Mediterranean Eatery, Upscale Sports Bar Settle in on Barrack’s Row

Posted May 7, 2008 at 5:10pm

Two relative newcomers to the Barracks Row dining scene are rolling out new features this month in anticipation of summer.

Cafe 8 (424 Eighth St. SE) is unveiling a series of new dishes next week, fulfilling the restaurateurs’ vision of offering food or drink from every country that borders the Mediterranean Sea.

From pide — traditional Turkish calzones — to “the gyro’s nephew,” iskender kebabs — a mixture of lamb and beef marinated on a rotating spit — Cafe 8 blends unique flavors and techniques to draw upon the region’s cuisine.

“We are a true Mediterranean restaurant, meaning any country that has a border with the Mediterranean Sea, we’re going to have their food,” said Isa Seyran, one of the restaurant’s three owners.

The former war correspondent said his love for the entire Mediterranean region fueled his commitment to creating a multinational menu. Seyran covered the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq and Lebanon in the late 1990s until he moved to the United States in 2000 as a Washington correspondent for a Turkish daily.

Capitol Hill is the perfect location for a multicultural restaurant because “it’s not just the center of Washington, but the center of the world,” he said, adding that he hopes to turn Cafe 8, which opened four months ago, into a central gathering spot.

“What we wanted to do is create a very casual, very European cafe where people are going to come back again and again,” he said. “There are a lot of people that I know as their first name. I know their pet’s name. I know their relationship status and everything.”

Chef and co-owner Jordan Davidowitz’s new additions to the menu reflect this philosophy, featuring shared plates meant to be sampled and enjoyed by friends. One of the highlights, he said, is a sampler of eight new spreads ranging from bright green tzatziki sauce to chicken liver paté to traditional hummus, served alongside ekmek, a Turkish bread that is a cross between pita and French bread.

“When I go to a restaurant, instead of picking an entree, I pick three or four appetizers,” Davidowitz explained. “What’s the point in going to a restaurant and picking just one thing? You can’t really see a chef’s true understanding of food through one dish.”

Many dishes also combine flavors from different regions, such as the “grapes and grilled cheese,” a mixed green salad topped with seared, sesame-coated Lebanese Hallumi cheese and a French grape vinegar dressing.

The food isn’t the only international offering on the menu — Cafe 8 also serves wine and beer from a variety of Mediterranean countries. But whether you choose a glass of sparkling sangria from Italy or a beer from Cyprus, be warned that the owners aren’t afraid to get to know their customers.

“When I open a bottle of wine for two, I bring three glasses so I can have a taste too,” Seyran said.

Jordan Cappolla is also aiming to bring people together at his recent addition to Barracks Row — but over the somewhat rare combo of upscale food and sports.

When Cappolla opened his second restaurant on Barrack’s Row 10 months ago, he was looking to fill what he saw as a void in the food offerings on and around Capitol Hill.

“I just always wanted to open up a steakhouse, and I think sushi just wasn’t an item that was flourishing in Capitol Hill — there was a huge demand for a steakhouse and for a sushi bar,” said Cappolla, whose martini bar, Tapatini’s, has been a popular staple in the neighborhood for more than three years.

So Cappolla combined sushi, steak and a third love, sports, to open Jordan’s 8 (523 Eighth St. SE). Though he initially envisioned Jordan’s 8 as an upscale sports bar, he soon found even the most die-hard sports fans coming back for the food, not necessarily the game playing on one of the restaurant’s eight 50-inch televisions.

The menu includes everything from a 20-ounce del Monaco bone-in steak for those with big appetites to the crowd-pleasing Maki Lava Roll — shrimp tempura layered with shredded crab, scallion and spicy aioli sauce.

The atmosphere and menu have attracted a wide range of patrons, Cappolla said, including many Members and Hill staffers.

“The kind of vibe I was looking for is just getting a lot of the Hill staffers, a lot of the politicians, a lot of the locals — open arms for everyone,” Cappolla said.

Despite its upscale cuisine, Jordan’s 8 is, at its heart, a sports bar, so Cappolla purchased the Major League Baseball package this summer so patrons can sample a variety of games alongside the menu.

“You don’t have to come to a sports bar and anticipate burgers and fries,” he said. “You can watch your game in style.”

Both restaurants also offer patrons the chance to dine al fresco. Jordan’s 8 has a rooftop patio for those looking to eat sushi under the stars, and Cafe 8’s open storefront gives the entire restaurant an outdoors feel. Cafe 8 also has opened a garden patio in the rear of the restaurant, which doubles as Davidowitz’s herb garden.

“If one day I want to pick a little rosemary and put it in a fresh dish, I’ll go out and do that,” he said.

The owners of both Cafe 8 and Jordan’s 8 admit, however, that patrons are attracted to the booming Eighth Street Southeast for more than just their food.

“It’s the Marine barracks — that’s the draw. You’re talking about true history,” said Cappolla, who recently went to his first parade and was overwhelmed by the presentation.

Davidowitz and Seyran hope to capitalize on the neighborhood’s energy as it transforms into what they see as a “restaurant row” for Capitol Hill.

“In five years time from now, this is going to be a destination just like your Georgetown,” Davidowitz said.