First Bite

First Bite: Columbia Firehouse in Alexandria

At Columbia Firehouse in Alexandria, chef Orlando Hitzig cooks food that is straightforward, a little Southern and priced to please.
At Columbia Firehouse in Alexandria, chef Orlando Hitzig cooks food that is straightforward, a little Southern and priced to please. (By James M. Thresher For The Washington Post)
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By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

About a month and a half after he closed Mark and Orlando's in Dupont Circle this past spring, Orlando Hitzig ran across an advertisement on Craigslist from a restaurant in need of a chef for two dining concepts under one roof.

"It was deja vu all over again," jests Hitzig, 37, whose Washington restaurant opened in 2005 with a fine-dining menu on the first floor and casual food upstairs. He interviewed for the gig and was subsequently hired by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group to launch its seventh establishment, the warm-in-wood-and-brick Columbia Firehouse.

The restaurant, which replaces Bookbinder's Old Town in Alexandria, is a nod to the firehouse that occupied the site long ago. "Our newest restaurant is actually 126 years old," announces NRG on the Columbia Firehouse Web site.

Those who ate at Mark and Orlando's will be familiar with the cooking at Columbia Firehouse, which eased into service last month with the casual part of its plan on the lower level of the restaurant. (A yet-to-be-named dining room highlighting steaks and chops is expected to follow sometime next month, says Michael Babin, co-owner of NRG.) For now, the food at Columbia Firehouse is straightforward, a little Southern and priced to please.

What could be more comforting in a recession than a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup? It's one of a handful of "snacks" that include crisp little hush puppies enclosing a rich surprise: crab. Entrees are billed as "supper" here. They include baby back ribs with smoky appeal and juicy roast chicken presented with a cornbread and andouille sausage stuffing. There are bistro steaks, too, including a decent sirloin with tasty creamed spinach for $19. Be sure to make room for the muffin-size blueberry financier, served warm with maple cream. The dessert is a delicious carryover from Hitzig's last restaurant.

Mark and Orlando's might be history, but the team behind the title has remained intact. Former co-owner and host Mark Medley is working as a waiter at Columbia Firehouse until he finds another position.

Columbia Firehouse, 109 S. Saint Asaph St., Alexandria. 703-683-1776; http://www.columbiafirehouse.com. Entrees, $16-$23.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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