Thursday, July 22, 2010

Brunching Barracks Row: Ted's Bulletin and The Chesapeake Room

As I noted in my recent NoVa restaurant geography post, I only recently made my first visit to Barracks Row. On a Saturday afternoon, we decided to check out Ted's Bulletin to take advantage of all-day breakfast. With a lengthy wait, we were forced to alter our plans.

We decided to instead stop in to the almost vacant restaurant next door, The Chesapeake Room. (Little did I know that others were taking advantage of the neighbor spot as well.) May I first say I love the plates (below), the website (I should also probably note that I adore old maps, so it's a given with the theme), and the decor here, which I would describe as nautical eclectic. The plates are straight out of the Eastern Shore summer home in Wedding Crashers. I thought for a minute about trying to fit a set in my bag, and then remembered that I had baby in tow, and needed to set a good example. (And for anyone who thought I was being serious, please, you need to read more of my blog.) Speaking of the baby in tow, the Chesapeake Room, while they tried to accommodate us, will not be making the little spies list. Our waitress was really baffled by how to handle the situation, and we had to encourage her along a bit.

But, TCR is the positive part of the review, so I should point out now that things were not all bad. These shiny, happy thoughts on TCR are largely attributable to the offerings on those aforementioned adorable plates. Going with the in-crowd concept, TCR focuses on local, sustainable seafood, and other seasonal ingredients. Everything is quite yummy here, particularly if you enjoy seafood. For our first course, we split the Lena's Eastern Shore Salad, full of smoked chicken, duck confit, and dried cherries, and lightly dressed with a mustard vinaigrette. It's the best salad I've had in recent memory, full of delightful smokey flavors. With the bounty of local seafood apparent on the menu, my tastes directed me to the seafood omelet for my entree. Stuffed with crab, shrimp, and mushrooms, it was scrumptious. The light hollandaise was a perfect compliment to add runny egg goodness whilst topping the otherwise in-tact omelet (I don't like my scrambled eggs or omelets even slightly loose). I even fought off an aggressive eight month-old to finish it. The special bison steak and eggs caught C's eye, and he raved about it as well. The cuisine here is simple, fresh, and unpretentious. It works for us. On the libations front, I also took advantage of a lemon-infused Bacon Mary. While the bacon doesn't add much to the drink, it is a tasty slab of fat for dipping. All in all, we have very good things to say about The Chesapeake Room and likely will return, perhaps with a more definitive child care plan.

Really thinking I had missed something special given the wait at Ted's Bulletin, I gave it another shot for a weekday lunch. As we had originally planned to brunch, I ordered a heavy takeout meal of biscuits and gravy, and the signature house-made pop-tart (no, I did not finish everything in one sitting). Granted, this was takeout, so judge the food accordingly, but I for one was not blown away. Biscuits and gravy should be a greasy treat, so I don't feel like this is a dish that should warrant criticism on holding back, but that's how I felt about Ted's version. The biscuits, dry and cakey, definitely lacked adequate fat content. And these are biscuits here, so we really shouldn't be having a philosophical debate about too much butter (or lard); there is no such thing with biscuits. The gravy was equally eh, pretty flavorless really. And, even my poached egg ended up a loser - I ordered it hard, and it came out runny (generally, I don't want my eggs poached too hard, but I wanted to preserve the integrity of the gravy in this dish, which in the end, was fruitless for multiple reasons). The dish was not a success. 

There was still a chance, however, with the much-buzzed-about pop-tart. The pastry, however, is not something I can recommend. This may have something to do with the fact that I'm not a particular fan of pop-tarts out the box, but I think it's more that I expected something a little better than the foil packaged variety. The icing was tasty on Ted's version, but the filling lacked flavor (which is saying something given that it's fruit) and the pastry itself was rather dry. Other than the novelty, I'm curious why others are such fans.  I will say that the service behind the bar at Ted's was fantastic. I was promptly taken care of, and the bartender continued to make eye contact to make sure I knew he had me in mind while I waited on my takeout. Even though he was nice, it's not enough to overcome the ho-hum food.

In the future, I will not be shy about exploring Barrack's Row. Nope, I know my directions now and I'll drive on over, walk right past the crowds streaming out of Ted's Bulletin  and plop into a leather booth at the The Chesapeake Room. Okay, if I'm being honest, I really want to like Ted's, so maybe I'll get a to-go milkshake on the way home, but for brunch, my recommendation most definitely goes to The Chesapeake Room.


iEatDC said...

Good to know. I've been to the Matchbox there, Belga, and I like the shops! Never been to Hill's Kitchen but I'd like to check it out--heard it's tiny but they have everrrrrything. I think the Eastern Market area is one of the neighborhoods I enjoy most yet would not want to live in--too schleppy to most other places.

Manimal said...

You got it right - the Chesapeake Room didn't dress up the food, but it was cooked extremely well, and let the flavors stand for themselves. Well-cooked bison is always a treat.