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Majority Rules at Big Board

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
The more customers who order a specific draft beer at the Big Board on H Street Northeast — which typically has eight brews to choose from on a rotating basis — the cheaper the most-sought beverage becomes.

Imagine getting a break on something most folks in this town like/crave/require to wash away their workday blues without having to fork over a fortune to well-heeled influence peddlers. Now open your eyes, turn your ankles toward the Big Board and hoist a glass to plummeting drink prices.

The fledgling H Street Northeast hangout is the brainchild of Eric and Mark Flannery, entrepreneurial brothers-cum-restaurateurs interested in putting their stamp on the quick-casual dining scene. 

Their primary contribution to date involves turning the politically divisive theory of supply and demand completely on its head nightly: The more people  who order a specific draft beer — they typically have eight brews to choose from on a rotating basis — the cheaper the most-sought beverage becomes. 

“It creates a social atmosphere. … They try and play the board,” chef Mike
Lunsford said. Lunsford has seen customers order copycat rounds of drinks, including groups of tightly knit friends and opportunistic strangers, in a concerted effort to drive down the price of refills. 

According to Lunsford, the restaurant’s real-time beer ticker fluctuates based on a range of incoming orders (every beer, every 10 or every 50 appear to be the default settings). But he noted that the market “crashes” and resets periodically, making sustained manipulation of the free-flowing taps a near impossibility. 

“It can only go down. Which is good,” one barkeep said of the sliding-scale suds.

The beer list runs the gamut. Draft drinkers might encounter something old (can’t go wrong with a well-poured Guinness), something new (Chocolate City’s Cerveza Nacional was a malty delight), something borrowed (the thick, rich Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale) and even something blue (the easy-drinking Blue Point Toasted Lager). 

The usual suspects (Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboys, assorted Dogfish Head IPAs, Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock, Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale) round out the bottled and canned alternatives.

While we enjoyed bending the elbow alongside the scruffy bearded hipsters (faux vintage T-shirts, pre-distressed trucker caps) and desperate-to-decompress Congressional staffers (loosened ties, impeccably pressed slacks) who file in for liquid therapy each evening, the promised savings were, at best, scant. The deepest discount that flashed across the board during our visits was a $1.25 reduction on Kilkenny, which we didn’t see anyone drinking. Another night, we all but lost count of all the Peroni-filled pint glasses flying around the restaurant only to have the board mock us with a skimpy, static 50-cent deduction (must have been a 50-order night). 

The menu is built around an army of specialty burgers, with a handful of signature salads and some serviceable sides rounding out the conservative carte. Lunsford is slowly but surely rolling out more daily specials, a program that’s ranged from Cincinnati-style chili fries (too much cinnamon and not nearly enough cheddar for our tastes) to a pairing of Choptank oysters and a specialty pint (fantastic). 

The seminal burgers are very much influenced by the Flannerys’ father’s secret steak marinade. “It had a little to do with the family history,” Lunsford said of the soy-based sauce. 

The Big Board’s beef is supplied by a farm in neighboring White Hall, Md., and ground to their exact specifications (Lunsford prefers an 85/15 lean meat-to-fat mix) by wholesaler Capital Meats. Standard burgers are 6 ounces, while the Big Apple rules the roost at a half-pound. All burgers are cooked to medium rare unless otherwise specified and can be dressed in an array of house-made sauces and aiolis; the only things Lunsford buys straight-up are ketchup and Dijon mustard. 

Several of the signature burgers we tried boasted very appealing individual elements that, unfortunately, didn’t always directly translate into a happy marriage of all of the flavors involved. 

The Straight Outta’ Dublin burger wowed us with savory braised cabbage and boozy whiskey-fueled gravy, but we could have done without the sugar-sweetened beef. 

Fried “tobacco” onions added a bit of smoke and crunch to a Colby Jack-smothered Memphis Blues burger sabotaged by a cloyingly sweet barbecue sauce. 

Yolk-spilling fried eggs, creamy smoked Gouda and tender sauteed mushrooms led the charge in a delicious foray into build-your-own-burger territory. The Ciao Bella bowled us over with mounds of buttery prosciutto, juicy San Marzano tomatoes and dreamy roasted red pepper aioli. 

Lunsford’s house-made Rose City PDX mushroom burger is fantastic. The ersatz patty is forged from cremini mushrooms chopped, sauteed and then bound by eggs, basil, oregano and Parmesan cheese. The mouthwatering fungus-fest is then drizzled in soothing labneh for a decidedly Mediterranean feast. 

The Atlantis was utterly entrancing, yielding a generous patty of flash-seared ahi tuna embedded with crunchy, nutty sesame seeds and stealthily spiced with a wasabi paste. “It also works great on a salad,” a server said of the well-executed seafood option. 

Granville Moore’s pastry chef Kim Moffatt handles dessert duties. She occasionally goes for the throat with items such as whiskey-spiked chocolate cake (overwhelming). We prefer more toned-down productions like the simple but sweet cinnamon crumb cake. 

Next up: adding weekday lunch, which could kick off as early as Monday, to the equation.

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