R.F.D. is B.F.D. in D.C.
Regional Food and Drink Featured in Washington
by Gregg Wiggins
Dave Alexander may be the only publican in the world who can open a new bar, stock it with 300 different beers and still get asked, "Is that all?"
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That's because Alexander is beer maven of the Brickskeller, the legendary Washington, D.C., beer monument whose 1,200-plus selection is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest. And since late January, Alexander and his wife, Diane, have been running a second bar and restaurant, R.F.D. Washington.
"R.F.D. stands for 'Regional Food and Drink,'" Alexander explained, pointing to the beer list and to a menu built around mid-Atlantic delicacies like Virginia ham and Chesapeake Bay seafood. "We also feature recipes with historical ties to the region," he continued, "like the crab-stuffed endive, taken from an old White House cookbook." As for the beer, Alexander promises a good selection but not the rarities and obscurities that have made the Brickskeller famous. "D.C. happens to have a fantastic selection of beer," he said. "Everything you're going to see in our cooler has a local distributor carrying it."
The Alexanders brought in Joseph Boncore, formerly a chef at the very upscale Olives restaurant in Washington and at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, to run the kitchen of R.F.D. "He's incredible," said Alexander, "but he really hadn't cooked with beer before." Boncore is now an enthusiastic convert to beer cuisine. "We're marinating meats in old ales," Alexander said, "and we're making ice cream out of Belgian fruit beers, and we're doing a lot of dressings with different beers."
Nearly twice the size of the Brickskeller, R.F.D. is on the edge of Washington's Chinatown in a space that once held a Brazilian restaurant. No major structural changes were made, although the brightly painted multicolored walls ("It looked like a clown had exploded," according to Alexander) have been toned down. Alexander also plans to leave in place the light fixtures that resemble South American reed boats. "I know I'm supposed to hate them," he mused, "but I find them strangely appealing." An open-air "summer garden" that Alexander calls "an enclosed courtyard with a beautiful tentlike roof structure" will be available when weather permits.
The site of R.F.D. Washington (810ĘSeventh Street, NW) is one block from a major transfer station of the city's subway system and from the MCI Center, Washington's NBA and NHL arena. Sports fans can enjoy more distant games on the big-screen satellite TV system behind the bar.
While the Brickskeller is known primarily for bottled beer, R.F.D. adds 30 taps to its bottle selection in a setup Alexander said is modeled after the Englander Pub in Dublin, Calif. There is also a custom-built cooler designed to hold and condition up to four casks of real ale. Because R.F.D. has such cooler space, Alexander said, "we're going to get into aging kegs." One possibility: "Five years from now, a vertical tasting of barley wines."
R.F.D. will host some special events, but when asked if they would be held monthly (as at the Brickskeller), Alexander answered, "No-no-no-no-no-no-no. We will more likely do seasonal events here." Suppressing a shudder, he noted, "Man, the Brickskeller ones take up enough of my time. I don't want to deal with two at once."
Some beer lovers in the Washington area have expressed concern that R.F.D. may put the Brickskeller on the Alexanders' back burner, but Dave Alexander promises that the Brickskeller is going to remain as it is. "That is the rock, the foundation everything else is built on, and we realize that. So everything that has been done at the Brickskeller will continue to be done at the Brickskeller," he assured.
"The Brickskeller is like a very, very comfortable old shoe that almost runs itself after all these years," Alexander explained, "but there are things we can't do there. This place is covering the bases the Brickskeller doesn't cover. I've always wanted to get into kegs, and Diane has always wanted to get into the kitchen, and I have always wanted to get into doing beer cuisine. And we wanted to do it right," he said with obvious excitement. "We're just doing a lot of really cool stuff!"
Gregg Wiggins is a Virginia beer writer who has been crossing the Potomac River for years in a long-running effort to earn his own Guinness Book listing by drinking the entire Brickskeller beer list.
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