The Washington Post

First Bite: Teddy & the Bully Bar

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said that President Theodore Roosevelt won a Pulitzer Prize. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. This version has been corrected.

Theodore Roosevelt-themed accents adorn Teddy & the Bully Bar in Dupont Circle. Proprietor Alan Popovsky, who also owns Lincoln, says a third presidential restaurant is in the works. (Amanda Voisard/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The owner of Lincoln downtown had 43 options for his second POTUS-themed restaurant, in Dupont Circle. Why did Alan Popovsky elect No. 26?

“I felt like Teddy Roosevelt was a president that ran on both sides of the aisle,” says the restaurateur, a fan of the robust naturalist, soldier and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Hence the June debut of Teddy & the Bully Bar. As fortune would have it, the restaurant sits across the street from a building where Roosevelt lived when he served as assistant secretary of the Navy.

Some $2 million was spent transforming the former Sam & Harry’s steakhouse into a 230-seat tribute to Roosevelt, where Popovsky says 50 artists contributed to its look. Among the interior attractions are
faux taxidermy, including a papier-mache moose and a bull made from denim and leather; a forest of birch trees assembled from pipes and plaster; and a wall that from a distance appears to be a rock formation but on closer inspection turns out to be 480 (count ’em!) miniature Mount Rushmores.

Teddy & the Bully Bar has mugs with Roosevelt’s mug on them (yes, you can buy them) and a 25-square-foot bakery area that Popovsky says makes for a more interactive dining experience. It’s now just for restaurant service, but the plan is to create a retail bread program in the future.

The president was known as a progressive, but did he really eat oyster flatbread, one of the dishes Michael Hartzer offers on his menu built around flavors from “Docks,” “Hearth,” “Garden” and “Plains”? The chef playfully refers to the snack as “an upside-down oysters Rockefeller.” Cold-smoked oysters on a spread of parsley and garlic, plus a crisp whole-wheat base playing the role of bread crumbs, support the billing.

During his spiel, our waiter mentions that dishes are meant to be shared and that they come out of a “roving” kitchen as they’re ready — a system that isn’t all that appealing for customers when the portions are restrained, as they are here, and when an order of meatloaf comes before a salad. (Die, trend, die!) Buttermilk onion rings make a nice munch, but they’re allocated like a garnish. Pickled shrimp with fennel and peppers is a cool start; fried chicken with pickled okra whispers with allspice. I like the roasted rockfish best for the kicky black-eyed peas on its plate.

Already, Popovsky is working on a third presidential tribute. Although a lease has yet to be signed for the undisclosed location, the restaurateur shares word that John F. Kennedy and his Francophile wife, Jacqueline, will be his next subjects.

Do I smell souffles down the road?

1200 19th St. NW. 202-872-8700. Small plates, $5 to $19.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.



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