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Boxcar Tavern’s Pub Grub Twists

Photos by Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Boxcar Tavern Executive Chef Brian Klein spoons sauce over the restaurant’s seafood lasagna, a dish that showcases fresh salmon, scallops and shrimp.

“It seems to be a menu that really appeals to everyone,” Klein said. He billed the fare as “not your typical bar food,” stressing that they take pride in sweating the details, from the house-roasted turkey to the slow-cooked (five hours minimum) pastrami. 

 

‘The Good Old Days’

That meticulousness pays off in spades in some of the more intricate arrangements. But we’ve also been underwhelmed by heavy-handed experiments gone awry. 

Steamed mussels, for instance, are average at best, be they baptized in herb-white wine reduction, sprinkled with smoky bacon and piquant blue cheese or sunken into tomato coulis. No biggie, except Klein is a Brasserie Beck alumnus. 

Heavy cream and assorted cheeses are essentially crutches for various pub standards, from the drowning in dairy croque monsieur to the one-note (Parmesan sauce easily overwhelms the caramelized onions) mushroom-cheese ravioli. 

Chicken confit wings wowed several diners. The fat-packed meat was slide-off-the-bone succulent, its darkened skin concealing whispers of unexpected sweetness. Shredded duck confit (juicy, spiced meat) and vinegary pulled pork gussy up traditional quesadillas; Klein’s version binds the two marquee meats with hearty roasted red peppers, caramelized red onions and amazingly zesty guacamole. 

Seafood lasagna had us praising Klein’s trusted fishmongers (who deliver four times per week); the artful dish layers snippets of salmon, shrimp and scallops between soft egg noodles, bathes everything in savory tomato sauce and crowns it all with bubbling mozzarella. 

Roasted chicken breasts are voluminous but mostly muted. The real stars are the surrounding tarragon cream sauce, which complements the crisp French-style green beans and roasted baby carrots, and savory bread pudding forged from sliced mushrooms and diced carrots. While we enjoyed the double shot of vitamin K, may we suggest pairing the flavorful fungi with braised leeks or roasted squash instead?

Klein remains partial to the London broil meatloaf. “My grandmother made this meatloaf,” he said of the family recipe. “It just takes you back to the good old days of no responsibility, playing in the backyard and coming in to a home-cooked meal,” he said. 

Boxcar’s meatloaf doesn’t feature traditional mashed potatoes but handmade croquettes Klein seeds with eggs, herbs and cheese, then breads and ultimately freezes before frying. The resulting dish is mouthwatering. The house-made loaf arrives embedded with mushrooms and onions, bathed in veal demi-glace (significantly ups the enjoyment ante) and is escorted by more carrots and the crispy potato puff. 

Noteworthy closers appear to be Klein’s Achilles’ heel. He took full responsibility for the austere dessert carte — just apple crumb tart and vanilla crème brulee — but pledged that more fully developed options are on the way. 

“I wanted to make sure I got the basics down first,” he asserted, floating a twist on the caramelized banana pancake they ply brunch patrons with on weekends as one potential addition.

 

Boxcar Tavern

224 Seventh St. SE; 202-544-0518; boxcardc.com

Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.

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