The number of hip food and drink options in Capitol Riverfront is rapidly expanding, with new restaurants, bars and breweries continuously popping up around the neighborhood. Part of the area’s charm is that it has universal appeal, drawing the game day crowd and locals as much as DC area foodies and hop heads looking to treat their palates. We caught up with five of the masterminds behind the Riverfront’s burgeoning hospitality scene, from chefs to bartenders, to tap into what makes their locations unique and why they chose the ‘hood to lay down professional roots.
Chef Rusty Holman of Due South
On Tap: What inspired you to open Due South?
Rusty Holman: I have always had an interest in Southern cuisine and BBQ. It’s the food I grew up eating in North Carolina. So when I decided to team up with the guys at Bayou to open a new place, everyone agreed that the natural direction to head was Due South.
OT: What sets Due South’s menu apart from Bayou’s?
RH: At Due South, we are highlighting regional Southern cuisine with an emphasis on smoked meats and fresh seafood. It’s more of tour of the South with flavors from the [South Carolina] Lowcountry, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, Georgia and all of the [other] Southern states.
OT: Why did you bring the concept of larrupin’ to Due South?
RH: Larrupin’ is an expression my grandfather, who lived in Arkansas, used to frequently say if something was really tasty. So it’s always stuck with me as an expression meaning “exceedingly delicious.”
OT: Why does the Capitol Riverfront feel like home to Due South?
RH: I really like the energy that The Yards has. I think Due South’s down-home feel makes us a great addition to the neighborhood.
OT: Would you describe Due South as a neighborhood restaurant?
RH: We have that neighborhood restaurant feel while at the same time [drawing] crowds from all over the region. We have gotten a good response from folks in the Capitol Hill area, as well as people traveling to The Yards looking for some tasty, Southern-inspired cuisine.
Due South: 301 Water St. SE, DC; www.duesouthdc.com
Bartende r Matt Benoit The Big Stick Restaurant & Sports Bar
On Tap: How does working at The Big Stick compare to past gigs?
Matt Benoit: I’ve never worked in a place where the conversations were so riveting and well-informed. We’ve also got the longest happy hour (3 to 7 p.m.) and best happy hour deals ($4 drafts, house wine and rail liquor) of any place I’ve worked, or seen, in DC.
OT: What’s the ambiance at the bar?
MB: The underlying current of it is a constant, welcoming friendliness. It’s contagious, creating a sense of camaraderie that overcomes sports, political and any other rivalries.
OT: What kind of crowd do you guys attract?
MB: We get a lot of people who appreciate trying new beers and enjoy eating seriously tasty foods.
OT: Name some unique craft beers on your menu.
MB: The Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen is a bit of a rarity, especially as a Hefe with a banana-like finish. We also have Bell’s Hopslam, which is a tough beer to get and is only available for a few months a year, [and] Gose beers, which we use to make some signature hoptails.
OT: Any customer favorites?
MB: Our most requested and intriguing item on the drink menu is the shotski, which is a stylized ski with four holes for shot glasses. If you hear the bartenders call out “Shotski,” you know it’s going to be a good night!
OT: What’s your preferred spot to hang in Capitol Riverfront?
MB: Lot38 [Espresso Bar DC] is my primary pre-work spot. They get me going in the morning before a long day shift.
Chef Leo Garcia of Scarlet Oak
On Tap: What is your creative process for selecting each seasonal menu at Scarlet Oak?
Leo Garcia: I’m constantly looking for new and creative ideas for dishes. Often times, I’ll look at what our distributors have and see what I can come up with. This way everything is seasonal and super fresh.
OT: Can you give us a sneak peek of what will change on the menu in the next few months?
LG: Look for lots of bright items. We’ve got a great cavatelli pasta dish that features pancetta, asparagus, Fresno peppers and some basil. [It’s] a really nice introduction to spring.
OT: Are there any dishes currently offered at the restaurant that you’re particularly proud of?
LG: I am really proud of my ravioli dish. All of our pastas are made from scratch, and the ravioli is no exception. I braise beef brisket and stuff the ravioli, creating a rich and delicious flavor profile.
OT: When you’re not working, what are your favorite places to hang out in Capitol Riverfront?
LG: I really enjoy Yards Park. I try to take my kids there as often as possible.
OT: What upcoming events in the neighborhood are you looking forward to?
LG: I love how the neighborhood is so great at hosting different events, because it drives business for all of the restaurants. I don’t get to partake in too many of the events, but maybe one day I can enjoy a concert at The Yards.
GM Ryan McCullough of Bluejacket
On Tap: Why did the Bluejacket team select the Boilermaker Shops as its home base?
Ryan McCullough: Because of its vast empty space, the possibilities for developing and building a boundary-pushing brewery were almost limitless. We were very excited to be at the forefront of the expansion of this now burgeoning community.
OT: What makes Bluejacket a brewery without boundaries?
RM: We have an extremely talented brew team that is encouraged to always experiment and push the envelope when developing new beer recipes.
OT: What are the signature flavors of Bluejacket beers?
RM: The first is Forbidden Planet, which is a kölsch-style beer dry-hopped with an Australian varietal of hop called Galaxy. Lost Weekend has been dubbed as the best IPA in DC by many of its fans. Last but certainly not least is a beer that has developed a cult following among the local DMV consumers – Mexican Radio, our sweet stout further spiced with cinnamon, ancho chiles, cacao nibs and vanilla beans.
OT: How does the fare served at Arsenal complement Bluejacket’s offerings?
RM: Chef Marcelle has developed a menu that draws from central European cooking, where historically the most prolific beer has been brewed. The backbone of the menu comes from all the locally and responsibly sourced ingredients available to us.
Bluejacket: 300 Tingey St. SE, DC; www.bluejacketdc.com
Bartender Alexandra Hall of Gordon Biersch, Navy Yard
On Tap: Tell me a little bit about the onsite brewery and the craft beers you offer.
Alexandra Hall: [Brewmaster] Travis [Tedrow] is awesome at everything he creates in our brewery. [He] takes his time and explains what he is doing for people that don’t have experience brewing. And [the brewery is] always incredibly clean and organized.
OT: What’s your drink of choice on the menu?
AH: Hefeweizen – refreshing beer for all seasons that is unfiltered and has a mild banana and clove aroma to it.
OT: What makes the experience at Gordon Biersch unique to visiting another restaurant or brewery in Capitol Riverfront?
AH: [We have] scratch beer and a scratch kitchen with good bar specials daily.
OT: Name your hands-down favorite thing to do in the neighborhood.
AH: [Going] to see the Nats play, and the bar crawls in the area with all the new places.
Gordon Biersch: 100 M St. SE, DC; www.gordonbiersch.com
Ice Cream Jubilee
Victoria Lai says the first time she saw Yards Park several years ago, she knew she had stumbled upon one of the best-kept secrets in DC. The former presidential appointee attorney turned ice cream maven was inspired to translate the flavors unearthed during her exploration in the local culinary and mixologist scene, as well as her childhood memories and international travels, into desserts she could share with others. From honey lemon lavender ice cream to caramel coconut cashew sorbet, Lai takes pride in presenting one-of-a-kind options to patrons. This summer, she’s looking forward to returning to Ice Cream Jubilee’s roots and rolling out her ice cream cart to all of the picnics in the neighborhood. Her favorite local event? “I love the summer concert series and all the energy [it brings] to the Capitol Riverfront.” Ice Cream Jubilee: 301 Water St. SE, DC; www.icecreamjubilee.com