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Tom Sietsema Reviews 1905 and Spider Kelly's

Burger and a beer? At Spider Kelly's, the young watering hole in Clarendon, I tend to amend the alliterative bar request and ask for soup instead of a sandwich with my suds. Although the menu plays up its burgers, bulking up one choice with pork fat and selling all of them for half-price ($4) on Tuesdays, the chicken soup merits serious attention. It's a bowl your mom might dish up if your mom had whipped up her own stock, using the bones from roast chicken, thrown in plenty of carrots and seasoned the soup with fresh thyme and parsley. The strapping starter is priced for Everyman: $5.

The restaurant is the brainchild of Nick Freshman, 32, and Nick Langman, 33, chums from their days attending Edmund Burke, a private high school in Northwest Washington. Langman co-owns Clarendon Ballroom. Freshman has lots of restaurant experience, including stints at the Ballroom, Five Guys, Poste and Olives.

They aimed high when they launched their small restaurant last summer. As Freshman puts it, the business partners wanted "a bar with exceptional food." To that end, they, along with chef Dennis Camacho, late of the nearby Clarendon Grill, go a step or two further than other pubs. The bun on those burgers is good enough to eat on its own, the french fries are tasty with rosemary and fried garlic, and house-pickled vegetables add color and zest to the plates. The portion sizes suggest linebackers are eating the food; the quality of some of it encourages overconsumption.

You can't go wrong with poultry here, whether it's the aforementioned soup, a plate of meaty wings or a main course. In one entree, fresh chicken is fried to a shattering crisp a la Popeyes; in another, it's spiked with garlic and cumin and able to pass for the kind of bird available at your favorite Latino rotisserie. Both are first brined, both are juicy and both are extremely satisfying.

I never warmed up to the burgers here. (The addition of pork fat in one gives the ground beef a funky taste. Another time, my request for "medium-rare" translated as raw.) But the shrimp po' boy, dressed up with a tangy tangle of slaw, and the grilled steak, glossy with shallot butter, sustained my interest from visit to visit.

The vegetarian at my table didn't go away hungry, but he didn't sample the kitchen's best efforts, either. Curly pasta with spinach, red peppers and a splash of cream tasted like one of those meals you whip up from a little of this and a little of that in the refrigerator. "Cardiac" macaroni and cheese is listed as a side dish but is big enough to qualify as a meal, although it's so underseasoned, I don't think anyone would want more than a few bites. I like the kitchen's green salads, though, which include a hill of chopped romaine tossed with crisp green beans and red pepper strips and moistened with a creamy buttermilk-based dressing.

The service runs casual and efficient ("Seat yourself," a server suggests), and the Nicks put some thought into the look of their lounge-y space. It's dark and seductive, with arty photographs shot by Freshman's brother (and the general manager) Ben on the walls and a small black-granite bar near the front window that dispenses half-price wine, beer and rail drinks on Sundays and Mondays between 5 and 8 p.m.

Chocolate chip cookies are baked to order, and they show up with a glass of milk. Banana cream pudding, embellished with vanilla wafers and whipped cream, went around and around my table until there was not a lick left. It was a comfort, much like Spider Kelly's.

1905: Open: dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. All major credit cards. No smoking. Street parking. Metro: U Street. Prices: appetizers $7 to $9, entrees $10 to $22.

Spider Kelly's: Open: dinner daily 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. All major credit cards. No smoking. Street parking. Metro: Clarendon. Prices: appetizers $5 to $12, entrees $6 to $14.


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