The Hot Plate: Keeping It Simple and Fresh

‘Top Chef’ Contestant Sets Up Shop on Capitol Hill

Posted April 11, 2008 at 5:25pm

From Michel Richard to Wolfgang Puck, Washington has become well acquainted with the celebrity chef in the past decade. The town can now welcome another familiar face as TV’s “Top Chef” contestant Spike Mendelsohn opens his first restaurant on Capitol Hill.

[IMGCAP(1)]Good Stuff Eatery — a family venture that includes Mendelsohn’s parents, siblings and cousins — will open its doors later this spring and it will feature burgers, fries and shakes that are made from locally grown ingredients.

“We want the food to be consistent; however, our concept being what it is, because we’re all chefs, we’re kind of stuck doing it very farm fresh,” said Catherine Mendelsohn, Spike’s mother and co-owner of the restaurant. “We don’t want to buy sliced tomatoes, we want to get a really nice ruby red tomato in your burger.”

The Mendelsohn family is aiming to make the food less greasy than most of its kin so that customers don’t feel guilty about indulging. The ingredients will be fresh, and the ice cream and shakes will be made on site.

“It’s most people’s favorite food, but you always felt that you were doing something wrong when you were eating it,” Catherine Mendelsohn said.

The restaurant will be opening on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast in the space formerly occupied by Pulp on the Hill and will be outfitted with flat-screen televisions, charge posts for phones and computers, and XM radio, all with the aim of making customers feel at home.

“We figured it was just a great place to do our pilot story,” Spike Mendelsohn said. “D.C.’s food is just up and coming with Michel Richard opening restaurants.”

Mendelsohn’s sister has been living in Washington for about five years, and his parents moved from Florida to the area to be closer to the restaurant.

Patrons will place their orders at the counter on the first floor and then take a seat on the second floor, on the terrace or at the “farm table,” a community space where people can get to know their neighbors.

“We want to create a place that was casual with a warm atmosphere where people felt they could relax,” the family matriarch said.

The family, which plans to open other locations in the Northeast, began leasing the space at 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE last May, has set up corporate offices on the third floor and has spent the last year renovating the space. Additions include hardwood floors and distressed barn walls to give the restaurant a farm feel.

“It’s also about the atmosphere in the dining room. It’s about people coming in … and enjoying their time around the table,” Spike Mendelsohn said.

Spike Mendelsohn first began cooking in his family’s restaurant in Florida before traveling the world and training in French cuisine. He currently serves as the chef de cuisine at Mai House in New York City. He recently took some time off to appear as a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef: Chicago,” which is currently airing.

“I had a bunch of friends, all the time they were telling me, ‘This show is perfect for you, you’ve got the personality and the talent,’” Mendelsohn said. He auditioned for season three but didn’t make the cut. He came back for season four and secured a spot on the show, where he competed against other young chefs in various cooking challenges. Mendelsohn said the show provides great exposure.

“This business is really cutthroat, it’s really hard and this show has really found a way for young chefs to make a name for themselves,” he said.

Good Stuff Eatery is a departure from Mendelsohn’s training, but he’s very excited.

“I don’t want to do gourmet burgers, I want to do good burgers,” he said. “I want to do what people are used to. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, I just want to do good things.”