Good news on Capitol Hill

(Scott Suchman)
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's 7 o'clock on a Sunday night, and Ted's Bulletin is indulging me with a favorite meal: breakfast for dinner.

The hash browns are lacy and crisp, while my scrambled eggs are rolled up inside a tortilla with juicy sirloin and melted cheddar cheese. The menu, designed to look like an old-fashioned newspaper, dubs the bundle on my plate the Walk of Shame Breakfast Burrito, which I make more hedonistic by chasing it with a tequila-and-chutney-fueled Chattaroy cocktail. Whoo-hoo!

The possibility of all-day eggs, biscuits, pancakes and even house-baked "Pop-Tarts" helps explain the allure of this sunny three-meal addition to Barracks Row on Capitol Hill, which seems to sprout a new place to eat every month. Ted's Bulletin is from the guys who own the Matchbox collection of popular pizza-and-burger joints, one of which is down the street. Their latest production memorializes the gregarious father of two of the four business partners, Mark and Ty Neal. (The other partners are Drew Kim and Perry Smith.)

Fact: The cooking and service at Ted's are a little uneven. But it's also true that even though the restaurant doesn't take reservations (boo! hiss!), I always look forward to hanging out there.

The bartenders are great. "Welcome to Ted's!" they invariably call out from behind the wooden counter that, along with a bakery display, opens the all-American restaurant. Those mixers of liquids aren't just friendly; they also whip up some fine drinks. Old Mingo Square is rousing with Sazerac rye whiskey, cognac and sweet vermouth, while the Hamlin Rose refreshes with white port and peach bitters.

The likely wait for a table in the rear dining room at prime time has an upside: the chance for customers to take in all the thought that went into the place, starting with a facade that features a window framing Ted's bakers at work, perhaps icing those delightful, strawberry-preserve-filled Pop-Tarts. Created in part from art deco grillwork, marble and light fixtures reclaimed from the old Philadelphia Civic Center, the bar area is a beaut. Mounted on the wall are boards listing milkshakes that extend to 20 or so flavors and come in two styles: with or without booze. Peppermint and caramel macchiato milkshakes don't require showing identification; Grasshopper and Tequila Sunrise do.

More nostalgia is served in the booth-lined dining room, which, thanks to a faded sign on the yellow-brick wall and a "rusted" pressed-tin ceiling, feels as if it has been around for decades rather than mere months. Old movies are beamed onto the front wall by a faux-antique projector suspended from the center of the ceiling. Neat touch: The films, which have included "Singing in the Rain," "Some Like It Hot" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" on my visits, come with captions. They have to, really, since the roar of the crowd would drown out the audio. Ted's is not the place for a quiet night away from home.

The restaurant is, however, a fine spot for some old-fashioned cooking. James Beard and June Cleaver could have been consultants on the menu, which runs to egg salad and tuna sandwiches, roast chicken and satisfying spaghetti topped with jawbreaker-size meatballs, a kicky tomato sauce and rafts of Texas toast. Sirloin, fried in a buttermilk batter and dolloped with peppery white gravy is a true comfort. The meatloaf is two soft slabs brushed with a bright-red sauce of ketchup, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce that ricochets from zesty to sweet. Like most of the main dishes, this one comes with a choice of two sides. Soft-cooked green beans and whipped potatoes nicely rounded out my plate. But I would have been just as pleased eating the entree with a couple of Ted's other options: Brussels sprouts tricked out with bacon and blue cheese, and textbook-perfect macaroni and cheese paved in airy and golden bread crumbs and delivered in a tiny cast-iron skillet.

Appetizers consist mostly of soups or salads. The former -- minestrone, chili -- are too hearty for what has been a blazing summer, but I look forward to reengaging with the chicken noodle soup come fall or my next cold. The bowl is generous with shreds of chicken, carrots and flat, stamp-size noodles. Homey stuff. Ted's super-size salads are best shared. An abundant "Italian" barge sailed to the table laden with chopped iceberg lettuce scattered with yellow peppers, bits of salami, cheese cubes and olives, plus that thick toast. Four of us were able to graze on the bounty.

The Sloppiest Joe is an apt name for the mound of ground beef, red pepper and more heaped on a griddled sesame seed bun. But you'd better eat the behemoth with the pickles that ride shotgun on the plate, because the meat verges on cloying. I'm partial to the hamburgers, offered eight ways and flanked by hot, hand-cut fries.

Ted's catch of the day ("hopefully fish," jokes the menu) tastes more like 2010 and gives the chef a chance to strut a bit. One night's special, grilled swordfish with bright pickled vegetables, also balances a food selection that tilts to what's heavy.

Except for their fruit, the pies aren't as memorable as the cakes, which include a super-moist carrot cake and anothersure to appeal to fans of Reese's Pieces: Layers of chocolate cake and peanut butter frosting make an irresistible wedge.

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