St. Anselm never set out to be a steakhouse. "We got dubbed a steakhouse," says restaurateur Joe Carroll. "The idea was that seafood, vegetables, all of it, was going to be very important. It wasn't just about steak by any means." Now, he's preparing to debut a second outpost of his Brooklyn tavern in a town that used to be known solely for meat and potatoes.
The D.C. location of St. Anselm is slated to open in the Union Market neighborhood on September 17. It's a joint venture between Carroll and restaurant mogul Stephen Starr (who also owns Le Diplomate a couple of miles away), and it will be helmed by Top Chef alum Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Smoked & Stacked and the late Ripple.
While St. Anselm is more than a steakhouse, they do take a reverential approach to steak. Along with the expected rib eye and New York strip, the menu also features several unconventional beef selections. But Carroll doesn't like the term "off-cuts." "They're just not the famous luxury cuts that people usually go crazy about at steakhouses. But I think they're incredibly flavorful and approachable, price-wise," he explains. There's the famed hanger steak that gets rave reviews in Brooklyn, as well as the flat iron. "It's really flavorful and tender and just eats so well," he says.
The heritage breed meat is antibiotic- and hormone-free and comes from local farms whenever possible. In most cases, it is grass-fed and grain-finished. "It's like the best of both worlds. It's what the cow should be eating for the most part, but then the grain at the end—the corn—adds a lot of flavor and fat," Carroll says.
"The philosophy was to source really great ingredients and just make them taste really great without doing too much to them, without getting too in the way," Carroll adds. This applies not just to meat, but everything that enters the kitchen. Meek-Bradley works with local producers like Seven Hills Farms, Autumn Olive Farms, Earth 'n Eats, Path Valley Farms, ProFish and Elysian Fields.
When it comes to the menu, "I'm over swooshes," Meek-Bradley says. "I just want a good piece of meat, a good sauce or a beautiful vegetable with some nice olive oil." She and Carroll have developed a menu that reflects this—a majority of dishes are grilled and simply dressed, like clams with herbs and Chartreuse butter or pork porterhouse with apricot chutney.
"The grill is the heart of the restaurant," Meek-Bradley says. Both on the menu and in the design—it's in the center of the dining room behind a long chef's counter. "Everything kisses the grill at some point or another." That's even true for raw plates, like the grilled peaches that garnish kampachi crudo and the grilled flatbread to accompany lamb tartare.
Sides are also far from traditional steakhouse fare—pair your protein with pan-fried mashed potatoes (like a mashed potato pancake), cauliflower with tahini and puffed amaranth or creamy kale.
Carroll had a hand in putting together the wine list, which has a mix of classic Old World producers, established American producers as well as young, up-and-coming producers. "It's in no way an obvious steakhouse wine list at all. We're going to have way more light-bodied, high-acid, chillable reds on the list…than typical Bordeaux, Cabernet," he says. "We'll probably be one of the few steakhouses in the world I think that would recommend Champagne or Chablis with steak [in addition to] reds." There will also be a concise selection of beers and cocktails.
The space has a vintage 1880s feel to it, with warm wood paneling, ornate chandeliers and intricately patterned rugs, but Carroll was careful to keep it playful. "If you take it too seriously, then it seems silly. It's one thing if we had been around here for 80 years or something like that."
Embroidered fraternal order banners adorn the brick walls, and Carroll even had a banner made of the restaurant's logo—a fish strapped to a baby chicken's back, which was adapted from a defunct chicken feed company's logo.
The onyx u-shaped island bar is framed by black shelving stacked with fezzes, a taxidermied raccoon and a clock that has masonic imagery and livestock instead of numbers. The tap handles are made from deer antlers. Underneath the bar top are not just bag hooks, but outlets with USB ports. "It's a necessity," Carroll says. "You go into bars and there's like 20 phones behind the bar that people are charging." Booths are also equipped with power stations.
The dinnerware is a combination of vintage items, old stock plates from the U.S. Navy mess hall and custom plates with images of grouse and stags.
While much of the design is an amalgamation of touches that intrigued Carroll, the fraternal paraphernalia is a nod to the old eating clubs frequented by theater actors and producers, like Keens Steakhouse in New York.
From there, it's just one more jump to beefsteak dinners. These political fundraising events took place in Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1850s. Guests wore aprons and tenderloin was served on pieces of bread, sans utensils. "Nobody really eats the bread, they kind of stack it up as a marker to see how much meat you've actually eaten," he explains. In the 1930s, the dinners died out, except for in the New Jersey town where Carroll grew up.
St. Anselm's beefsteak room is modeled after the originals, with folding chairs hung on the wall (these were standing affairs). They plan to host regular beefsteaks, but the menu will feature much more than tenderloin. The space will also be available for private events. "I've wanted to do this for a long time now," Carroll says.
St. Anselm will be open for dinner on Monday, September 17, followed by brunch later in the month and eventually lunch.
Photos courtesy of St. Anselm.