the daily fish special, skin-on rockfish with Brussels sprouts on our visit) is doing some stretching in his new digs. The aforementioned shrimp and grits makes for a decadent and delicious start; its shellfish comes bundled in bacon, the grits are tasty with cheese, and a little green sail of fried basil adds a touch of class to the plate. The dessert menu includes a cone of piping-hot doughnut holes that will leave takers showered in confectioners' sugar if they're not careful. The balls are flecked with orange zest, offered with a coffee-spiked custard sauce, and hard to stop munching.
The cool place to find yourself is inside an oak cube on the ground floor, which seats four and is open on two sides. Typically, says Smith, investors and regulars from Chinatown get shown to "The Matchbox."
Our perch near the restroom in back is subject to lots of human traffic and plenty of smiles on the faces of some of the younger patrons as they keep returning to the scene. Small bladders, we wonder? The lure, I later discover, is a high-tech dryer found in both restrooms that requires users to dip their just-washed hands into a slot, through which air blasts away moisture at a noisy but entertaining 400 mph.