Heard on the Hill

Petworth gets juicy, twangy and not ‘too fancy’

Cinder BBQ hopes to become your new favorite hangout

Slaw, brussels sprouts and Gordy’s pickles round out a meal at Cinder. (Clyde McGrady/CQ Roll Call)

Two veterans of the Washington bar and lounge scene are teaming up with a pitmaster to bring barbecue to D.C.’s Petworth area, adding to what they call its “cool neighborhood vibe.” Cinder, which sits among Upshur Street anchors such as Timber Pizza Co. and Himitsu, will open its doors this Saturday, April 13. I caught up with the owners on the eve of the grand opening.Pitmaster Bill Coleman, a retired Marine who favors Doc Cochran from HBO’s “Deadwood,” down to the glasses perched on his nose, spent the last 16 years running a catering business before finally heeding advice from friends Matt Krimm and John Anderson that he needed his own brick-and-mortar restaurant to serve his Texas-style BBQ.

Krimm and Anderson already co-own cigar bars W. Curtis Draper and Civil Cigar Lounge and had been kicking around the idea of owning a restaurant for years. Krimm, shortly after moving to the Petworth neighborhood four years ago, even told his girlfriend that he would do it someday.

So why BBQ? “Because Bill’s really good at it,” Krimm says.

Coleman’s wings are dry-rubbed in a twangy spice and smoked for 2 1/2 hours before being quick-fried and then rubbed again. Anderson swears by the apple cider sauce, but I prefer to eat them dry, dipping them only in a side of blue cheese.

The preparation method for the brisket involves a 50/50 pepper and kosher salt mix, and 12 to 13 hours of smoking overnight, because Coleman tries “not to get too fancy.” I sample the brisket with sprouts that are glazed in a delicious honey-sambal (a “turned-up Sriracha”). It goes well with the brisket’s perfectly juicy caramelized fat.

Anderson, a silver-haired, bearded man with two colorful tattoo sleeves, explains the menu items, his voice booming through the space as ’90s rock hits like “Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters plays in the background.

Cinder makes all sauces in-house and has a partnership with local company Gordy’s Pickle Jar, according to Anderson. The bar has another partnership with Willett Distillery, a Kentucky-based bourbon maker. The partnership allows the bar to serve their bourbons at lower prices, the owners say. A pour of Willett’s Johnny Drum goes for $8.

Despite being a BBQ place, there were concerns over potential vegetarian options. Krimm and Anderson tried to convince Coleman not to put pork in the collard greens, but Coleman successfully argued that they just wouldn’t taste the same. (If I have to pick sides, Coleman is correct here.) But Cinder will be offering a cauliflower dish coated in brown butter, cilantro, lime and pumpkin seeds.

Krimm wants the prices to be reasonable, and they are pretty decent. For instance, a half-rack of pork spare ribs will run you $18.50, and includes Texas toast, slaw and one side. He envisions the bar as a local neighborhood hangout that pays homage to the “old” Petworth while embracing the new. (A back wall mural includes an image of the old Petworth firehouse.) 

The bar will feature more than 300 types of whiskey. (Clyde McGrady/CQ Roll Call)
The bar will feature more than 300 types of whiskey. (Clyde McGrady/CQ Roll Call)

It’s the fourth life in a decade for the corner storefront. First it was a beauty supply shop (shuttered), and then it was a convenience store (drug bust). Wine bar Ruta del Vino took over in 2016, but barely lasted two years.

Cinder will have TVs for showing sports, but it won’t be a sports bar exactly. “We won’t have pitchers [of beer],” and the sound will not be on for the games.

Bill Coleman came to the BBQ business in a roundabout way, serving in the Marines before retiring in 1997. Because of his logistical skills and penchant for feeding masses of people, I ask if he was a quartermaster.

“No, I was a grunt,” he says. He likens opening a restaurant to a battle, noting that you can prepare all you want, but you won’t know all the challenges until the fighting (eating) starts.

After the Marines, Coleman took a job at Home Depot, where he remembers one day suddenly waking up on the ground surrounded by paramedics. On the mend with a fractured shoulder and other broken bones, he began making barbecue sauces just to keep his mind occupied during the arduous rehabilitation process. His employers at Home Depot added him as a vendor, and from there his pitmaster days were soon to come.

His catering business eventually landed him clients in high places, from serving at White House events hosted by the Bushes, Obamas and Trumps, to Olympic trials at the University of Maryland. “I’ve been lucky,” he says. “I get paid to hang out with people.”

While everything seemed to be coming together, Krimm admits there’s been typical last-minute loose ends to tie up (a beer pump needs repairing), and other minor tweaks (final menu changes were made at 1 a.m. that morning). A cook comes over during our conversation and hands Krimm a jar of dijon dressing sauce, puzzled because there’s a missing ingredient keeping it from achieving its perfect form. Krimm stirs the jar with a spoon handle and licks it clean. “Needs garlic.”

As cool as it sounds to own a restaurant, Krimm, lamenting late nights and early mornings, admits it’s a huge commitment of time and money.

Towards the end of my visit, a young woman walks by the open windows outside and sheepishly asks Coleman if she can take two flowers from one of the beds sitting there. “Sure,” Coleman says. She walks away after telling him how excited she is about the grand opening.

Krimm, looking up from a conversation with one of his employees, asks Coleman if he just give away their flowers.

“Yeah,” says Coleman.

Krimm pauses before replying, “Those flowers cost a thousand dollars!”

Cinder opens April 13 at 800 Upshur St. NW. Get there: Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro, green and yellow lines.

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