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'Top Chef' Alumnus Sinks His Teeth Into NoMa | Food Court

Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call
The SCOTUS-themed Sonia from the Bronx burger features avocado, sharp cheddar, herb-spiked mushrooms and flame-licked Romaine lettuce heaped atop a turkey patty.

Sure, he’s doing killer business — turning 5,000-plus covers and moving nearly 1,500 pounds of his signature chicken wings in just a few short weeks — now.

But seasoned chef-turned-restaurateur Timothy Dean admitted that exporting his brand of fast-casual feasting into a developing part of the District initially gave him pause.

“I don’t think I’m ready to go on that side of town,” the “Top Chef” alumnus said he told his insistent realtor after being presented with the pitch to put down roots in the Northeast quadrant.

But after touring the newish space (250 K St. NE; once the home of Zuppa Fresca) for TDB and weighing some fairly convincing pros — proximity to the thriving H Street scene, the burgeoning success of counter service operations even in a down economy — Dean decided to make his move.

“It was destiny,” he said of his budding love affair with the NoMa neighborhood.

Having already achieved proof of concept via the enduring flagship joint he opened across the river in Largo, Md., a few years back, Dean said he knew he had a winner on his hands with his value-centric menu.

“People really do respect a great deal and a good burger in this economy,” he said.

What he didn’t anticipate was just how much wider of an audience he would reach simply by switching ZIP codes.

To this day, Dean says African-American families remain the lifeblood of his Largo operation. But ever since he rolled out the welcome mat here in D.C. — TDB opened its doors on Aug. 20, but only came fully online (serving lunch through late night) as of Sept. 4 — Dean claims he’s had a veritable rainbow coalition parade through his front door.

“White, black, Chinese, families, babies, dogs. ... Everybody comes in here,” he said.

We tend to agree.

We’ve rubbed elbows with 20-something white guys looking to guzzle beers and watch sports highlights, professional-looking girlfriends sharing stories and glasses of wine after work and nattily attired (he in meticulously creased slacks and a designer shirt, she in a form-fitting dress coupled with tasteful accessories) older black couple who were obviously interested in making a night out of it.

The restaurant is far from showy, but it does provide an array of different dining options and experiences. There are a handful of umbrella-topped tables scattered around the sidewalk patio, a moderately private lounge area outfitted with wall-to-wall televisions and a cozy bar, as well as easily reconfigured two- and four-tops lined up opposite the front counter.

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