Alexandria Palates Get A Double Treat

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Alexandria Palates Get A Double Treat
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Just in time for the late summer/early fall tourist season and the upcoming Alexandria Festival of the Arts, Old Town welcomes two new additions to its restaurant scene. One is the reincarnation of an old favorite and the other a “burger joint” that is anything but.

 BGR “The Burger Joint” opened this week at 106 N. Washington St. and features their  “award-winning blend of prime-aged, all-natural, hormone-free, grain-fed beef” burgers served on “fresh toasted buttery brioche buns” that are baked and delivered fresh daily “exclusively” for BGR.

 The brainchild of Mark Bucher, Alexandria’s BGR is the second of his burger joints in the Washington area. The first is located in the Woodmont Triangle area of Bethesda.

 “My original burger joint was in the lobby area of a Las Vegas casino,” Bucher said. “It was a tremendous success so I decided to duplicate it here.”

 A native of Cherry Hill, N.J., just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Bucher first came to Washington in 1985 to attend college and he never left.

 “Our focus will be to do a good job in Alexandria to make BGR a success,” said Bucher, who serves as president of the company. “I like to locate in areas where there is a close-knit community. That’s why we chose Old Town. We looked at 30 potential sites before we settled on Old Town.”

 Overseeing the physical creation of Old Town’s BGR site is Joe Brower, vice president of corporate operations.

 “This place is designed to bring back memories of the 1970s and 1980s,” he said.

 That image is borne out by posters of the era and photos of various rock ‘n’ roll stars decorating the walls, old metal school lunch boxes as display items, and a general overall atmosphere of yesteryear. Entering BGR is a step back in time, not only in atmosphere but also in menu quality where “each item is cooked to order no pre-cooking, no heat lamps.”

 Topping the list of offerings is “THE BURGER.” As noted in GQ Magazine it has been hailed as “One of the greatest burgers in the world you must have before you die” priced at $6.99.

 Other offerings include the Veggie Burger at $7.99, Turkey Burger at $9.99, The Cuban at $8.99, and The Greek at $12.99. The latter was featured on Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay contest, and it won.

 It is created of fresh ground leg of lamb, seasoned with cumin, mint and garlic. Topped with tzatziki and feta, it is served on their signature brioche bun with mojo sauce.

 In addition to both thin- and thick-cut fries, dubbed the “Orange Standard” and “Gold Standard” respectively, as well as onion rings, BGR patrons can experience the “Green Standard,” in keeping with both today’s environmentalism and your mother’s basic rule of meal preparation “always something green on your plate.”

 For BGR that translates to asparagus fries large asparagus spears simply grilled and sprinkled with parmesan cheese, priced at $3.89.

 In the beverage category there are double chocolate, strawberry and vanilla bean shakes plus a changing flavor of the month. These are joined by floats, with two scoops of ice cream; A&W Root Beer, Orange Crush, coke, beer, wine and a variety of other selections including lemonade and ice tea.

 BGR is open seven days a week beginning at 11 a.m. and closing at 10 p.m., except Friday and Saturday nights when they will remain open until 11 p.m. They also plan to offer delivery service through a third party, according to Brower.

 From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday there will be a daily lunch special known as “The Box Set” priced at $8.99. It consists of a burger (regular or veggie), regular fries, and a fountain drink. Substitutions are possible for an extra charge.

Firehouse Turns Multilayered Dining Experience

 In the reincarnation category, Alexandrians, particularly Old Towners, will be happy to know that an old friend has returned in the fashion and manner it was intended. Neighborhood Restaurant Group of Alexandria recently opened the Columbia Firehouse at 109 South Saint Asaph St.

 Once the home of Portner’s, it went through a short gestation as part of a restaurant chain known as Bookbinders, named after the famous Philadelphia seafood house. During that time, it was open only for dinner and Sunday brunch, preventing it from realizing income from the large Old Town lunch business, particularly from the courthouse immediately across South St. Asaph Street.

 In choosing the new name, “Columbia Firehouse,” NRG has capitalized on the building’s history, which goes back more than 120 years. It once served as the home of Alexandria’s 1871 Steam Engine Fire Company.

 After some limited renovations, Columbia Firehouse opened on July 15 as the seventh member of the NRG family of eateries. Others in Alexandria include Vermillion, Rustico and Evening Star Cafe.

 “We want to bring this back as a neighborhood restaurant,” said Chris Mickey, Jr., the restaurant’s general manager. “That’s what it was when I was growing up in Alexandria. My family came here regularly for Sunday brunch.”

 Mickey is no stranger to the restaurant business. His father, Chris Mickey, Sr., was the general manager of the Union Street Public House as well as food and beverage manager at the former Holiday Inn Select, now Hotel Monaco.

 Presently, only the main and lower levels of the restaurant are open. The upstairs is scheduled to open
September 15.

 “That will be our version of a fine dining steak/chop house,” Mickey said. “But, it will have a full range menu. It will be open only for dinner.”

 The entire menu is the creation of Executive Chef Orlando Hitzig, former owner of Mark and Orlando’s in the District of Columbia.

 The main and lower levels focus on what Mickey describes as an “American bistro menu.” It features an array of appetizers ranging from Maryland crab dip to Reuben egg rolls priced from $5 to $10.

 Main entrees include Maryland crab cakes, Chesapeake watermen’s stew, bistro steaks of all cuts, slow roasted Amish chicken, grilled pork chop, seared diver scallops, and spicy smoked baby back ribs. Entrees range in price from $16 to $22. In the sandwich line there are shrimp and oyster po’boy, Firehouse meatloaf, and Portobello dip.

 A particular treat is the eight-ounce Pineland Farms hanger steak at $18. This exceptional cut of beef, served in a subtle red wine sauce, is sliced at an angle to maintain its tender juiciness and delicate flavor. Garlicky mashed potatoes and creamed spinach accompany it.

 Whatever main course is selected, at lunch, dinner or weekend brunch, the meal can be topped off by a tempting selection of deserts and after dinner wines. Each of the deserts, ranging from classic crme brle to hazelnut devil’s food cake is priced at a modest $6.

 There is also a raw bar offering east and west coast oysters, middle neck clams, gulf shrimp cocktail, and a St. Asaph Sampler of four oysters, four clams, and four shrimp for $20. For steamed mussel lovers there are three variations of preparation, each priced at $9.

 For former patrons of Portner’s, one of the highlights of this reincarnation will be the return of “Harry” the bartender on Wednesday nights, according to Mickey.

 “He served as Portner’s bartender for 19 years and 11 months,” he said. “Harry is famous and the personification of Old Town to many.”

 In addition to the full bar selections and an extensive wine list, Columbia Firehouse offers an array of special “Firehouse Cocktails” including “Handsome Harry’s Swanky Sparkler” and “George Washington Schlepped Here,” each priced at $8. There are also draught and bottled beers from breweries throughout the mid-Atlantic states and Guiness stout from Ireland.

 Hours of operation are from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with the kitchen open until 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Although a brunch menu is in effect from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, selections are also available from the regular menu.

 The restaurant will be closed on Mondays until 5 p.m., when they will open for dinner only, according to Mickey. Columbia Firehouse has ample space for private parties and special events that can be enjoyed in the atmosphere of its old world, dark wood and brick decor that says “Old Town” throughout.

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