Dinner Deals Meals Under $15

Dinner Deals: Light Horse in Alexandria

By Julia Beizer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 2009

At a glance: It doesn't take long for John Jarecki to own up to being a bit of a nerd. He would have to be. Only a true history buff would name his restaurant after Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, Revolutionary War hero and father of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

"I had a bunch of other names for that place, but the Light Horse really worked the best," says Jarecki, 33, who owns the restaurant with Nicole Landini, daughter of one of the owners of Old Town's longstanding Landini Brothers restaurant. Jarecki says the name has resonated with neighborhood residents, who are well versed in Lee trivia because the family lived in the Alexandria enclave for some time. Landini and Jarecki have long been involved in the NoVa restaurant scene; the Light Horse marks their first venture on their own.

The six-month-old restaurant fits right into the King Street landscape. Fresh flowers grace every table in the pleasant downstairs dining room. It is accented with cheery yellow paint and exposed brick walls and wooden rafters. Upstairs has a neighborhood-bar vibe, with flat-screen TVs, pool and shuffleboard tables, and a small stage for bands and DJs. The full menu is available on both floors until 11 p.m., but late-night diners can nosh on appetizers and sandwiches until 1 a.m.

On the menu: Appetizers steal the show at the Light Horse. Glistening barbecue sauce glazes bacon-wrapped shrimp. Almond-stuffed dates -- also wrapped in bacon -- are sweetened with a balsamic reduction and served on a bed of tangy greens. The restaurant's smoked "naked" wings are a far cry from sports-bar hot-wings fare; they're crusted with spices and best when dunked in the restaurant's house-made ranch dressing. Cheese-covered "dressed" potato chips are essentially a twist on nachos, but with potato crisps standing in for corn. The nuts and berries salad generously jumbles greens, raspberries, nut-crusted goat cheese and cinnamon-sugar-coated pecans.

A large selection of sandwiches and burgers anchors this menu, and a few are not to be missed. The Big Cheese panini oozes with three melted cheeses laced with garlic. Cheese also smothers a filet of fish in the restaurant's rendition of a tuna melt, topped with a pile of arugula. Sandwiches are served with the restaurant's traditional fries, but spend the $1.50 to upgrade to the sweet potato variety. Seemingly devoid of grease, the orange slivers come with a tasty bacon mayonnaise.

The brunch menu also holds one of the Light Horse's truest delights: a meat-lover's Benedict. An open-face pork belly sandwich is topped with a poached egg that drizzles atop the meat and the grilled challah slice below.

Entrees include comfort food favorites such as mussels, pork tenderloin and meatloaf. The vegetarian-friendly lasagna was a personal favorite for its mix of eggplant and mushrooms and not-overly-gooey texture. (The menu calls out dishes that are lactose-, gluten- or nut-free and those that are vegetarian.)

Moorenko's ice cream, available with all desserts for an extra $2, is a creamy complement to the sweet-tart strawberry-rhubarb-Meyer-lemon cobbler.

At your service: The staff is friendly and welcoming. Wear a Nationals T-shirt into the restaurant and one of the hosts is likely to chat you up about the home team.

What to avoid: Potato-leek soup is mild by definition, but this variety could have used at least a touch of spice to enliven the thick puree. The BL Cheese, a grilled-cheese variation with bacon and roasted tomatoes, had more bacon than the promised Parmesan. The kitchen turns out lovely presentations (towering columns of burger and bun, swirls of sauces surrounding the sandwiches), but it should focus more on cooking to order. My tuna melt and a King Street burger came out overcooked.

Wet your whistle: The restaurant boasts 12 beers on tap, and most are available by the pitcher, including craft beers such as Bell's and standards such as Miller Lite. Wine and mixed drinks are available, as are soda and juice. Cups of coffee come in oversize mugs.

Bottom line: Downstairs for date night or upstairs for game night, the Light Horse is a classic neighborhood hangout. The appetizers alone could satisfy any late-night craving.

The Light Horse
715 King St., Alexandria (Metro: King Street)
Phone: 703-549-0533
Hours: Open Monday 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Prices: Appetizers $5.45-$7.95, Entrees $7.45-$21.95.
Wheelchair access: Downstairs is easily accessible by wheelchair.
Kid-friendly: The restaurant has a kids' menu and highchairs.

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