The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2018 Spring Dining Guide.
Restaurateur Jeff Black has a thing for seafood towers, a passion he drives home with DIY tiered trays that let diners select from nearly two dozen hot and cold items. Experience has taught me to home in on anything fried (oysters), grilled (octopus with fingerling potatoes) or pasta-based (lemony ricotta tortellini most recently). You read that right. The towers, offered in three sizes, are the most varied plateaus of my acquaintance. Named for Black’s grandmother, the restaurant unfolds across three dining rooms, the quietest of which is carpeted and looks into the bustling kitchen. The owner’s reputation as a seafood specialist has me ordering, and applauding, rockfish in a creamy clam chowder and shrimp scampi atop linguine, sharpened with gremolata. Meat eaters are welcomed with entrees including rib-eye for two, beefed up with crisp potatoes Anna and foie gras butter. Some plates can be a little busy, but they’re generous. Warning: The biscuits that start a meal can ruin your appetite if you’re not careful. The bread also underscores a truth: Lard and butter make life better.
Addie’s: 12435 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac. 301-340-0081. addiesrestaurant.com.
Open: Lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner daily, brunch weekends.
Prices: Lunch mains $11 to $22, dinner mains $18 to $36, brunch mains $11 to $23.
Sound check: 75 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The following review was originally published Jan. 24, 2018.
At the resurrected Addie’s, the seafood is towering — and the polish lacking
Jeff Black had every intention of opening his latest restaurant in Washington, preferably in a building with some age on it, preferably in Petworth or Shaw. But when a Maryland developer made an offer the chef says he couldn’t refuse, in a shiny slice of Potomac, Black responded by resurrecting a restaurant, Addie’s, whose clientele was chiefly drawn from Montgomery County.
Diners of a certain vintage might remember Addie’s as a charming if well-worn bungalow in Rockville with an eclectic American menu. (My last meal included goat scrapple and a free-form vegetable lasagna incorporating honey butter.) Named for Black’s Arkansas grandmother, the restaurant, introduced in 1995, was the first in a collection that grew to include the popular BlackSalt and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, both in Washington. Addie’s went dark five years ago, after its owner and its landlord couldn’t settle on a lease; the space now houses the globally inspired Helen’s on the Pike.
Addie Emerson is remembered anew at the splashy, five-month-old location, where a blown-up black-and-white photo of a high-heeled fisherwoman is displayed in the bar, and where hot biscuits come to the table in a paper bag that’s slit open to reveal Black’s childhood treat. Based on his grandmother’s recipe, the biscuits are rich on rich, thanks to lard in the dough and a brush with butter.
A second novelty appears on the first page of the menu, where another of Black’s passions is showcased. “I love seafood towers,” says the owner. “But not clams,” a frequent ingredient on tiered seafood platters. Addie’s beckons to a swath of tastes with towers in three sizes — petite ($78/seven items), grand ($92/nine items) and supreme ($110/12 items) — and nearly two dozen snacks from which to choose. What sets Addie’s apart from other plateau pushers, aside from the range of options, is the customers’ ability to create their own edible high-rise from hot and cold items.
Trips for towers have taught me that anything served hot and sporting a crust tends to be a sure thing. I love the crackle of cornmeal on slices of moist rockfish, served with Old Bay aioli, and fried oysters, cooled with a dip of Creole saffron sauce. Goat cheese croquettes drizzled with a sweet reduction of balsamic vinegar support my theory, too. Black might not like them, but clams stuffed with racy chorizo and a dusting of brioche, and finished with jalapeño aioli, are easy to dispatch. Crisp pork belly brushed with barbecue sauce puts some meat into the tower concept.
Some tweaks here and there would help. Mussels escabeche, for example, taste more of smoke than of seafood; it’s a surprise orders don’t prompt fire alarms. On one occasion, I was brought a tower where everything was served on crushed ice, including creamy lobster mac and cheese that quickly became cold. Black says the kitchen is still finessing the towers’ presentation. On a visit earlier this month, I was pleased to see cold and hot dishes arranged over seaweed instead of something icy.
If your mood (or your budget) negates ordering a tower, consider appetizers, some of them substantial enough to qualify as entrees. That’s true of my go-to, Vietnamese caramel salmon. Ribbons of cucumber and julienne carrots serve as a base for the fish; rings of fiery serrano and crushed peanuts decorate the surface. Close your eyes and you could be dining in Eden Center (a.k.a. Little Saigon in Falls Church).
Salads, including the original Addie’s popular Caesar salad, are bountiful and packed with flavor. Kale, like brunch, is something a lot of food critics can’t abide. Addie’s provides a good counter-argument for the sturdy green leaves, combined with juicy grapes, smoky lardons and crumbled feta cheese. The hodgepodge works.
Mussels in a warm bath of coconut milk, lemon grass and basil send you to the tropics for $16, and a trio of glass jars conjures a cocktail party with chicken liver mousse, smoked salmon rillettes and (I’m saving the best for last) zesty pimento cheese mixed with sweet shrimp bits. The spreads come with rafts of toasted bread and threaten to spoil you for main courses.
Addie’s never met an accessory it didn’t like. Sometimes, more is just more, however. A starter of calamari with olives, orecchiette pasta and threads of green tasted like a chef trying to use up leftovers. Maybe I would have liked it more if the calamari didn’t taste watery and if the dominant seasoning hadn’t been salt.
The kitchen can get sloppy. Overwhelmed by black pepper, cioppino would have served time had it been sold in San Francisco, home of the iconic seafood stew. Beef short ribs arrive dry, near Brussels sprouts that taste warmed over; the entree’s saving grace were its fried onion strings. A pork chop with collards and spoonbread is among the bestsellers, but the last time I ordered it, the meat was so undercooked you couldn’t cut it. To his credit, a manager whisked the problem away and offered soup as a holdover until the entree was remade. Smooth save.
The most consistent main course has been the whole roast chicken, among the restaurant’s dinners for two and shored up with spicy grits and glossy spinach in its copper pan. But specials have included splashes like the “everything”-spiced salmon paired with a potato cake and circled in a lemon-caper butter sauce.
In keeping with what precedes them, desserts are big and showy. They might include apple crisp topped with coconut streusel and dressed up with sour cream ice cream and dulce de leche, and a many-layered carrot cake that comes with candied carrot strips waving from the slice.
Addie’s spreads its 200 or so seats across a convivial bar and three distinct dining rooms: the sunny yellow “family” room, a darker “den” stocked with shelves of cookbooks and crockery, and a formal main dining room. The last is set off with a wall of wine and designed with a more mature clientele in mind — “carpets and quiet,” in the words of the owner, although the expansive window looking into the busy kitchen is entertainment anyone might appreciate.
Can the cooks glimpse their audience? One minute we’re pushing a plate away, another moment we’re reluctant to share. Pass the finesse, please.