Sidle up to the bar at Anxo, and it will be hard to resist the beautiful spread of snacks within arm’s reach: pillowy slices of Spanish tortilla, montaditos topped with marinated eggplant and pepper, and anchovies — so many anchovies. If you’ve ever had the fantasy of ordering “One of everything, please,” the Truxton Circle restaurant’s pinxto menu will be your happy place.
That’s because pinxtos (pronounced peen-chos), native to Spain’s Basque region, are smaller than small plates. They’re one- or two-bite dishes, so don’t be afraid to order a bunch of them. They have a perfect partner in the thoughtful, interesting ciders that Anxo (an-cho) goes to great lengths to produce: Reached on a Wednesday afternoon, co-owner Sam Fitz had just returned from foraging about 100 pounds of apples in Accokeek, Md. The restaurant also grows apples in its small yard off Florida Avenue, and Fitz forages from a dozen trees around the District, on homeowners’ property (he gets permission) or in median strips.
“We just pressed the first of our D.C. fruit,” he said. “We only got one gallon.”
But now that we’ve entered apple season, Anxo will kick its production into high gear. As the District’s first licensed winery — it’s designated as such because cider is made from fermenting fruit — Anxo has ambitious plans to revive the region’s cidermaking traditions, which date back to colonial times. Currently, its marquee ciders are made in collaboration with Vermont cidery Eden and Maryland’s Millstone Cellars, but in November, Anxo plans to open a facility on Kennedy Street NW that will allow it to produce up to 5,000 gallons. By the spring, Anxo’s first solo-made ciders will be ready to serve.
“Blending is really what’s at the heart of making good cider,” said Fitz, formerly of ChurchKey and Meridian Pint. “We’re going to do as many different fermentations as we can, both at our facilities and others’.”
The ciders are complex: funky, tart, fragrant. Stick your nose in the glass, and you might get notes of cheese, eggs or, in the case of a unique rosé cider made by Snowdrift, perfume. The menu groups them by flavor notes, whether they’re sour or sweet; “Structured” indicates one that is well-balanced. The draft Basque and Asturian ciders are served in bottles so guests can keep refreshing their glasses.
“You want to pour per gulp,” a server instructed us — and from on high, to aerate it. The bottles come equipped with a nozzle called an escanciador to help prevent splashing.
“It’s like training wheels for free-pouring,” said Fitz. “We thought that our floors were going to be an endless struggle, to keep them clean.”
Luckily, that hasn’t been the case, though the soon-to-come introduction of a porron — a traditional, spouted vessel for pouring drinks into one’s mouth from a distance — could complicate things on the janitorial side.
Anxo has a wine pub permit, so if you like a bottle, you can buy it to go. In addition to their own ciders, Fitz and his team curated a list of others from France, England and across the United States. Wines are Basque, beers are (mostly) American, and vermouth, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, is half-price — and a great companion on the patio. Inside, boldly patterned tile and imported graphical sardine tins vibe with a laid-back soundtrack and a giant cider cask in the stairwell.
Those who have traveled to Spain may have fond memories of the pinxtos that came gratis with their drinks: pan con tomate, or a dish of olives, perhaps. But this is America, where — like freedom — pinxtos are not free. Prices hover around $3 or $4 for most of them, which feels fair for a hearty slice of bread topped with chistorra sausage and aged Manchego, but less so for the single anchovy, olive and petite guindilla pepper skewered on a little toothpick (as high-quality as that anchovy might be).
There are, to invoke a culinary oxymoron, bigger small plates, such as chef Alex Vallcorba’s cider-poached octopus, nestled on a golden cloud of saffron mashed potatoes. The kitchen turns out nice vegetable dishes, including a grilled squash topped with slivers of sheep’s milk cheese, and a tangle of green onions in a romesco that will make you scrape your plate. And the 26-ounce bone-in rib-eye, cooked beautifully rare, claims to be for two but could just as easily serve four.
Anxo’s food doesn’t usurp that of Washington’s preeminent Spaniard, José Andrés. But the marriage of pinxtos and cider makes it special, and the cidery’s ambition makes it an important restaurant to watch.
Anxo, 300 Florida Ave. NW. 202-986-3795. anxodc.com. Pinxtos $1.50 to $4, small plates $9-$16, $65 for the steak for two. Tom Sietsema will return next week.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Anxo was in Ledroit Park. It is in Truxton Circle.