In the debate over Washington’s signature dish, the front-runner has always been the crabcake. But lately there’s a lot of talk about another crustacean—the lobster. Chefs are fashioning it into burgers and pot pies; hour-plus lines for lobster rolls are routine at downtown DC’s Red Hook Lobster Pound truck.
Some of the most inventive takes on lobster are coming from the new Ford’s Fish Shack, a New England–inspired dining room set in an Ashburn strip mall and decorated with (what else?) lobster traps. The sweet meat shows up amid piles of potato chips with blue cheese—it sounds like sacrilege, but it works—and even finds its way into the deep fryer for another unexpected hit: Peel off the battered coating and shell from a lobster tail and you’ll find meat that’s wonderfully tender and flavorful.
The casual, family-packed spot is the debut effort of Tony Stafford, who spent years as executive chef at Artie’s, the Great American Restaurants dining room in Fairfax. Fans of the restaurant group—which also owns Carlyle and Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food, among others—will find familiar touches: The extra-creamy coleslaw is chopped, not shredded; lobster-ginger butter coats the calamari; and the excellent deviled eggs are served with sugared bacon and pecans.
But plenty of offerings are Stafford’s own. “Angry mussels”—a generous pile with chorizo, tomato, and lemony butter—are tangy and terrific. Shrimp tacos—three flour tortillas overstuffed with fried rock shrimp and pico de gallo—are billed as an appetizer but make a good-size entrée. Fried shrimp is also reliable on its own, served in a simple basket of fries. And for old-schoolers, Ford’s does serve a really good crabcake.
This article appears in the March 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.