Seasoned toque Dennis Marron got a taste of what it’s like to partner with surrounding farms and small-batch producers while juggling cooking duties at the twin Kimpton Hotels properties across the river in Alexandria, Va., the swanky Grille at Morrison House and presidentially inspired Jackson 20.
He’s kept up that tradition — nay, deftly improved on it — since moving to Penn Quarter, choreographing an “all local” happy hour at Poste Moderne Brasserie (555 Eighth St. NW) that spotlights many rising stars from the area.
The eco-minded program was launched in February with sustainability and local supping/slurping in mind. As such, the original menu was confined to resources available from the District, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
Not that Marron had to look that far for quality content.
The recent boom in craft beer and artisan spirits made it easy for Poste drinks guru Jason Wiles and beverage manager Kaine Gish to carve out room for hometown-only refreshments.
Bar staff tapped District brewers DC Brau (The Public) and Chocolate City Beer (Cornerstone Copper Ale) and rounded out the suds selection with Alexandria-based Port City Brewing (Optimal Wit). A local sparkler, Thibaut-Janisson’s Virginia Fizz, originally flowed for wine aficionados but has since been scrapped.
“Unfortunately, Thibaut-Janisson couldn’t keep up with our needs,” a Kimpton aide said of the demand for festive bubbly.
When it came to the hard stuff, Team Poste went all in on Green Hat Gin, the first District-based booze distilled here in decades. It looked further west to fill the tumblers of brown-liquor lovers, opting for the signature Roundstone Rye crafted by Catoctin Creek Distillery out in Purcellville, Va.
The standing happy-hour special shaves down all three beers to $6 per pint (down $1 a pop for DC Brau and Port City; a $2 savings on Chocolate City) and invites patrons to create their own cocktail — your choice of featured spirit plus one mixer — for $7 a pour.
While Meal Ticket diners are never ones to shy away from a frosty brew, Poste’s beautifully outfitted bar counter — tiny tins overflowing with thyme, mint and other essential herbs; a pharmacy’s worth of assorted bitters ready to spice things up; fresh lemons, oranges and limes awaiting spot-zesting — begged for further investigation.
A request for something with Green Hat elicited an immediate pitch for a gin and tonic. “That’s the most common one,” the barkeep said of the go-to cooler.
It most certainly brightened our day.
The Green Hat-fueled libation was crisp, tangy and utterly refreshing — a citrusy reprieve from the day’s preoccupations. The gin is smooth but lively, intertwining its herbal essence with the lip-curling twang of quinine.
A fishing expedition for rye-based relaxation yielded suggestions for rye and ginger or a rye old fashioned.
We opted for the latter and were well rewarded. The Catoctin Creek old fashioned was outstanding, bearing a strip of shaved orange peel like a badge of honor, the mildly sweet yet deceptively potent potable washing over our gullet with each tilt of the gently perspiring glass.
A Feast for the Senses
When it comes to enticing nosh, Marron can go big or small, depending on your mood.
The full bar carte includes: spicy-sweet, house-made beer nuts (dusted with Old Bay); pommes frites; truffle frites; Old Bay popcorn; truffle popcorn; blue crab croquettes; a seafood platter featuring fried oysters and clams flanked by asparagus, lemon and fennel; an astonishingly addictive pickle plate; mixed mussels (classic, chorizo-spiked); chilled oysters with marionette; shrimp cocktail with Marie rose; and a pair of mouthwatering gourmet burgers.
The eponymous pickle plate was the all-around favorite. The generous spread included hearty slices of pumpernickel, scorching hot whole-grain mustard (outstanding), pickled eggs, mini gherkins, preserved onions (brilliantly piquant), pickled green beans (tangy-sweet), pickle chips (tart and refreshing), cauliflower (crisp and face-puckering) and celery (sour but comforting) handsomely arranged in a handsome cast-iron crock.
A trio of palm-sized croquettes summoned cheerful bites of savory blue crab married to sweet corn. The underlying remoulade — whipped together from Old Bay, Gordy’s Sweet pickle chips and leftover brine — adds creaminess and spice.
Fried oysters are small but plump and perhaps a shade over-breaded (falls off in clumps into clinging jam). But the accompanying tomato jam, which Marron says he’s been perfecting since his Jackson 20 days, is a knockout. The intoxicating spread features chewy bits of perfectly preserved sweet summer fruit still bursting with vitality.
“In the summer we use fresh tomatoes, and in the winter we use canned whole tomatoes mixed with some sun dried,” Marron said of his now-evergreen condiment. “We try and can and dry as many tomatoes as possible so we can make use of them through the winter, but we can never get enough.”
And while it’s not part of the happy-hour program per se, the onion soup burger is sure to make meat eaters smile. The two-handed delight features a half-pound-plus patty forged from a mix of ground-chuck and rib-eye beef (the contributing cows bred on a clutch of small farms in the Shenandoah Valley). The cooked-to-order beef arrives sandwiched between twin layers of dairy — gooey melted Swiss up top (bolstered by sultry stewed onions) and ripe, runny comte below — all surrounded by a soft, chewy onion-laced bun.
For maximum enjoyment, we recommend taking your meal and drinks out on Poste’s splendid patio — a seasonal perch that staff said will remain open as long as possible.
Marron’s keeping it extra local this weekend, serving up select seafood and regional brews during the second annual Oysterstock. The fundraiser, which benefits the Oyster Recovery Partnership, is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. Sunday and will feature food (grilled oysters, spit-roasted pork, lamb-laced mac and cheese), drink (oyster shooters, Port City Brewing’s oyster stout, Watershed Rickeys featuring Catoctin Creek gin) and live music (Wes Tucker & the Skillets, The WeatherVanes, The Reserves).
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.