The guy sitting on the other side of the bar at Hail & Hog Kitchen and Tap looked like someone had just stolen his dog. Or his girlfriend. Or both.
It was Monday night in Ashburn, a time when restaurants typically have to turn to drink specials, or Groupon, to fill seats. But this Monday marked the start of the Redskins season, and the two-story establishment at One Loudoun was packed with anxious fans, many decked out in burgundy and gold. I had to stalk Hail & Hog for 10 minutes before I spotted an open seat at the downstairs bar. When I arrived, the optimism around the place was palpable.
But by the fourth quarter, more than a few diners resembled the guy across the bar: Wearing a Redskins jersey, he was slumped in his seat, his face drained of all expression, a mix of too much beer and too many false promises. The Pittsburgh Steelers were putting a hurt on the Redskins on national television, and ESPN was training its cameras on franchise owner Dan Snyder, who looked as dejected as the dude across the bar. Redskins fans had approximately three quarters to revel in the team's inflated preseason expectations.
I didn't drive all the way to Ashburn to watch the game with fans. I drove all the way to Ashburn to check out Hail & Hog, the latest NFL team-branded restaurant launched by G.R.E.A.T Grille Group (g3 for short), which previously opened such pigskin attractions as the Indianapolis Colts Grille and the Houston Texans Grille. That g3 didn't incorporate the Redskins name into its Ashburn project suggests the group wanted to limit its hot potatoes to the kitchen.
Outfitted with Redskins memorabilia, big comfy booths and more high-def TVs than your local Best Buy, Hail & Hog looks like a cross between a sports bar, a steakhouse and Ruby Tuesday. Several of the drinks and dishes incorporate team-related puns: the Hail Mary (a Chesapeake riff on a bloody Mary), the Burger '32 (presumably a reference to the team's first season, in Boston alas) and the RFK Chop Salad (not "chopped salad," but chop, as in tomahawk). One can only presume the "Shitake & Roasted Tomato" flatbread was not a comment on the Redskins' current woes.
I decided to go whole hog. (Speaking of which, why isn't there a barbecue pork platter called the Hogs?) I ordered the dry-aged Virginia rib-eye ($38), medium rare, with a side of "loaded Redskin mashed potatoes." For a starter, I got the Maryland crab bisque ($8), sprinkled with a generous portion of lump meat.
The appetizer and entree arrived at the same time, no coursing, no fuss, no explanation. There was no silverware, either. My food started to cool as I tried to flag down a server for utensils, which eventually arrived one at a time, just as my food should have. First came the soup spoon, the rest a minute later. With utensils in hand, I noticed the steak knife was branded "Hail & Hog" on its blade. I wish the service were as sharp.
The kitchen grilled the steak to the correct temperature, searing crosshatch marks into the flesh for a little extra showmanship. What they forgot was the seasoning — or at least forgot to season the entire 16-ounce rib-eye. The haphazard salting forced the shallot-herb butter to take over. It couldn't handle the pressure, cratering like Kirk Cousins in the red zone. The cut looked like steak all right, pink and inviting in middle, but it mostly tasted of herbed butter. It was the damnedest thing.
The loaded mashed potatoes will probably haunt my dreams for life. In the middle of the night, I'll awake in a cold sweat, terrorized by the memory of this leaden mass of potatoes, bacon, cheese and what looked like the leftover scrapings from last week's Colorado omelets at IHOP. Freddy Krueger has a new name: loaded Redskin mashed potatoes.
The crab bisque wasn't much of an improvement. The soup was closer to paste, as if the kitchen got slap happy with thickeners. It was like eating tomato oatmeal. With crab meat on top.
As I signed my check and headed for the door, I looked across the bar one last time. The dejected Redskins fan had fled the scene, unable to take it anymore. I had the same feeling, but probably for different reasons.
Hail & Hog Kitchen and Tap, 20376 Exchange St., Ashburn. 571-446-4245. Entrees from $18 to $38.