By Aaron Blake - 12/06/07 08:17 PM EST
New England loves its clam chowder. New York City and Chicago take pride in their pizza and hot dogs. Could Washington’s signature dish become the quintessentially Belgian moules frites?
Judging from the stellar shellfish of Dr. Granville Moore’s Brickyard, the answer is: Absolutely. Named for the pioneering African-American doctor who once practiced in the building, Granville Moore’s aligns itself with the British “gastro-pub” revolution, offering a core group of gourmet dishes to complement an extensive drink menu.
Indeed, the moules frites (mussels with fries) on hand nearly eclipse the 50-plus Belgian beers the restaurant offers.
Credit that to Teddy Folkman, former chef of The Reef in Adams Morgan, who took over the kitchen after the unexpected early departure of the previous chef.
Walking a culinary tightrope in a kitchen with only four burners, a fryer and a small grill, Folkman and his staff deliver the goods. The menu’s star is the traditional moules mariniers, steamed in a fragrant white wine sauce, but Granville Moore’s quirkier mussels are arguably better.
One unforgettable pot of moules arrives bathed in a walnut-arugula pesto the color of freshly cut spring grass. Even mussels skeptics will relish the thicker texture of the sauce, which crunches with hand-crushed basil and calls for soaking in extra bread once all the fish is gobbled up. The mussels in mustard sauce are less pungent but just as tasty, studded with fennel-flecked Italian sausage.
Granville Moore’s joins Brasserie Beck downtown, Marvin in the U Street corridor and the rightly famed Bistrot du Coin in Dupont Circle to form a superstar lineup for moules frites in Washington. But the newest arrival to the rapidly gentrifying Atlas District of H Street NE is first and foremost a beer hall, serving Belgian brews both familiar and unsung.
You may have heard of Chimay, Kwak ale and lambic, the fruity Belgian beer made with spontaneous fermentation.
Granville Moore’s slings excellent examples of all three, along with Stella Artois at $4 a glass, a bargain by comparison with its other $8 pints.
Even so, beer lovers are advised to be adventurous. Granville Moore’s owner Chris Surrusco has experience with beer menus at Rustico in Northern Virginia and Capitol City Brewing Co., and his bartenders have a talent for offering the type of hops that suit your fancy.
Brasserie des Rocs is one of the most popular beers at the restaurant, and its velvety feel and smooth taste are reminiscent of competitors created by centuries-old methods. Take my word for it, order at least two of the varieties that Granville Moore’s serves, and don’t forget to hold your glass to the light to admire the beer’s unfiltered wildness of sediment.
Finding a clear light in the downstairs dining room, however, might be a challenge. The ambience at the new gastro-pub is funky but downscale, with next to no new décor and old bars spotted on the windows. In some ways, Granville Moore’s appears not yet finished growing into its overnight popularity.
Indeed, customers are advised to claim a table early, since both the upstairs and downstairs areas tend to fill up during the dinner rush and groups are given leeway to linger with extra beers after their meal. The overtaxed servers do not maintain a wait list, leaving patrons to pounce on seats when they open up.
Fortunately, the vibe among clientele is warm and welcoming, which helped when my group was asked to share a round table for five with another party. Our new friends helped finish the enormous dish of double-cooked frites that are ordered separately from pots of mussels.
Dressed in dried herbs, the frites are deliriously good with any of the six dipping sauces, though I preferred the creamy curry catsup and the stone-ground dijonnaise. The frites also appear alongside the menu’s few but fine sandwiches, including a bison burger and a chicken breast bathed in decadent prosciutto. The pretzel roll on the chicken sandwich gave me a Proust-like memory of fresh croissants enjoyed in Paris.
Chef Folkman said the key to Granville Moore’s is “really simple, rustic, wholesome, good-quality ingredients.” I would add “hearty” to that list of adjectives, remembering the hefty Caesar salad and appetizer of silky sea scallops on a bed of lentils.
And no hearty night of beer-sipping is complete without a rich dessert to coat your stomach, as Folkman came to realize. Early word on Granville Moore’s had patrons disappointed that the closet-size kitchen could not offer dessert, so the restaurant now brings in brownies homemade by the nearby Uptown Bakers. Thick as fudge and sweet enough to do without their accompanying caramel sauce, the brownies are out of this world.
With a little patience from hungry drinkers and a little daring from diners unsure about making the trek from the Hill, Granville Moore’s could be well on its way to making Washington a moules frites town. Just remember to take a page from the current administration and leave no mussel behind.