While the restaurant industry as a whole is facing an existential crisis, restaurants themselves have come to ask—what exactly is a restaurant? Or perhaps, what can a restaurant be? Gone are the basic notions of dinner service set within the four walls of a dining room. And gone is the notion that restaurants are static concepts fixed within a cuisine type.
Chefs are cooking for our collective comfort now, leaning into maximally pleasing burgers and buttery rolls filled with crunchy-creamy-tangy things, no matter what their original menus used to be. They are bringing the best of the season straight to our homes and, at times, helping us recreate missed summer vacations. They are reading the room and giving us all the sweet, sweet, nostalgic desserts we need right now.
But you’d better act fast because these limited time menus, pop-ups and collaborations are as fleeting as they are enticing.
One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide Washington D.C. 2020
Summer Rental at The Dabney is the best part of an oceanside vacation (the food, clearly) minus the least best part of a summer rental (the sand). Chef Jeremiah Langhorne and his team are, for the first time, cooking up a special Atlantic coast-inspired menu that draws from the Northeast for its buttery lobster rolls all the way down South for its corn and chive hush puppies. The menu is available on Wednesdays and Sundays for outdoor patio dining in Blagden Alley (Summer Rental will not be available Labor Day weekend, a special holiday menu will be available instead). This is just one new format the kitchen is experimenting with—the restaurant recently announced weekend breakfast. Reservations for Summer Rental are required and can be made on Tock.
The popular Happy Gyro pop-up concept from Chef Johnny Monis returns this year after several successful runs in 2019. The Greek-American menu (inspired by Monis’ family restaurant in Alexandria, where he once worked) relies solely on vegetables for creations like The Fryro—oregano-kissed crispy potatoes and juicy-crispy pickles wrapped in a tender flatbread—or “cheeseburgers” with crisp-edged patties made from freekeh. The Mediterranean by way of suburban Virginia is also present in pizzas, subs and deep-fried snacks—and all of it is vegetarian. But don’t stop there, there are an abundance of dishes that make the most of fleeting seasonal produce, a head-spinning selection of sweets and wine pairings.
Bronzed slabs of low-and-slow roasted pork spare ribs have put The Federalist Pig at the top of DC’s barbecue scene, and rightfully so. Those are still available for takeaway, thankfully, along with the rest of pitmaster Rob Sonderman’s skillful barbecue, much of it stuffed into oversize sandwiches. Back in April, Sonderman partnered with some friends at Afterwords Café (within Kramerbooks, an independent bookstore in Dupont Circle) to create an original menu of even more sandwiches. The Fedwich pop-up menu has a griddle-smashed burger, shaved ribeye cheesesteak, smoked pulled pork and fried chicken sandwiches. The sandwiches are available for pickup or delivery out of the Kramerbooks bookstore.
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday this pizza shop transforms into a Jewish deli serving bagels, schmears and all the fixings for your morning nosh. If All Purpose takes its cues from a New Jersey-style pizzeria, then the Delikatessen is an ode to the New York City deli. Choose between house-cured gravlax or smoked salmon from Brooklyn-based ACME; a pastrami sandwich called “The Katz” or the “Bleeker & Broome” made with eggs, cheese and beef salami. Stock up on bagel chips, pickles and plenty of appetizing-adjacent foods. Bagels are baked fresh daily by DC-based Bullfrog Bagels. And yes, there is a pizza bagel, too.
We could all use a vacation right now, it’s true. Chef/owner Adam Greenberg and his team at Coconut Club continue to bring the District their signature “vacation inspired” fare in the shape of spicy-saucy poke, kalua pork sliders and jerk-spiced mushrooms. Since boarding a plane for Hawaii or Jamaica is a little too risky right now, book a beach picnic kit instead. Soothe those frayed nerves with the likes of chilled shrimp stuffed into a fluffy brioche roll, a cup of crab and corn bisque, grilled veg and a chocolate whoopie pie. The best part? This trip will cost you less than $40.
The perfect neighborhood restaurant is now the perfect getaway. Though dine-in is still suspended at The Red Hen, Chef/Owner Mike Friedman and his team are cooking up an Island Summer pop-up menu for takeout. Looking to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia for inspiration and ingredients, the menu offers a concise selection of antipasti like a fregola salad or marinated summer tomatoes with Sicilian tuna; pastas like Sardinian maloreddus with spicy lamb sausage; a pan-roasted halibut entrée garnished with Sicilian olives; and desserts like tiramisu and fresh fruit sorbettos. Island Summer lasts until September 17th, after that Friedman is planning a new menu. If familiarity is what you’re after, the regular menu is always available.
For a few more days in September, Chef/Owner Johnny Spero is cooking up his special five-course menu from Bar Spero, the summer pop-up concept at Reverie’s patio. Alluding to Spero’s travels to the Basque region of Spain, the menu features a summer tomato gazpacho to start; madai crudo with smoked olive oil; the Reverie dry-aged burger or a Basque-style flatbread; and bread pudding to finish. The chef’s international experience at restaurants like Noma and Mugaritz ensures that each course is brimming with technique and flavor. The Bar Spero menu can be ordered for outdoor dining or to-go via Tock until September 12th when the Reverie menu returns.
Aside from hand-picking the produce that goes on sale at the restaurant’s own mini farmer’s market, Chef/Owner Ris Lacoste has been crafting the ultimate comfort food to keep guests sustained through the pandemic. Frozen “take me with you” meals such as chicken pot pie and lasagna come with finishing instructions (generally just a quick bake-off in a hot oven) or there are scones, biscuits, puff pastries and more sweet treats. This is all in addition to the regular seasonally-driven menu, which is being served for dine-in or for takeaway.