But first, the owners assured concerned regulars that the change wouldn’t affect the quality of the three-level restaurant. “It’s not going to be Applebee’s,” Victoria let them know.
The couple closed the establishment for a month in August to refresh the interior, rewrote the menu to be more casual and shortened the name of their restaurant. When the place reopened, Trummer’s welcomed guests back with a brighter main dining room and family-friendly schnitzel and roast chicken on the list. Unseen but significant was a new toy for chef Jon Cropf, a rotisserie in the kitchen.
Good for the owners for changing things up as they saw fit. Walking into the restaurant after a long absence, however, I initially feel as though I’m in the wrong place. The front lounge, noisy and crowded on a recent Saturday, could pass for a sports bar. The airy upstairs dining room, wrapped in windows and set off with paddle fans near the ceiling, remains a looker. The clientele? Plenty of what appeared to be date-nighters and at least one young diner drinking from a sippy cup.
Cropf’s latest menu blends classical, trend-conscious and easy-to-like dishes. You could start with herbaceous escargots and segue to beets au poivre, a vegetarian entree, if you wanted. But there are also more Austrian accents than before, a reflection of Stefan’s country of origin. Those that I’ve tried, I’ve welcomed. Be sure to order the house-baked pretzel rolls, delivered with a spread of paprika-nipped Liptauer, and sip from the restaurant’s greatly expanded list of Austrian wines.
Cropf, 36, a Maryland native who came to the restaurant from Charleston, S.C., almost four years ago, says the changes in the kitchen include fewer garnishes and different cuts of meat. No more saddle of venison, then.
Some of the best dishes begin in the water. Blue crab stars in a first course of raw diced kohlrabi, fennel and mint, bound in a dressing of yogurt and creme fraiche and speckled with sumac. Finer still is a salad of braised romaine that plays up sweet grilled shrimp and crisp sails of fried speck (another Austrian accent) on a lick of shrimp “bisque.” Fat scallops with cauliflower, shaved celery and toasted hazelnuts? Ja, please.
Spit-roasted chicken smacks of Thanksgiving with its honeynut squash and cornbread dressing, the latter a touch sweet for my taste. Give Cropf 72 hours’ advance notice and he can cook whole roasts — suckling pig, leg of lamb, duck — for a group.
A few plates make you question the trip from wherever you started. (Clifton is about 30 miles from downtown Washington.) Cannelloni stuffed with short ribs and mascarpone delivered a leaden appetizer that could pass for an entree and an oddly soupy risotto found us focusing mainly on its earthy mushrooms. But the mood in the dining room is merry, thanks chiefly to the table touches by the owners.
Pastry chef Meagan Tighe makes a satisfying Sacher torte, fancied up with gold leaf and tiles of dehydrated milk foam and chocolate meringue. But her most entertaining finish is S’mores. Smiles all around when presented with a bouquet of glossy vanilla marshmallows affixed to long skewers, destined for roasting over flames fed by wood chips in a small cast-iron burner. Leaves and pine framed our little campfire; inside the marshmallows hid a ball of peanut butter-chocolate ganache. Sweet! (In every sense.)
New to the lineup is weekend brunch. Anyone wishing to meet the North Pole’s best-known resident should stop by Dec. 1 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. We’re told Santa will be making an appearance.