Uncertain times call for comfort food. These restaurants come to the rescue. – The Washington Post

Restaurant News

Dixie D. Vereen

for The Washington Post

Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf dinner from Unconventional Diner.

With an eye on our desire for more TLC right now, this week’s exploration of takeout and delivery selections looks at dishes that spark joy for many of us, if only for their time-tested, straightforward appeal. The following restaurants from around the Washington area not only excel at a popular comfort food, they also outfit it with a host of side dishes and garnishes. You can expect a square meal, in other words.

Whatever you order, the only thing you have to add to the occasion is your appetite.

The online menu at
Unconventional Diner
has it right. “Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf” is nothing like what Dorothy Sietsema fed her three children. Take the centerpiece of chef David Deshaies’s upscale dinner for two, bulked up with ground beef, pork and veal but also colorful with diced red bell peppers, celery and onion. The eyes register ketchup atop the sliced loaf; the tongue tells you the glaze is sriracha — an improvement (sorry, Mom!) over what I was raised on. Deshaies, who says he fell in love with meatloaf while researching American diners ahead of opening his maiden restaurant, also slips into his recipe Gruyere, a little salute to his French upbringing that lends subtle creaminess and funk to the eating.


[Take a break from your routine — and the kitchen — with restaurant takeout]

Everything about the meal, part of the restaurant’s “Stay at Home Supper Club,” speaks to the chef’s exacting approach to food. I love the chunky mashed potatoes that show off red skins and a generous hand with milk and butter. The quaint-sounding “granny” gravy — a fine concert of morel mushrooms, white wine, veal stock and cream — deserves retail shelf space. Brussels sprouts get tossed with sweet caramelized onions, thyme and garlic — seasonings that spur you to make short work of the vegetable.

Dixie D. Vereen

for The Washington Post

Chef-owner David Deshaies with his 7-year-old daughter, Vikki.

Deshaies says the first thing he does when he gets to work in the morning is inspect the salad greens. “I’m extremely picky,” he says, and unafraid of returning to a supplier anything he deems tired. The salad he sends out with the meatloaf underscores his discernment. The combination of frisée, romaine, iceberg and more looks alive and inviting.

Maybe your idea of comfort food doesn’t include meat. Unconventional Dinner has you covered. The restaurant’s supper club selections, subject to change, embrace chickpea curry stew, vegetarian lasagna, fried chicken, a seafood feast and jambalaya — basically something special for every night of the week.
1207 Ninth St. NW. 202-847-0122. unconventionaldiner.com. Dinners for two $40. Available for pickup daily 2 to 8:30 p.m., or delivery through Postmates.

When
Franklins
in Hyattsville switched from full-service brewpub to takeout, owner Mike Franklin knew crab cakes would survive the transition. They were a bestseller in Before Times, they travel well and “they’re a treat,” says Franklin of the patties shaped from Maryland crab with assists from crackers and mayonnaise. With an eye on his community, the restaurateur offers homestyle meals — picture roast chicken, pulled pork and meatloaf — designed to feed four. Crab cakes are served as crisp, five-ounce patties sharpened with mustard and lemon juice. His source of handpicked crab this season is a point of pride: GW Hall & Son, based on Hoopers Island in Dorchester County. The seafood spread is packed in a foil tub with a field of steak fries, fluffy where you want them to be, sweetly creamy coleslaw, lemon wedges and housemade tartar and cocktail sauces. Together, it’s as close as some of us are likely to get to a day at the (Eastern) shore right now.

[We’re staying home, but we can still taste the world through restaurant delivery]

The neighborly air of the two-story restaurant has been retained during the pandemic, which offers curbside takeout and pickup inside. Customers entering the front door who might have forgotten to wear masks are quickly rescued by Franklin, whose wife, Debbie, fashioned them from scarves, coffee filters and rubber bands. When Franklin asked his kitchen crew who wanted to continue working, almost everyone said yes, so he had to spread the love — read: the hours — around. While the remaining staff’s schedules are reduced, most are still working more than 30 hours. The larger community benefits, too: Franklins has resumed its local fundraisers for nonprofit groups supporting the arts, seniors and others. Twenty percent of purchases go to the causes. All in all, it almost feels like old times.

5123 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville. 301-927-2740. franklinsbrewery.com. Dinners for four $40 to $50. Available for pickup Monday through Friday 4 to 9 p.m.

Dixie D. Vereen

for The Washington Post

Fried chicken dinner from Buck’s Fishing & Camping.

Sure, you can get someone else to bring you fried chicken from

Buck’s Fishing &
Camping
. But the bonus for retrieving it yourself is a nightly fire on the patio out front, an opportunity to peruse a selection of wines on a table inside and the chance to chat up someone other than your shelter mates. Owner James Alefantis says even the brief, safe-distanced exchanges he and his staff have with regulars who pick up their orders offer “an element of normality” during the crisis. Not to mention a way for cocktail fanciers to return the Mason jars in which Buck’s pours its top-shelf Palomas, spicy margaritas and Manhattans.

[What to know about the risks of restaurant takeout and delivery — and how to minimize them]

Experience taught Alefantis that fried chicken would go over big. Whenever Buck’s offered “a bucket” before, he says customers pretty much ignored everything else on the menu. A lot of labor goes into the chicken, which is brined a day ahead and double-fried the day of serving. The craggy pieces — two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks — are as good for the crisp skin as the succulent flesh, and they become a feast with the help of sides of mac and cheese, skin a’clinging mashed Yukon Golds, vinegar-lit crisp coleslaw, snappy Gordy’s pickles (love the touch of cardamom) and superlative biscuits. Seemingly simple, the biscuits spring from lots of experimentation by chef James Rexroad, who says he wanted to achieve in every batch the flaky texture of a good pie crust. Score! His path to success is lined with frozen grated butter, which he kneads into the flour, and a pour-over of chilled buttermilk and honey. Rexroad says the sweetener adds welcome color to the biscuits.

The stars of the show — chicken and biscuits — come with a rival: a single slab of Buck’s chocolate buttermilk cake. It’s plenty for two to share, should you feel so inclined. The dessert is perfect in every way, right down to a cloud of fresh whipped cream that in my case somehow managed not to flatten in transport home.
5031 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-364-0777. bucksfishingandcamping.com. Fried chicken dinner for two $55. Available for pickup Wednesday through Sunday 4 to 9 p.m., or delivery through Caviar or DoorDash
.

Like a lot of their peers, the owners of
Trummer’s Restaurant
in Clifton debated staying open after their last dinner service — 15 guests spread across multiple dining rooms on St. Patrick’s Day. Ultimately, Stefan and Victoria Trummer decided to keep a light on in the kitchen. “This is who we are and what we do,” Victoria says. “We cook and serve.”

She’s got that right. Unpacking one of Trummer’s dinners to go — winy beef short ribs most recently — made me feel grateful for people who meet challenges with can-do determination. The entree spoke to both comfort and the skill of a professional chef. Jon Cropf’s roasted Brussels sprouts were slick with a biting mustard vinaigrette; the caraway-scented cabbage was smoky from the grill; and heirloom grits proved a nice diversion from the many mashed potatoes that have crossed my lips of late. I chose soup over salad as an appetizer; shredded roast chicken suspended with tiny spaetzle in herby liquid gold drove home Stefan Trummer’s Austrian upbringing. And who can say no to strawberry shortcake, especially when it’s finished with lavender whipped cream? Bend my rubber arm.

If there’s a silver lining in the cloud, the pandemic has brought the owners, who live 35 minutes away from their restaurant, closer to their neighbors in Loudoun County, whom they saw infrequently when their business was open for full service. Now, the last food runs of the Trummers’ day are to the people who live near them. Fifteen delivered meals is the record so far. I imagine that’s 15 patrons the owners can look forward to seating in their restaurant someday.

7134 Main St., Clifton. 703-266-1623. trummersrestaurant.com. Short ribs dinner for two $70. Available for curbside pickup Tuesday through Saturday 5 to 7:30 p.m., and Saturday noon to 2:30 p.m. Delivery is $10 within a five-mile radius.

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